A definition of “Smart” – screens, signs and shop windows

“Smart” is too often, too narrowly defined in terms of the benefits of digital technology. Of course, digital technology can help cities to be smarter. But being smart means much more than that.

My own preference is to define “smart” by focusing on three factors:

1. people
2. the information that people receive
3. the behaviours that then follow.

Smart Cities create behaviour changes that benefit social, economic and environmental outcomes.

Behaviours rely on information, which can be derived from many sources: certainly, from digital sensing and smartphone displays but also from the physical and spatial world that surrounds city users. From shop windows that reveal the contents of their interiors; from a glimpse down a lane that lands on the sign outside the pub; from the faces of other people – the human display. Each of these sources provides information that influences human behaviour. Each has its place in the definition of a Smart City.

Smart digital technology – the sensing, the display, and everything in between – helps people to be smart but the sum of digital technology does not create the Smart City. There are other non-digital technologies to consider:

– the street layout of a city is a technology, guiding the movement patterns of people through the connections it affords, prioritising certain streets by virtue of their greater connectivity and backgrounding others that connect less well

– a social network of human relations is facilitated by the same technology and becomes a technology in itself: a powerful repository of knowledge and intelligence.

The spatial and social fabrics of the city are machines in their own ways, with mechanisms that deserve equal attention to digital technologies when it comes to defining the Smart City.

People – the ultimate consumers of information – should be put at the centre of the Smart City. Their behaviours should be enabled by both digital and non-digital technologies. Because these behaviours rely on information sources, the places in which people move and interact in the city should be created to act as efficient information devices. They should be clearly laid out to optimise information flow as well as comfortably furnished to support effective – call it “smart” – human transaction.

Smart = human behaviour * technological (Digital * nonDig) behaviour

Inspired by a conversation with Michael Mulquin

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