What makes a city ‘smart’?

By Neil Glentworth

November 8, 2016

Young female tourist using smart city gadget to get direction in Barcelona central, female in night city standing front big digital screen with city map routes and locations shown on it,filtered image

You might have a heard of a ‘smart city’ — in the last two years alone, there’s been an explosion of solutions being offered to help communities become ‘smart’.

Many cities, towns and regions have proudly adopted new technology in a bid to be smarter. While I admire and support the push to use technology, it is critical decision makers answer the following: why are you doing this and where is the community benefit?

A smart city is about people

In fact, it’s all about people making better decisions – nothing more, nothing less. Digital technology is a critical enabler, though it cannot change the spirit and culture of a city, town or region overnight. What it can do is make that region run more efficiently and allow its residents to get the most out of their experience.

As a team we’re unashamed about this view of smart cities; at the heart of a town, city or even a region is a community wanting three things:

  • Value for money (public value) for their rates,
  • Responsive and individual delivery of government services, and
  • A vibrant economy that creates the conditions for jobs and business growth.

While many will point to other areas being ‘smart’, for example transport and environment, in the end they all gravitate back to those three key areas. Elections, at all levels, are won and lost on the costs (tax/rates), the services (transport, healthcare, schools, policing) and job opportunities available in the economy by setting the right business conditions.

Empowering the community to make a better choice

The smart part sits at the very core of economics — using resources in alternative ways.

Being smart creates a challenge for all governments. Many government services are rightly (at times) a monopoly. To be smart means providing the community with the data from resources and letting them make a choice on how best to use that resource. Rather than providing broad, comprehensive information, citizens are coming to expect a two-way conversation and information to be tailored to their individual circumstances.

The community experience of free market ‘smart’ to date has been positive. With increased choice through Uber, AirBnB and Air Tasker, the costs of travel, holidays and household jobs are now lower; they are allowing anyone to make a better decision about a scarce resource.

For a government to be genuinely smart, it must see technology as an enabler for providing choice. It must seek to find new revenue sources to counter the consumption economy – only buying what is required, not what’s on offer.

Genuine smart cities, towns and regions are those that provide choice for consumer services on demand.

Neil Glentworth is founder and executive chairman of Glentworth.

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