At yesterday's Westminster eForum Keynote Seminar "Smart cities: next steps for UK advanced urban services - local priorities, supply chain relationships and standards development", I heard an alarming stat from Catapult Future Cities:
Peak hour commuters often experience higher levels of stress than fighter pilots and police facing rioters
To those of us working in the office today, pat yourself on the back - your commute was no small feat!
But in all seriousness, this statement set the tone for the rest of the morning and really made us all think: what is the purpose of a "smart city"?
Is it to enhance our lives, make them simpler and more manageable (to make that hellish morning commute a thing of the past) or simply to deploy innovative ground-breaking technologies in a community space?
The answer is of course a combination of all of the above (and more) but the resounding theme to any answer should be "people". What do the people want from their "smart city"? Studies consistently show that citizens of cities aren’t looking for technology to solve all their problems - just to make their lives a little easier, a little more efficient.
In 1966, Cedric Price (a well-known architect), said, “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?”. Identifying this question is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
In a world where technology can (and does) make a real change to our lives and the societies we live in, we need to continually ask ourselves what we want from it and why are we developing it. I for one certainly have no desire to live in a futuristic, dystopian metropolis (as fun as it might be to ride one of those floating chairs depicted in Pixar's Wall-e for a day or two).
The term "smart city" shouldn't just be a political buzzword to signal "innovation" for innovation's sake but rather a city that has implemented technological change with the citizen and a clear purpose in mind. If done right, the cities of tomorrow are set to be our greatest innovation.
Magazines, newspapers and news channels are now often reporting on smart cities. On the big screen, they are often portrayed as futuristic, dystopian metropolises – think of The Matrix or Blade Runner. But what does “smart city” really mean? How does a city become “smart”? And what sort of technology needs to be developed and implemented to manage the continually evolving challenge of digital disruption?