There are plenty of “smart” devices out there: smart cars, smart houses, smartphones, even smart salt shakers.  Once people would run out of household appliances to make smart, it only makes sense that there would eventually be “smart cities”.  Indeed, there has been plenty of talk around the world about smart cities. But what does that mean? Oddly enough, there isn’t really a ready definition.  However, Big Green Innovations CTO Dr. Peter Williams, who lectures at Stanford University on the topic, offered his own take on what makes a city “smart”.  


In short, Williams’ proposed definition of a “smart city” is one that employs the internet of things (IOT) to improve aspects of its operations within or outside its boundaries, rapidly and efficiently respond the the community’s changing needs, engage the community to enable informed understanding of its process, and to collaborate with other communities as desired.  But let’s look at this a little deeper.


IBM’s definition of a “smart” device or location is something that is “instrumented, interconnected, intelligent”.  Smart cities, at least on one level, are part of the “internet of things” (IOT). They involve the use of sensors to generate data that can be communicated, integrated, and analyzed, to enable some aspect of city life to function better in some way.  As the trend towards urbanization increases dramatically around the world, the idea of creating newer, efficient cities is that much more important. There are parts of the world, such as the Andra Pradesh in India, where IOT technologies are already being used to improve the economic and living conditions in cities, towns, and villages.  


Smart cities have been variously linked with different movements: efficiency, sustainability, responsiveness, livability, urban planning or technology showcases, participation, resilience, and plenty of others.  None of these have to be mutually exclusive, but may at times be at odds with each other. For example, efficiency might be at odds with livability, or sustainability and resilience might not align with each other.  Because of this, cities need to choose how the IOT is used when related to these different applications.


Many critics of the “smart city” phenomenon have pointed out that as these choices are made, technology will be alienating without participation.  Indeed, this is something that needs to be kept in mind with the development of smart cities and communities. Top-down technology doesn’t make for compelling places to live.  Because of this, smart cities need to involve participation, and how this is achieved will vary according to the political norms and customs of each country.