Smarter, safer and more inclusive communities

central park community

This article is the second part in a series on smart cities. See more from Christine Wong.

Smart cities are already spawning success stories.

They’re using sensors, analytics, apps and mobile devices to gain deeper insights about local citizens and their environment. The end goal? Offer residents better information and services to improve their lives.

And it’s happening.

In Beijing, air pollution levels have fallen 20 percent. A connected pilot project in Dallas cut crime in one neighbourhood by six percent. In Louisville, KY, the use of emergency inhalers by asthma patients has plummeted by 82 percent. As outlined in Part 1 of our series, these positive outcomes were enabled by smart city technologies.

As smart cities become more connected, however, the focus is shifting from connectivity to community. Here in Part 2, we take a closer look at accountability, accessibility and security in the age of intelligent infrastructure.

Public/private partnerships

“We constantly live in a world of constrained public sector funding,” says Colin Earp. Earp is a global infrastructure advisory partner at KPMG in Canada.

Many smart cities deal with that by teaming up with corporations through public/private partnerships (P3s). A major challenge, Earp says, is “how do we manage that process so there’s both a commercial and social benefit?”

Ultimately, the overriding goal of smart city P3s shouldn’t be to offset public costs but to improve the citizen experience.

Cybersecurity

Serious teenager looking at laptop display in cafe while her friends communicating on background

Deploying sensor-based tech throughout city infrastructure creates more risk points for hacks and breaches of citizen data. The harsh reality, says Earp, is there’s no foolproof security solution.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as cybersecurity for smart cities. We’re talking about the management of people’s information and data, and that’s an issue for a more connected world in general.”

What could help protect smart city data, Earp adds, are international standards – perhaps both technical and regulatory – so cybersecurity laws and technology solutions can be integrated more effectively across borders and vendor brands.

“We need nations to come together and clearly understand what those standards are going to look like and how we can apply them within multiple contexts.”

Colin Earp, Global Infrastructure Advisory Partner at KPMG Canada

Privacy

As scrutiny intensifies over Facebook’s use of customer data, smart cities are also being grilled about how they manage access to citizens’ information. Last year, two advisory panelists cited data privacy concerns when they quit the Sidewalk Toronto smart development.

(Sidewalk Toronto declined our interview request but has responded to public concerns by proposing the use of a civic data trust and responsible data impact assessments.)

As with data security, there’s no ‘killer app’ to completely safeguard the privacy of citizen data, says Mark Fox, distinguished professor of urban systems engineering at the University of Toronto and associate director for research at U of T’s School of Cities.

“We live in a post-privacy world. If you think there’s a way to protect all the data that you have, to keep it secure and inaccessible by others, you’re kidding yourself.”

Could tougher laws make a difference? Perhaps,  Fox suggests. Data aggregators or storage providers rarely (if ever) receive substantial fines or jail time after data breaches. Harsher penalties might sway more data-based service providers to make security a top priority, he says.

People-based planning

woman looking up to towers in a city

Can all citizens enjoy equal access to smart city offerings? If they have trouble using or affording a smartphone – like homeless, low income, immigrant, elderly or disabled residents – maybe not.

“We need to be thinking really intentionally about how to activate technologies in a way that can contribute to inclusivity,” says Shauna Brail. Brail is an associate professor of urban studies at the University of Toronto and associate director of partnerships and outreach at U of T’s School of Cities.

Inclusive thinking led Columbus, OH to launch a web-based ride-hailing service for pregnant women in low-income neighborhoods.

It aims to lower infant mortality by easing women’s access to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores and “other kinds of services and supports in their lives that actually contribute to their health,” says Brail, “So this is something very technology-focused, but driven by thinking about how to serve people best.”

It’s one example of how smart cities must think about citizens first and sensors second.

“The focus on the individual and how they want to live their life is really where cities become smart,” says Earp. “Everything else is just technology.”

About Futurithmic

It is our mission to explore the implications of emerging technologies, seeking answers to next-level questions about how they will affect society, business, politics and the environment of tomorrow.

We aim to inform and inspire through thoughtful research, responsible reporting, and clear, unbiased writing, and to create a platform for a diverse group of innovators to bring multiple perspectives.

Futurithmic is building the media that connects the conversation.