There was a time when bells in town squares warned citizens of impending danger. Today, the bells ring again in the form of studies and media reports with warnings about urban problems that plague modern cities and resist solutions. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people move to cities in pursuit of a higher quality of life. This is the story of cities: Citizens with big expectations versus the endurance of big city problems. It is a still-unfolding story with numerous villains: social inequality, traffic congestion, pollution, crime, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, aging infrastructure, public service shortfalls.
Law enforcement has been using technology to solve crimes for more than a century. Using technology to prevent crimes, however, is a relatively new idea. The movie Minority Report famously depicts a futuristic society in which police officers arrest people before they commit crimes. It’s a deeply disturbing movie with a not-too-subtle message about the danger of relying too heavily on technology.
Nevertheless, a small industry has emerged around the practice of predictive policing. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other cities have experimented with predictive policing programs. The experiments have been inconclusive and controversial.
What is a smart city and how is it different from our traditional notion of a city? There is no single definition for a smart city. The term itself is a moving target and every city is different.
That said, here are 10 ideas that can help us envision and define the smart city concept:
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.
As we discussed in our previous article (Blockchain: The Next Frontier of Smart Cities - Part 1), blockchain has the potential to transform our communities, making the places we call home more collaborative, democratic and sustainable places. It is no surprise then, that a whole bunch of cities - from Santiago de Chile, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Oslo, and Milan, to London, and Stockholm - are already developing blockchain-based projects. Dubai is going even further, aiming to become the world’s first fully ‘blockchain-powered city’ by 2020. Lofty ideals aside, as we examined in part 1, blockchain does actually seem to offer some concrete benefits for communities, as we shall see below.
Blockchain is a hot topic. Until very recently, it was associated almost exclusively with cryptocurrency - bitcoin, ethereum etc. However, the power of blockchain to revolutionize the way we exchange goods and services, and transform how we govern - above and beyond the cryptocurrency hype - is increasingly being recognized. When it comes to cities, the transformative potential of this technology is enormous. From enabling P2P energy-sharing systems, as in New York’s ‘Transactive Grid’, which allows local residents to generate, buy and sell their own solar energy, to encouraging behavioral change - for instance through SocialCoin’s blockchain and AI-based ‘social good’ currency (see e.g. the Citibeats solution) - and much more - blockchain is offering new opportunities to create more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable communities. As such, blockchain is likely to be an increasingly central enabler of smart city innovation worldwide. In this article, we will explore the potential benefits of blockchain in an urban context.
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.
As John Friedmann highlights (2011), the household is just as much a socio-political space as the public realm: although it may be deemed ‘private’, the connections a household has to the outside world very often define its access to political empowerment, knowledge, jobs and, crucially, self-advancement. A home might be termed an ‘in-between’, or liminal, space: a place of family, domesticity and the everyday that is also the nucleus of its inhabitants’ connections to the outside world. As a zone which is supposedly hyperconnected (both internally and externally) the smart home should theoretically enhance its inhabitants’ connections to the wider community. As such, the smart home can be seen as a facilitator of community engagement, and in turn, civic involvement in smart city community initiatives.
If the smart city is one that is hyperconnected, energy and cost-efficient, and sustainable, aiming to improve the lives of all by leveraging existing resources and infrastructure, then the smart home should theoretically be a microcosm of this. Like many emerging concepts in the smart cities sector, including the very ‘smart city’ itself, most official definitions of the ‘smart home’ tend to center around new technologies:
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’.