BK: Seeing as how this blog is supposed to be about Smart Cities, I thought we could start with the basics: what is a Smart City?
HK: A small and easy problem then…
BK: Hey, got to start somewhere. I’d start with a statement – a city is somewhere which acts to concentrate economic activity. People migrate to a city because it is easier to find jobs, make connections, and so establish a community and a career. To me, a Smart city makes all these things work better (i.e. with fewer barriers to entry, more positive outcomes and fewer downsides) by the deft application of intelligence – oh, and maybe even use of technology. The technology is only one tool in the box to make a city a good place in which to live, work and play.
HK: So the question is not really, ‘What is a Smart City’? (Maybe we should change the title), but why a city at all? We agree that a city is a place which facilitates connection and participation. Ideally, if we’re going to get fiscal, a city is a place which facilitates innovation and economic output. Despite new technologies making it possible to connect with other individuals over huge distances, people are still moving en masse to civic centers: London, San Francisco, Singapore. For me, the place of a smart city is to enhance the connection and innovation that are characteristic of a successful metropolis.
BK: Yes – it would appear that a city is, at least in an evolutionary sense, a ‘successful’ way of going on. Success here is not necessarily moral or ethical – it just means that it is a pattern that keeps on re-appearing, and seems to last. The moral and ethical sides form a whole additional area of debate – which would be fascinating and could consume a considerable amount of space, and malt whisky (HK: ok, you’re on..). But here, at least, we not making moral judgements about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but exploring what happens ‘if’… assuming people are people, not machines or saints. Hence ‘if this goes on’…
HK: So, current ‘Physical Cities’ work because of the density of the connections made within that civic environment, how its network allows citizens to communicate and innovate.
Now, we can develop (or support) a technological overlay that can also make connections without the constraints of geographical distance and location. As well as this, we can establish a technological overlay which catalyses the potential of the very specific local environment of the city.
BK: A ‘Smart City’ is therefore both physical and digital, local and virtual – a new hybrid beasty. We can conceive of a ‘city in function’ which adapts to or goes beyond physical location.
HK: Aye, theorists like Benjamin R Barber talk about ‘Glocality’ – where a city acts as a node within a global network, but I propose the word ‘vlocality’ is equally important: how we understand the interaction between the digital and physical urban networks. (Though this leads to a whole new chat about buzzwords).
BK: Buzzwords indeed…. You mean I’m going to have to read up about it. Darn.
BK: Anyway, that would mean a ‘smart city’ is an environment that does have a physical space in which people work, live and play. But, that physical space is enhanced, using technology, to make that work as well as we can, allowing more value to be created for any given level of resource use. And whilst we do start with a city being a bounded area, it does not need to be limited to that – a smart city could be a dispersed across many locations…
HK: Oh good, another question: where is a Smart City? [link to follow]. And, of course, if city networks evolve naturally, why do we bother with Smart? [link to follow].