Building a smart city? Involve everyone

Building a smart city? Involve everyone

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This week we’re quoting Kris Libunao (Executive Director and Chief Sustainability Officer at SmartCT)

What Libunao said:

“We should push for co-creating solutions to address the city’s challenges and tap into collective wisdom by involving a variety of viewpoints, ensuring that these collaboration efforts are being sustained.”

What was she talking about?

Smart cities. In a recent blog post, we wrote about the value of human-centred design – putting people at the heart of the design research process, and designing according to their needs and desires.

And nowhere is human-centred design more important than in the cities and towns where people live their lives.

But what does human-centred design in a smart city actually look like?

It looks like…

As Libunao said, it looks like a city that is co-created – not designed only through top-down decision-making from town planners, but designed with everyone’s experience in mind. It’s a city designed with people.

Innovative cities that are designed in this way will…

  • Have strong citizen engagement. People are involved in the planning and design process, and their preferences, needs, and lifestyles are factored into design decisions.
  • Be accessible. Human-centred design in smart cities puts accessibility for all citizens and visitors at the top of the priorities list, with physical and technological features that make it easier for people to understand and navigate the city.
  • Have sustainability built into city design. In particular, there’s an emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and elevating the use of renewable energy – because sustainability is essential for citizens to have a positive future.
  • Be safer. Citizen safety is another key priority for human-centred cities, and technology is a big part of this. Tech such as lighting, surveillance cameras, and emergency response systems all play into how safe people feel (and how safe they truly are).
  • Care about data privacy. More and more citizen data is required to enable smart cities to function effectively, and to allow people to use and move around those cities. Smart cities that lean into human-centred design acknowledge citizens’ concerns about the privacy and security of their data, and they work with transparent, person-first data protection measures.

The UN is behind human-centred smart cities

In 2020 the United Nations launched its flagship People Centred Smart Cities program, which aims to provide strategic and technical support on digital transformation to drive the development of smart cities that work for people.

The initiative is geared up to ensure that tech and innovation “is used to ensure sustainability, inclusivity, prosperity and human rights in cities.”

As cities become more connected (and connectivity increasingly becomes a prerequisite for living and thriving within a city), it’s crucial that no one gets left behind.

User involvement is key to designing city tech that works for citizens

At every stage of the human-centred design process, involvement from the people who will be using the technology in question is absolutely key. Design cannot be inclusive only some of the people who’ll be affected by that design get to have a say in it. Everyone should have the opportunity to be involved.

As Libunao put it,

“...promoting inclusion is crucial and should not be an afterthought by the way private and public organisations approach smart cities. Everyone should have access to smart city development, regardless of socioeconomic status or technological proficiency. To achieve this, it is necessary to fund digital infrastructure, offer digital and data literacy courses, and guarantee equal access to any and all services.”

Read the blog: Blending human-centred design with a futuristic mindset


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