Many proponents of the smart city claim that it is by nature inclusive. However, like all other aspects of urban design and development, smart city initiatives frequently fail to fully prioritize inclusivity, often perpetuating the very issues that they aim to solve. As Gil Peñalosa, world-renowned urban designer, noted in a recent panel discussion on ‘The Invisible Smart City’: “we currently design our cities as though everyone is 30 and active”, leading to biased, inaccessible urban design that excludes what he calls the ‘silent majority’. Going one step further than this, Yves Raibaud, acclaimed sociologist and urban geographer, argues that cities are designed ‘by and for men’ (par et pour les hommes) - notably ‘western’, privileged men. This evidently leaves much to be desired in terms of diversity, and in turn inclusivity. Children, older people, women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, the mentally and physically ill, and people with low household incomes (and those who meet at the intersecting points between these groups) are frequently excluded by and from urban design, unable to fully enjoy or participate in civic urban life or the processes that shape it.
Although the quantity of people using technology in their everyday lives is constantly rising, a relatively high percentage of the world’s population remains digitally disengaged or even technologically illiterate. In the European Union alone, nearly a third of people don’t use the internet on a daily basis; only half of all Europeans aged 16 - 74 use social networks or e-government services, and in some European countries up to 25% of people don’t have access to a computer from home.
As smart cities render our world more and more digital, and Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) play an increasingly important role in our daily lives, the ‘digital exclusion’ of certain population groups - notably those from low-income backgrounds, the elderly, and the disabled - is morphing into total societal exclusion.