Last year I wrote 24 short essays about smart cities. They are collected in an e-book, that can be downloaded for free here. What to expect?
For more than 10 years, ‘smart’ has been a ‘leitmotif’ for tackling urban problems. Companies such as IBM and Cisco, and later also Apple, Amazon and Google all emphasised that technology is the key to their solution. Many city administrators, entrepreneurs and young starters felt attracted to this idea.
But why these blinkers? Anyone who focuses blindly on technology as the solution to contemporary problems will quickly lose sight of the problems themselves. They underrate the problems caused by technology itself and also that for many problems other solutions than technological ones are indispensable.
Some examples of problems that make people worried
- Will I come around with my income?
- Do I find an affordable house?
- Is there still work for the children?
- Is the air that I breathe healthy?
- Why is my manager so unreasonable?
- How secure is the internet?
- Who will take care of my mother later?
- Can I trust what I eat?
- Developments are all going too fast for me
- Who is actually in charge
- Does a world war will break out?
- Does my child like to go to school
- Who can I still trust?
- Can I still say what I think?
- Is my country still my country?
- Why do top managers earn so much money?
Reducing these problems to four categories proved to be helpful:
- Threat to basic needs
- Pillage of the earth
- Abuse of technology and data
Each of these categories also refers to core values that in mutual connection will improve the quality of life in a country and the happiness of its inhabitants.
The satisfaction of our basic needs such as livelihood, housing, education, health care, social contacts and personal growth. There is still a lot to improve here.
The earth has all the ingredients for a healthy and even prosperous life for us and our offspring. This requires a circular economy based on reuse of resources, the elimination of CO2 emissions, and a less materialistic attitude. The awareness is growing, there is still a lot to do.
The fact that we live together with others is of vital importance, whether it is a partner, family, the street, the city or the country. The quality of our social life depends on the mutual acceptance of equality and diversity and the balance between give and take. Here too, humanity still has a lot to learn.
Just like all forms of technology, computerization is able to support the other core values, but is also a value in itself. ICT adds a new dimension to human creativity and inventiveness and can improve the quality of our lives. However, the virtues of digital connectivity ought not to be appropriated by certain groups. Interoperability, ‘edgeless computing’, ‘blockchain’ and the use of open software standards and open data can contribute to prevent this.
The four core values can be at odds with each other, but also reinforce each other. In the latter case, I refer to inclusiveness.
In each of the 24 short essays the ‘smart city idea’ as a starting point. Sometimes politicizing, for example when it comes to the way the big technology companies take control of society, but also anecdotal, for instance in the smart cities cases like PlanIT Valley near Porto, but also very practical, for example in introductions to circular construction, electricity-generating windows and the storage of energy.
In the final essay I propose to replace the idea smart with inclusive growth. To become more concrete about what that means, I have drawn up a charter that every city or region in the world can use. I already recognize the quest for inclusiveness of a number of cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Melbourne and Seoul. However, these and all others ones still have a long way to go.