July 11, 2016 Djuan Coleon

Will Smart Cities be Equitable Cities?

In 2015 the United Nations held the Sustainable Development Summit with world leaders who adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. The SDG’s help frame the world’s cities goals to build Smart Cities and provide greater connectivity via The Internet of Things (IoT). What cannot get lost in society is still wrestling archaic constructs of race and class. How do we build Smart Cities juxtaposed with systemic issues of police brutality, environmental and social justice?   

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The United Nations has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and I believe goal number 16 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” is paramount in building sustainability in communities and cities.

“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” (Global Goals Peace and Justice

Building “Smart Cities” is not just about upgrading the infrastructure, adding green spaces and increasing transportation options. Citizens of every demographic have to feel included in the process as well as included in society. Right now we have such a divide in America when it comes to law enforcement and how policing is done in black, white and brown communities.

African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the population, yet they are the victims in 26 percent of all police shootings. That is nearly 3 times the rate of whites.” ( Matt Agorist “The Free Thought Project” )


We just can’t be concerned about improving transportation options for citizens but we also have to improve police and community relations so there is equity.

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The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a “Smart City Challenge” to integrate and connect technology – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network. Yet there seems to be this obliviousness to the challenge that low income and disadvantaged communities don’t have adequate access to regular bus and rail service. 

“Without really good public transportation, it’s very difficult to deal with inequality,” Kanter said. Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling— relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price.” ( Rosabeth Moss Kanter The Atlantic ). 

Smart city innovations are great but will there be equity innovation? One of the new trends in city is Bike sharing programs but studies have shown over the 800 plus programs across America. The majority of the users of the bike sharing program are white and half of these users have incomes over $100,00 a year.

“Bike share is still very much the domain of white upper-class males,” said transportation researcher Elliot Fishman, who contributed to 2014 findings that revealed members of bike-share programs skew male, wealthy, educated, and Caucasian. ( Take Part )

In June of 2016 Atlanta just started a bike sharing program and the costs start at $8 an Hour or $15 a month for an hour use per day. ( Atlanta Bike Sharing Program )



The Department of Transportation recently awarded Columbus, Ohio $40 Million dollars to come up with creative ways to integrate new technologies into the city’s infrastructure. One innovation was creating “neighborhood hubs” where people can connect via smart phones and get real time information on bus routes and bike sharing availability. I always go back to equity in sustainable development. Low income and minority communities struggle to get access to bike sharing programs and expanded transportation options. As cities like Atlanta are rolling out Google Fiber networks, some residents don’t have access to the internet or have very slow connection speeds.

“More than 13 percent of low-income areas in the United States don’t have access to broadband, compared to fewer than 3 percent of the wealthiest areas” (center for public integrity)

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 One of the main objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is that “no one is left behind”. I would surmise that whole segments of society will be left behind if we don’t factor equity into the equation for “Smart Cities” and sustainable development. 






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