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THINKING CITIES Smart technology


There’s being smart… and there’s being smart


Dietrich Leihs and Martin Löfving consider exactly what is meant by a ‘smart’ city. Are we, they ask, abandoning pragmatism in the rush to embrace the latest trend?


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any of the current discussions of the ‘Smart City’ – perhaps rather unsurprisingly, given that it’s still a new concept to most – focus on just what a smart


town or city is. This isn’t without its difficulties conceptually or technologically, because ‘smart’, whether prefixing a city, phone or traffic management system, has become something of an inflationary term. The rush to somehow get smart carries with it numerous


risks. The uninformed and unwary can often end up with solutions that are really quite ordinary, and whose smart- ness are really no more than the trumped-up result of clever


marketing. The ITS industry has often been the poor cousin of the road construction and other major infrastructure play- ers, with the result that there is a continual hunt for the next major source of funding and a compulsion to grab onto the coat-tails of any passing trend, of which arguably the smart city is just the latest. So, we have a situation where some man- ufacturers and suppliers sense a new opportunity to box-shift by aligning their products. This is encouraged only slightly indirectly by the actions of the big IT companies which, keen to grab for themselves a major share of a market worth bil- lions of dollars in the coming years, have over-emphasised the technology aspects of the smart city. To focus so heavily on the technology is premature in lots


of ways because so far we haven’t even managed to gain con- sensus on exactly what a smart city is. Perhaps the most literal interpretation of the term is best, in which case a smart city is one which adapts in smart ways to address the challenges it needs to. Note ‘needs to’: there’s nothing very smart about implementing expensive and complex technology solutions which serve no real purpose.


THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY Technology should not be the sole defining characteristic of a truly smart community. Often, the greater challenges are institutional. Take as an example the European city which applied lots of technology to improve route guidance just ahead of letting a major construction project which rendered much of the newly deployed technology ineffective: hardly a smart procurement decision and in fact a waste of resources which could have been averted by smarter administration. The big smart city concepts foresee technology having a


role in every aspect of our lives, right down to the refrigera- tor which knows when it’s running out of milk and so pushes an order back through the delivery chain to a local supplier. But there’s a tendency to apply technology for technology’s sake. Some of the flagship mobility applications emphasise the use of smart technology across all modes of transport, for


Technology which can effectively manage urban access and emissions are already deployed in their hundreds – so do we need smarter cities, or smarter policy-making?


14 thinkinghighways.com Vol 8 No 3 Europe/Rest of the World


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