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Wednesday, 5.10.2022
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The age of the “Smart City” is upon us! It’s just that, we don’t really know what that means. Or, at least, not yet. – The Boston Smart City Playbook (2016).

Major cities all over the world including the Philippines have embarked on initiatives that will make their cities smart. Recent developments in the domains of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), digital twin, robotics, and smart grids and meters are driving the development of smart cities around the world. These programs are supposed to improve government services and address sustainability and resiliency challenges, improved mobility, maintain peace, and make the city more secure. Many of these programs, however, have ended up not producing the desired results and do not reflect the aspirations of their citizens.

What are the usual reasons for these failures? Most common would be that most smart city projects are too technology focused. Proponents have been looking at it from the point of technology. Mostly influenced by tech vendors.

If we look at the usual definition of Smart City, we will see something like “cities whose governments harness technology to monitor, analyze, plan, and govern the city.” Smart cities, where technology is expected to solve every problem, are hailed as urban utopias ready for the future. We are usually made to believe that apps, sensors, algorithms, and the use of artificial intelligence will prevent crimes, relieve traffic congestion, and improve public services.

There is a problem with this idea of smart cities as simply a world of cool gadgets and flashy technologies. Smart cities are about designing the advancement of the overall experience of the community that takes into consideration, among other things, its aspirations, views, values, and culture along with technology.

In his recently released book, The Smart Enough City, Ben Greens warns against seeing only through the lens of technology. He says that taking an exclusively technical view of city life would usually lead to cities appearing to be smart but under the surface are widening the digital divide with no regard for the privacy of its citizens. He recommends instead that cities aim to be “smart enough” and to adopt technology as a powerful tool when used in conjunction with other forms of social change strategies but not to value technology as an end in itself. We do not want to see situations where self-driving cars dominate our city streets forcing out pedestrians, where citizen engagements are reduced to using apps, where algorithms are used to justify and perpetuate discrimination, and where governments monitor the public spaces to control behavior.

Smart City initiatives come in different forms. Some are meant to solve traffic problems, maintain peace and order, address environmental issues, improve competitiveness, push innovation, or provide a channel for citizen engagement and co-creation. Smart cities are built around the aspirations and values of the people who live there. When we conceive of every issue as a technology problem, the tendency is to explore technical solutions and set aside other remedies, ultimately arriving at myopic conceptions of what a city can and should be.

During my government days, my office initiated the Next Wave Cities project which was meant to improve the competitiveness of regional cities outside of Metro Manila and make them more attractive to BPO players. Early on, we engaged the stakeholders of every city we were working on and encouraged them to create ICT Councils. The idea was to encourage the BPO players to bring jobs to these cities instead of bringing the workers to work in Metro Manila centers. Today, the project has created more than 400,000 jobs distributed among 25 cities all over the country. Our office just facilitated the transformation process but it was the local ICT Councils who, not only charted their roadmaps but executed them as well.

Technology is a means to promote social change but adopting a technology-driven approach to making the city become a livable and sustainable city is doomed from the outset providing limited benefits or resulting in unintended negative consequences. We need to shift our understanding of smart cities from correlating it with data and technology to one that embraces the experiences of citizens about the city.

That way, we are able to humanize technology. City governments should also be open and transparent in gathering and using data for public services.

Technology should be used as both a tool and platform to efficiently engage and meet the needs of its citizens. Cities should prioritize measures to address inequality and digital divides, which leave behind many of the poor. They also have to ensure that the privacy of their citizens and transparency must be protected. Cities become smarter when their citizens use technology to create communities where these digital rights are protected and their cities are made more sustainable and livable.

Technology is here to serve our lives not for us to serve technology. Keep those tech vendors far away from the ears of the city leaders.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Monchito B. Ibrahim

Quelle/Source: Manila Bulletin, 02.08.2022

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