My Week In Happy: Can smart cities be kind cities?


My habitat: Media City UK

This week, I visited Cybersalon Manchester to learn more about ‘smart cities’.

Much of the debate focussed on how data is generated by citizens and the capacity of the smart city to harvest that data – along with related privacy issues.

For example, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has a control room which monitors real-time data from 900 CCTV cameras to monitor the flow of traffic around the city.

This is just a glimpse of the potential of cities to respond to the data generated by its citizens and the environment. Could the smart city promise more than a place where traffic, pollution and crime are monitored and managed? Could it become a kind city?

 What would a kind city look like?

There are certain problems that are specific to life in an urban environment, a few of which I have listed below. Could smart cities generate kind solutions to these issues?

I’ve added a possible solution to problem 1 for illustration and would welcome your input on all three scenarios.

Problem 1: Getting cold waiting for the bus

People who live in cities are less likely to have cars and therefore more likely to rely on public transport. Buses are great when they are working well, but it takes only a small disruption to cause delays or even cancellations of services.

Possible solution: Bus stops fitted with CCTV cameras to help identify how many people have been waiting and for how long. The bus stop’s location is used by the control room to predict weather conditions. If you have waited more than say, five minutes, and the temperature falls below a critical point then overhead heat lamps are activated.

Problem 2: Feeling lonely in the heart of the city

Cities are bustling places but due to their pace of life and higher percentage of transient citizens, urban existence can often feel lonely and isolating.

Opportunity: Cities are also home to a much higher concentration of cultural institutions than rural areas.

Problem 3: Seeking peace and quiet to think

In urban settings people are much more likely to live in multi-occupancy households and in properties which are in close proximity to their nearest neighbour.

Opportunity: Quiet spaces such as those in libraries or museums are often free to access.

Tell me what you think

While I ponder these last two questions, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what could make smart cities kind cities.

The Cybersalon Manchester event was held at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was hosted by Julian Tait and the speakers were Rob Kitchin, Simon Marvin and Ian Forrester.

5 thoughts on “My Week In Happy: Can smart cities be kind cities?

  1. Dave Murray

    I think that people who live in cities still want to retain individuality, and therefore the issue is about providing information and opportunities but letting individuals decide on the right course of action. So lots of information on public transport, places to go, events, and fun things people can enjoy. Often cities can be too impersonal.

    • I suppose the question is whether the smart city can infer what people’s needs are by learning from our data? And, if it can, how well can urban systems respond to these needs?

      • Dave Murray

        Yes, I think the smart city would get to know ‘normal’ behaviour and then recognise and deal with ‘unusual’ behaviour. Might need a human nudge to get the right solution at first but in the end it should predict the right response.

  2. Julian

    I think a smart city should encourage and enable people to be more human. We are social animals and the trajectory of the modern city seems to be tending towards isolation, self interest and communal space that is dictated more by membership and subscription than for wider public benefit – a reason why libraries are so important. To counter this smart or ‘human’ technology could enable people to share, befriend and participate – technology is an enabler here not a solution. So you could get people to volunteer to cook food for a neighbour or run errands.

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