Is a ‘Smart City’ Really That Groundbreaking?

Is a ‘Smart City’ Really That Groundbreaking?

In a recent questionnaire sent out by the University of South Australia, it was found that more than half of South Australian residents don’t understand what a ‘smart city’ is. In fact, 45 per cent of respondents said they had never heard of the term, while 54 per cent don’t understand the concept.

I don’t even fully know what that term really means, and I’ve been writing about tech for a while now. I’ve always considered it to be a buzzword for adopting new technology, like ‘e-mobility’ or the more cringe-worthy ‘web3’, except on a city-wide, large scale, one that benefits the community, not just one business or the customer.

So here’s what it actually means, with three definitions. According to Tech Target, a smart city is a “municipality that uses information and communication technologies (ICT) to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.”

Bismart defines it as “a city that uses technology to provide services and solve city problems. A smart city does things like improve transportation and accessibility, improve social services, promote sustainability and give its citizens a voice” and Thales Group defines it as “a framework, predominantly composed of information and communication technologies, to develop, deploy and promote sustainable development practices to address growing urbanisation challenges.”

To a lot of us, this would just come across as explaining how cities work. Rail networks have shared arrival, delay and stop information with customers for a while now, which we no doubt forget that this hasn’t always been the case. Electronic or customisable signs (such as those on major roads) have indicated speed changes, closures or upcoming accidents, which are now able to be changed by someone sitting behind a desk hundreds of kilometres away. Even the way traffic lights change based on road conditions, traffic, etc, fit quite neatly into the term ‘smart cities’. All of this seems commonplace, and as it has been a gradual rollout over decades, there’s a high chance we wouldn’t consider these to be examples of ‘smart city tech’.

The confusion over the term seems to be more around the words chosen, the expectation that a city is going to be smart, rather than the tech that we use every day on our commute to work enabled by the internet, sensors and everything talking to everything else.

People have had to adapt to new technologies since technology has existed. All technology is transitional.

It’s no surprise that the University of South Australia’s questionnaire resulted in confusion around the term. The paper on the study underlines the “failure of local governments to explain the value of the smart city concept to residents, despite large amounts of money spent on promotional campaigns”, according to the university.

As Tech Target continues, characteristics of a smart city include:

  • Technology-based infrastructure
  • Environmental initiatives
  • High-functioning public transportation system
  • A confident sense of urban planning
  • Humans who live and work within the city and utilise its resources

With all this in mind, we can probably just chalk the term ‘smart city’ up as “a city that’s adopting new technology to make things a little easier for their citizens”. It’s not a groundbreaking term, but it’s only when we reflect on what has changed even in the last decade that we realise how much is different thanks to tech ‘smarts’.

Anyway, you can read more on the University of South Australia website or the paper in Sustainable Cities and Society.

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