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.
Around the world, cities are growing. Already, roughly 180,000 people move into cities every day. By 2015, the UN estimates that there will be 22 metropolitan areas with populations of more than 10 million people. Growing urban populations mean more costs for cities - from increasing energy use, to overstrained public services - but they also provide a stimulus for innovation. After all, we can’t infinitely expand outwards and upwards. Instead, we need to find ways to be more ‘efficiently urban’: in other words, we need to be smarter with how we use our resources, time and capital.
"Nothing in the world is more simple and more cheap than making cities that provide better for people" - Jan Gehl, founding partner of Gehl Architects, in an interview in 2013.
When we talk about smart cities, the technological terms dominate. We refer to how big data, the Internet of Things, sensors, and automation, among other things, will change and innovate our cities, making life better for urban citizens. As Ignasi Capdevila and Matías I. Zarlenga highlight, however, in their study 'Smart City or smart citizens? The Barcelona case', when we think of smart cities from the perspective of new technologies alone, ‘citizens are often considered as users, testers, or consumers rather than producers and sources of creativity and innovation’.