Smart or City?

English-speaking folk learning French or Italian have a challenge: where to put the accent? First or second syllable? Acute or grave?

I think the Smart City or Smart Community movement has a similar issue: is the accent on Smart or is it on City?

City – long-term infrastructure builds

  • Affordable housing
  • Evolution of the workplace
  • Architecture

Smart – Functionality of sensors

  • Type of low-power network: which to use?
  • Data collection and AI
  • Privacy and open data issues

The two camps clearly intersect in areas such as urban traffic movement.

The “infrastructure” camp knows that roads need to be designed to accommodate the evolution of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles (AVs). The “smart” camp knows that vehicle sensors are starting to communicate with kerbside devices, overhead gantries and traffic lights; and that this can lead to streamlining traffic movement.


Leveraging these “smarts” and leveraging enlightened traffic-flow design, there is an opportunity for urban areas to become pleasant places for pedestrians and cyclists to walk/ride in – to become inhabitant-friendly in a way that they haven’t been since the 19th Century.




However, there is also the risk that AVs, unchecked, could clog the roadways like never before and a simple journey home from work could become a nightmare, as you get stuck behind a line of unmanned vehicles picking up pizza and running chores.

Transportation and Local Authorities are both enmeshed in this area of the future of transportation and road planning. An example:

  • A new super-tunnel linking 2 sides of a busy city is considered by the relevant Department of Roads.
  • Folks on the East need to get to the West, and vice-versa. Currently the only way they can do it is overground – a lengthy and congested journey.
  • A tunnel seems an obvious solution. But it needs to surface somewhere on route.
  • The tunnel architects propose that it surface at “Suburb X

At this point, the local authorities at Suburb X need to be consulted. How will it impact on pedestrians there? What about increased emissions in the local environment’s atmosphere?

Let’s suppose that the two parties do indeed sit down to speak to each other. (This isn’t always the case – but let’s be positive).


They will also need to have a common picture of the “Smart” issues enabling urban transportation – how sensors can monitor and control traffic; how this enables agile pilot projects on flows and the monitoring of the results – did pollution decrease? Was there more pedestrian traffic?



The accent cannot be purely on “Cities” – nor purely on “Smart”. For the future to work well the two must come together – as must different parties who have tended to work in isolation from each other.

The happy city is going to need to learn its smarts.

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