As we’ve mentioned previously, we tend not to use the phrase “smart city” in either our thought or our work. Neither, frankly, do contemporary descriptions of “real-time,” “living,” “sentient” or “cognitive” cities quite capture the quality we’re interested in bringing to urban life. It struck us as fair enough, then, when a client recently asked us to develop a definition we could use in place of these rubrics to describe what we’re doing together. What precisely is the context we’re operating in?
What we’ve come up with is admittedly much (much) wordier than any of these shorthand descriptions, but constitutes a more rigorous and practically useful definition of the terrain we’re interested in. In addition to sharing this definition with our client, we thought you might like to see it as well; we’d be delighted if you found it clarifying or otherwise helpful.
It’s in four parts:
We see our domain of operation as places where both the urban fabric as a whole, and discrete objects within it, have been endowed with the ability to gather, process, display, transmit, receive, store and take action on information.
Inevitably, we bring our values to our work, and we believe in being entirely transparent about what those values are. Among the stronger principles guiding our work are:
- that the networked objects and services deployed in such places ought to be freely addressable, queryable and, within specified limits, scriptable;
- that data created by the public in the course of their engagement with such objects and services ought to be owned by the public; and
- that this data ought to be equally transparent and accessible to municipal administrators, citizens and third parties.
In common with most “smart city” schemes, our intent in designing, developing and deploying such systems is to realize improved municipal resource-utilization efficiency, extended sustainability and enhanced mobility.
Where we part ways with them, however, is in explicitly wanting our work to underwrite:
- greater inclusion and social equity;
- a reduction in the perceptions of anxiety and fear that keep so many from fully participating in the city;
- amplified citizen agency, both actual and perceived; and
- vastly multiplied opportunities for serendipity, delight and citymagic.
What do we call places where the above things apply? In recognition of the increasing ubiquity, everydayness and unremarkability of the technologies involved, we call them cities.