The importance of smart cities & smart citizens: In our new interview series, smart city leaders comment on the future of smart cities, the role of technology, and the benefits for citizens. In our first interview of the series, we have asked Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Palo Alto, California to share his expertise, thoughts and insights with us on a number of important smart city topics.
Innovating Urban Planning to Foster Community-Focused Development
More than half of the world’s population currently live in cities. The UN estimates that by 2050, this figure will have doubled. The “financialization” of housing, among other factors, has led to a situation where many of the world’s cities are now defined by a chronic shortage of housing for the least advantaged, and in many cases, for the working and middle classes as well. The local connection between the financial institutions funding housing development and the people buying them has long disappeared, replaced by a new international financial system where real estate is a major asset. Indeed, a recent UN report estimates that the total value of global real estate makes up 60 percent of all global assets, with a value of $217 trillion, three-quarters of which is housing. 
So how do we make housing more accessible in cities the world over? The ‘smart city’ movement presents cities with the opportunity to build and plan ‘smarter’, developing citizen-centered, tech-enabled living, working and playing spaces that respond to people’s changing desires and needs - that are ‘future-proof’ and ‘user-centric’. Whether in Sao Paulo, Brasil, or Todmorden, UK, smart city innovation, and the ideas and funds it brings, should be capitalized upon to drive forward and finance smart development projects that help to relieve the global housing crisis that we are facing. In this week’s article, we will focus on some of the ways we can innovate planning in order to ‘redistribute’ housing stock (both existing and future) to create more equitable, just and sustainable urban communities.
"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’.