The phrase “Smart City,” as well as the concept behind the phrase, has become a trend over the last few years. This trend has pushed companies and institutions to become something that, in many cases, they do not fully understand. They want to be “Smart” like they want to be “Green.” However, these objectives are complex, involve seemingly limitless stakeholders, among require difficult choices on the use of resources among other challenges. Simply changing colors in a logo or developing new apps in order to claim the title does not result in a fulfillment of the objective or even a significant advancement toward it.
Perhaps this emerging identity crisis is one of the greatest challenges we face in the Smart Cities Community — the need to define and understand ourselves and our ultimate objectives. We represent a tiny part of our society, as every “vanguard” always has. We dedicate a part of our efforts to generate awareness and conscience about the new world that is emerging and in almost every way seems different than the world we know today. The world we live in today may not be missed by many, assuming the world we are able to create tomorrow is an improvement.
Today, we relish all the good things that give us stability and “normality” (in a broad sense of the word), but we must also accept the other side of this coin — the side that reminds us of all the existing inequality, alienation and conflict. We should aspire — no, we are entrusted — to create a new reality, a world that is Smarter, more equitable, more inclusive and more socially conscience. To succeed in this great endeavor we must embrace “Smart” as a concept — a philosophy that should be understood and leveraged as a transformational tool.
For several years, Leading Cities has promoted efforts that advanced this shared cause through the generation of new social, entrepreneurship and ideological ecosystems that understand disruptive technologies represent an opportunity as well as a potential risk. We have facilitated an awareness that advancement has winners and losers and that society must be mindful and careful of who wins and who loses as it pursues such advancement. This social conscience and consciousness is critical if we are to achieve the equity, inclusion and opportunity we hope to leave for future generations.
We have developed projects that sought to generate understanding about the emerging trends of globalization and our economic systems at a time when large populations of society were losing their jobs because their skills were labelled “obsolete.” We have generated tools for analysis and we have truly fought for the implementation of urban solutions that considered the impact to our whole communities and not just the privileged few.
Our efforts have not yet succeeded universally. Perhaps we have failed to launch the necessary debate about what we want to do and to create and to be as a society in the 21st century. Regardless, we know that we must abandon the endless sense of yearning that characterizes our present, idealized our past and made us afraid to envision a more meaningful future. We cannot continue to celebrate just the goodness of globalization without forgetting to recognize and address its inherent inequalities and mistakes.
For this reason, we seek to open a discussion about what being “Smart” really means in the context of our hopes and dreams for a better future. Because Smart Ecosystems, some of which Leading Cities has created, implies a paradigm shift from a post-industrial productive system to a new arena full of both uncertainties and opportunities. Throughout this intended discussion, we should welcome the opportunity for transformation and evolution in the advancement of our understanding and approach to society and its future needs. We can launch this reflection by describing some of the basic concepts that help define our idea of being “Smart.”
Smart, is being factual, in a time driven by myths and here say, because facts lead us to understanding and ultimately solutions.
Smart means being responsible, because our decisions and our actions determine the future we are creating and whether that future will live up to our dreams and expectations.
Smart is being equitable, because society advances as a collective and it behooves us all to advance further together.
Smart is being progressive, because we must challenge ourselves to move beyond our comfort zone to find that better place.
Smart is being sustainable, because from an ecological, economical and sociological perspective our future depends on our ability to preserve, protect and improve.
As this new year begins, we find ourselves living in a time of change—we must choose our role in this moment, we must define the legacy that we want to leave behind, we must fight for the future we want to create and we must emulate the supportive, equitable community we strive to achieve.
Authors Joaquín Rodríguez Álvarez, Leading Cities Coordinator Barcelona; Michael Lake, President & CEO, Leading Cities