8 Characteristics of a Safe and Smart City

Bitcoin ValuationBy Trevor Clarke, Tech Research Asia co-founder and director

At Tech Research Asia (TRA) we hear a lot about smart cities from those in government and also tech vendors and service providers looking to cash in on the trend. Smart cities are one of those things which just seem a natural policy to adopt and they can bring improvements if done right. On the surface it really is a win, win, win. Policy makers and governments are meant to get all the benefits promised by new technology. Citizens are meant to get a better place to live. And the industry should make some money. In itself, that's not a bad thing.

Indeed, we see lots of great ideas being pursued in cities around the world to deal with a raft of issues from health and education, to transport and the environment. There are many ways that technology can be applied to improving the lives and livelihoods of citizens in cities, towns, and villages regardless of where you are in the world. A lot of this technology now comes under the umbrella of the Internet of Things, but also includes security, data analysis, cloud computing, and mobility.

One thing that we often see missing from many smart city strategies, which should be considered before you even get to identifying projects and the desired technology, is an articulation or framework of the desired characteristics of the overall strategy. It's all good and well pursuing a smart city strategy, but you really need to have some founding principles in place before you start. Otherwise you can end up having a less than smart city with many unhappy citizens.

We think the following eight characteristic should be part of every smart city strategy. They aren't an exhaustive list by any means, but we hope they provide you with a start for considering your own foundational or desired characteristics:

Inclusive: This principle arguably is the most important. Any implementation of a safe and smart city must begin with including everyone within the community’s desires, hopes, and needs regardless what social status they hold or sections of the city they live in. To exclude any one group or location will immediately alienate and divide portions of the city and this is always a potential recipe for future or prolonged instability. Citizens must be the centre of any smart and safe city efforts.

Proactive: The vision and strategy must be proactive and not reactive. It must have mechanisms in place for evaluating emerging opportunities and challenges with leadership willing to take action. Being prepared is always “smart”, and this is especially true when it comes to emergency response and disaster management. And a smart city is a continuously evolving ecosystem that benefits from being prepared.

Adaptable: The only truism in technology is that things will change and fast. New approaches, new tech, or new business models can positively disrupt the way we are doing things today and herald opportunity to either do things better, or create new experiences. Recent history should have taught all leaders well that we ignore technology-driven change at our own peril. Yet, it’s not just technology that changes. Politics, economics, society, culture, the environment and many other elements can and likely will change in future. Can you adapt with holistic action?

Sustainable: Any safe and smart city should have a three-pronged approach to sustainability: Economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Strength in each will result in a safer city as they are closely interconnected. In contrast a lack of sustainability poses greater risk – this has already been witnessed in countries and cities around the world.

Human-centric: As obvious as this sounds, all safe and smart city development must serve all the people who live there first and foremost. This will always result in the best outcome. Consultation before, during, and post projects with the citizenry is critical to achieving a human-centric smart city. Inclusively asking and conversing with the people, rather than telling or deciding on their behalf may be harder, but it is inclusive, representative, and more frequently brings safer outcomes.

Nurturing: Safe and smart cities are liveable ecosystems – they enable people, families, and communities to live the lives they want to pursue. They nurture the arts, humanities, education, sports, play, healthy living, sustainable commerce, social links, sciences, invention and innovation, and all of the wonderful other parts of a city’s unique culture and identity. They nurture the very best of human ambition regardless of who that human is, where they have come from, and where they are going next. Smart cities help people play, live, learn, work, and grow. A key part of this is providing people with accurate information and enabling diverse entities to collaborate.

Transparent: A safe and smart city encourages two-way participation between government and citizenry in an open, transparent, and honest manner. No government or organisation can go it alone with smart city development and having people on-side always helps with public safety. Leaders need inclusive input and collaboration on the part of all stakeholders including civil society and special interest groups. To do this effectively, there is a need to promote open data and communication as a means of holding all stakeholders accountable.

Secure: The bedrock of any smart city is public safety – the ability to ensure that all its citizens, economy, and infrastructure are safe in all senses of the word. In planning such a safe city, security and privacy efforts and investment must come from both the leadership and the citizenry as public safety underpins all smart and safe cities. Everyone needs to be invested in public safety to make it successful and part of a virtuous cycle of continued safety improvements. In our view, security should not be a limiting factor in citizens’ lives. I.e. security measures should not dictate the way we live, play, love, laugh, work, and engage with our communities and city. It should enable us to do these things across all physical, environmental, and cyber domains.

Disclosure: Tech Research Asia was commissioned by NEC to investigate safe and smart cities in 2016. The resulting whitepaper can be viewed here.