August 22, 2016 Djuan Coleon

Smart Cities: Connected Things and Disconnected Citizens

Forecasters predict there will be over 1.7 Billion connected things in use in our cities by 2018. The Internet of Things (IoT) allows everything from LED street lighting to your refrigerator to communicate and share data. In a move to be more efficient and leverage data municipalities are aggressively planning how to be more connected. The issue is what happens when the humans that are supposed to be benefiting by this technological advancement are left out of the information loop, disengaged and disconnected?



The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11 is to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In order to do that I believe it must involve some input and engagement with the targeted citizens as to what they feel is inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Is the concept of a “Smart City” just a measurable of the various technological systems working together or is there a human component? How does the average citizen have a say in the technology or how it will be used in their community? These sensors will be collecting data and leveraging that data in many ways from traffic monitoring to power usage in the home. How are the everyday people finding out about these changes? If the purpose is to improve how we “Live, Work and Play” would it not behove us to get more community engagement in the process of smart city implementation?  In a survey done by Citylab 70% of the residents are satisfied with the current offerings of service by their local government. Yet when it comes to black residents, 44% lack confidence and or trust their local government.

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When we are dealing with urban centers with higher concentrations of minority residents they want more improvements in transportation, public schools and public safety. How do we sell these improvements to the energy grid and smart city tech as helping their quality of life? Simple we have to do a better job of connecting the dots between Smart City technology and everyday life touch points. For example LED Street Lighting projects can help improve with public safety. Companies like GE are employing technology in LED street lights that can detect gunfire and autonomously alert the police. In Los Angeles Phillips is employing their SmartPole technology lighting systems that employ a number of services for citizens including broadband services. If we connect the dots and educate citizens on how the technologies can improve their quality of life then we get more engaged stakeholders in our cities.


In the movie series “The Matrix” the machines took over the world and used the energy of humans to create sustainability. There is this fear that comes with not knowing. People fear what they don’t know and some populations are not getting informed. Smart Cities are in different implementation phases all over the world and citizens may feel like the technology is intrusive or too controlling.


(the machines harvesting the energy of humans in The Matrix)

We cannot measure progress in a vacuum not all citizens are able to benefit from Smart City infrastructure upgrades. We may be enamored with the idea of intelligent appliances being able to reduce utility bills like Pantelligent’s smart frying pan.


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How do smart frying pans that can help you cook the perfect salmon while saving energy relate to citizens that live in a food desert with no access to fresh salmon? Over 23 million people mostly low income and minority live in food deserts across America.  If we can effectively connect the dots to the technology to the needs of different social economic groups of citizens then collectively the city would “get smarter”. The problem is low income and elderly citizens get left out of the loop and left feeling disconnected from the process. Low income residents are disporportionatley affected to toxic and hazardous waste in their community. Will American cities employ sensors to monitor air quality like they’re doing in Santander, Spain? These monitoring systems have real time monitoring capability with display maps citizens can readily see and be informed about their environment.

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In order to insure the success of “Smart Cities” we must not just focus on data management and efficiency with out thought to citizen engagement. I wouldn’t want to live in a city where the appliances and frying pans were better connected and informed than the people who use them.



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