Building cities from the internet up risks putting people’s needs second
Ann explains how important community engagement is to the success of smart cities. ‘One of the problems with Sidewalk Labs was that they didn’t do much consultation with the public. Having local interaction with the people living in the area is essential. You need to understand what they want, how they want to be engaged, the kinds of technology they want and where. I think they did overlook that: offering that level of interaction on technology, from none to 100%.’
Stefan Junestrand, CEO and Co-Founder, Grupo Tecma Red S.L. agrees. ‘The smart city has to be based on the unique properties of the city: geographically, historically, also of course politically. Creating a smart city in Toronto is different to creating one in other places that have different structures and different democracies.’
However, when implemented well, people can really engage with technology. ‘I think people love technology when it is implemented well’, explains Stefan. ‘When people come to a new city now, they walk or drive around aided by Google Maps: you know exactly where you are, where you want to go. The aim of building a smart city must be to build a city that is capable of integrating all these new technologies. People want to live in a place where there is great social interaction, a healthy environment, clean air, no noise, you can be on the street and feel safe.’
Technology is important, but does smart necessarily mean tech?
‘There’s a huge appetite to build cities that are more equitable, more environmentally sustainable, with a more inclusive economy. In that sense the mandate and idea of building cities that leverage technology to deliver social and environmental benefits is very strong. It’s a powerful idea’ says Matti. ‘In some ways we’ve learned the wrong lessons: the idea that ‘smart’, by extension, is ‘technology’. There are many aspects of a smart city that have nothing to do with technology. We know a lot about building a city that is walkable, that has bike lanes, that has neighbourhoods that are mixed use and have the density where people can have access to all of their daily needs close by. We know about the role of public investment and providing affordable housing, providing long term care, providing day care. None of that needs new technologies.’
Stefan disagrees: ‘I think it’s impossible to reach the sustainable development goals without the heavy use of technology. Technology is needed to change almost all models, from mobility to real estate. We know about the 15-minute city, the walkable city, but to solve this problem we need technology. It can help. Teleworking lets people work remotely; they can live and work and walk around their locality. Technology, innovation and new disruptive solutions aim to break away from the way things have been done before.’