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A few thoughts on the “cities” of “smarter cities”

When I first thought about what the “cities” of “smarter cities” might mean I fell into the trap of thinking about local government and the related connotations. But I suspected that was just a little short-sighted.

So, I decided to think about what a city is from the perspective of a citizen, and of someone who uses a city. What is a city to me? For me, it’s the place I live, whether I own, rent or something else. It’s the place where I pay my council tax so that it’s kept clean and tidy, so that my bins are collected and the city council can work towards sustainability by implementing recycling, and so that I get a continued water supply to my property. So that parks are looked after and safe places to be. Which leads me on: the city is the place where I want to be safe (having been mugged once I can assure you it’s no fun), where I might need to be treated for an illness, and may need to receive care in my home too.

I need to be able to travel around the city (let’s avoid a debate about Edinburgh trams shall we?), and ideally find the fastest, and least taxing route to where I need to be.

The city is a place full of buildings. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t be a city. Some of those buildings are schools – and thus a city is also where I am educated – and some are stadiums, which are also places with their own special safety requirements. It’s a place that provides entertainment and hospitality, not just to its citizens but to city users.

The city is a place with finite resources which need to be used with effectiveness and efficiency.

But not one, sole person is in charge of all of the requirements of a city. Nor in charge of all the resources. And many different parties impose rules and regulations, on citizens and on those that supply their needs.

So, making cities smarter is quite a challenge.

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So, what does “Smart” really mean?

Well, here we go. My first venture into the world of blogging. (Do most blogs start like this?)

I was asked to cover Smarter Cities as an “Industry Segment” in IBM back in January, and when I’ve been able to snatch a few minutes or hours here and there I’ve been trying to get a handle on what Smarter Cities is as an agenda, and what a Smarter City might look like.

So far I’ve come to the conclusion that although “smart” is a goal to aim for, there will always be something else that can be done “smarter”, and that’s because technology should always get better and be more capable. So, getting smarter with what technology affords us today won’t be as smart as what we will be able to do next year.

Initially I though being smart just meant using resources in a more efficient, more sustainable way, whatever those resources are: people, money, man made materials, and so on. But now I think that’s the outcome of being smart. Being smart, to me, is more about the ways in which we determine how to use resources in a more efficient, more sustainable way.

So, where in the past we may have used spreadsheets with rows and rows, and columns and columns, of data to try to work out the status of a situation, we represent that data in a far more effective way using tools such as dashboarding and 3D visualisations on maps which bring that data to life. And, we don’t just analyse what’s happened: we can predict what will too. But a Smarter City is so much more than that.

So, having though about what “smart” means, I’ll add the “City” next time around. (Already as I type this I can see future posts discussing topics such as what do we use the data for, how do we capture that data, what else should we capture, is it just about data?)

Should you have a desire to read more, and the official messages from IBM you can take a look at http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/uk/en/sustainable_cities/perspectives/index.html

Don’t forget, these opinions are my own.

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