Do these differences matter?
There’s no single, standardized “smart” city approach. Every city is unique, with its own history, culture and political development that we need to understand, that is the basis of how people develop ideas and how cities are governed. If you don’t understand a city’s history, you will never understand how a place is managed. Smart city is about mediating technology and data spaces, how citizens are relating to these new spaces, and they experience it.
Yet a key point about smart cities is asking who they’re smart for. Is it their citizens, helping everybody have a better life? What are data-driven cities optimized for?
The more technology we have in cities, the more important it is to ask “Do we want this?” and “How can I opt in or out?” That means having more conversations about what technology people want and what technology they are more hesitant about using. Citizens are not only concerned about data privacy, but also about dignity – are technologies respecting people or just seeing them as data points?
This also goes back to the governance process. Control in the management of all (urban) data is what ultimately tells you how a city is governed. Both Taipei and Seoul have laws giving citizens rights to information. Neither Singapore nor Hong Kong has such rights. That’s a big difference particularly as we don’t know about the unintended and unanticipated uses of some types of data, such as machine generated sensor data.
What we’re talking about here is inclusiveness. The UN highlights this in its Sustainable Development Goals, calling for cities that are “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
Inclusive also means that we need to develop new practices of collaborative urban development, new transformative practices and partnerships.