What is a Smart City?

What is a smart city? This question while simple on the surface becomes ever more complex as you dig deeper into the structures underpinning a major component of the way we live as a planet.

a year ago

Latest Post Privacy by Bjorn Rostron

This seems like a simple question but a simple definition is still missing and as such it is helpful to break the question down into two component parts (Cocchia, 2014). What does it mean to be 'smart' and what is a city?

Firstly, what is a city? Well it is simply large human settlement. Definitions can vary from research field to research field but at its core it is a densely populated human urban environment (UNFPA). A city differentiates itself from other human settlements by also having administrative, cultural, technological and social roles for areas surrounding the city.

We were having a BBQ on a rooftop while it was pouring rain and while we got extremely wet, I was lucky enough to get some beautiful photos of the city’s glow and everyone still had fun.
Photo by Alex Knight / Unsplash

There has been a steady movement from rural to urban environments (Martine, 2007; UNFPA). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2017 67% of Australians lived in urban environments. Projected to be between 69% and 70% by 2027 (www.abs.gov.au). This is an incredible statistic and shows just how critical our urban environments (or cities) are to the continued prosperity of humanity but the planet in general. Cities (and other urban environments) are incredibly complex social, technological and cultural structures that enable dynamic evolutionary change (Thompson, 2016). They have enabled incredible growth as well as being critical to housing humanities booming populations. Cities, of course, bring their own problems especially in terms of our health, the environment and other social issues.

The so-called 'Mega-Cities' like Tokyo that have close to 40 million residents bring incredibly complex social, engineering, and technological structures to the forefront.

Tokyo Infinity
Photo by Pawel Nolbert / Unsplash

As you might have gleaned from the last paragraph, cities already have so called 'smart' components. Almost any city will have services networked together such as transport, health, digital connectivity. So what differentiates a 'normal' city from a 'smart' one? That depends on what your end goal is. Are you after a sustainable city? That fits into the prevailing natural environment rather than fighting against it. Are you after a digital city? One that is characterised by its digital infrastructure? A knowledge city? These are sometimes used interchangeably and confusingly can mean many things at once. So as you can imagine 'smart' means different things to different people and so a concrete definition has remained elusive. At a base level many can agree that the 'smart' element means digital connectivity, data collection, a so called 'digital intelligence' (McKinsey, 2018).

Photo by Marius Masalar / Unsplash

A Deloitte report suggests that the above 'digital intelligence' is also paired with investment in human and social capital, traditional infrastructure such as roads, and newer emergent disruptive technologies that enhance both our natural environment but also sustained growth (Deloitte, 2015). You can see examples of this a lots of major urban centres such as Parramatta City Council, and Georges River Council. Georges River Council has their Smart Social Spaces Project, and Parramatta City council have invested in the future by having a Smart City Masterplan (PCC, 2015).

These are just simple concrete examples to give you an idea as to how important our local councils (and many major cities) find the move to smart urban environments. The potential that these new cities have is almost limitless and we have a responsibility to ensure that we reach those peaks. Critical research is key to ensuring that the decisions taken are made in holistic manner and not from single biased vantage point.

ABS. 2019. https://www.abs.gov.au

Cocchia, A 2014. Smart and Digital City: A systematic Literature Review.

Martine, G 2007. The State of World Population 2007.

McKinsey Global Institute. 2018. Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a more livable future.

Parramatta City Council 2015. Smart City Masterplan.

Thompson, E.M 2016. What makes a city 'smart'?

van Dijk, A 2015. Smart Cities - A Deloitte Point of View.

Björn Rostron

Published a year ago