66. Understanding Smart Cities: A Geo Perspective


It's a well known fact that being good at something can come with a catch. Just ask any high achiever who will give you some reason why things aren’t always as perfect as they may seem.

With the Smart Cities drive picking up pace around the world it's maybe worth sparing a thought for the cities themselves which are feeling under pressure to become (or at least act) smart. With all of the talk becoming 'smart this and smart that', cities need to answer some pretty big questions.

"Am I smart?", "What is smart?", "How do I become smart?", "How will becoming smart fix that problem?", "Is that problem even a problem anyway?", "Who am I?" "Who should I become?"

No doubt, becoming smart must be confusing.


In this week's Geospatial Friday post we will attempt to understand Smart Cities like never before and in doing so examine some ways in which geospatial can help out.


1. Smart Cities can seem intimidating

Smart Cities have an insatiable appetite for knowledge about what’s around them and like to make their achievements well known. It’s not uncommon to hear Smart Cities blurt out random facts and irrelevant comments which seek to demonstrate their intelligence.

They can be perceived as self-obsessed, arrogant and somewhat aloof. This helps to explain the silo-ed and constant self-improvement-focused mentality of Smart Cities.


Geospatial can help Smart Cities to focus on what is relevant and important to the city and its inhabitants. Geospatial should be considered a streetwise mentor, a wise Buddhah and a good friend all at once.


2. Smart Cities can find it difficult to make sense of things

As mentioned above, Smart Cities collect vast quantities of information about the urban environment and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, this heightened awareness of what is going on around them isn’t always a good thing and Smart Cities can quickly become overwhelmed by these new digital resources.


Geospatial can help Smart Cities to manage and make sense of this information and to therefore focus on the important information rather than the less important stuff (e.g. the number of green cars parked in the city centre at any one time or the eating patterns of squirrels in a park on a Tuesday). Geospatial can help place this knowledge in context and can help emphasise the importance of some information over other information.


3. Smart Cities can seem rigid and prudent

Since Smart Cities end up knowing so much about what’s going on, they can develop an obsession with order, predictability and efficiency. This obsession often results in the introduction of lots of new rules and regulations and a corresponding decline in the aspects which make cities fun and interesting places. City spaces don’t always need to have a clearly defined function just like general aimless wandering doesn’t always need to be treated with suspicion as loitering.


Geospatial helps Smart Cities understand that more rules and regulations doesn’t necessarily result in better cities. While certain areas should be closely managed, cities should always be fun places to explore and hang out.


4. Smart Cities often find it hard to make friends

Smart Cities set high standards for themselves and can have unrealistic expectations of other cities. As a result, Smart Cities often find it difficult to develop meaningful, satisfying relationships with other cities and this can contribute to the development of an isolated and silo-ed mentality.

Being smart isn’t always the same as being good company.


Geospatial can help cities to learn about one another - about their unique differences and about their shared characteristics, and their shared issues and challenges. Geospatial can help cities to find common ground which can lead to future relationship building and collaboration.


5. Smart Cities often have unaddressed issues

The tendencies towards aloofness, authoritativeness, arrogance and unsociability which Smart Cities display are sometimes due to underlying issues which need to be better understood. Smart Cities have often learned certain defensive mechanisms and embedded suspicions as a result of some past urban trauma or loss which has not been fully addressed. These cities may have experienced a sudden or ongoing natural or manmade event such as a flood, an earthquake, a crime epidemic, excessive congestion or political mis-management which now influences their actions and behaviour.


Geospatial can help cities to better understand these traumas and to place them in a wider geographic context. This can help the Smart City to choose the best path to overcoming these issues and towards developing the type of city which it hopes to become.

“What was the issue and where did the event(s) occur”, “How were you affected by the event(s) at the time?” “How can you better prepare yourself for any similar situation which may occur in the future?”

From an urban planning perspective, it’s important not to forget that cities are created by people for people. The Smart Cities drive should be about making cities healthier, more sociable and more dynamic places to live, rest and work.

In this regard, it’s important for city authorities and innovators to fully understand the Smart City agenda and to always use the right tool for the job.