Do SMART places hold the key to connected communities?

23rd January 2020
Monica Feghali
SMART Services Regional Lead

Much of the discussion around smart cities has initially focused on making services available online, improving technology infrastructure and the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, 3D printing and a host of other emerging technologies.

As cities attempt to attract residents, visitors and businesses, they naturally focus on improving their own services. Inadvertently perhaps creating a perception that ‘smart cities’ are just technology projects.

They are not.

It is important to remember that there is far more to designing and building smart cities, than installing sensors on lampposts and putting government services online.

If future governments are to be successful in the race to attract businesses and investment, smart city strategies must factor in the development of the physical environment and be adaptable to the unknowns that the future brings – not only roads, bridges and buildings, but whole communities.

Cities of the future must be capable of supporting happy and productive communities with good transport links, nice places to live, work and play, as well as vibrant community spaces.

Sometimes when we discuss smart cities the discussion is too technology driven

When we consider smart cities, the discussion is off too technology focused. ‘Smart’ doesn’t just mean technology – it means smart design. It is about how to make cities smart from and end user point of view that the guides the strategy development and investment model.

While most developers are aware of the need to invest in technology, many are unclear about how it can be used to build connected spaces and improve their business.

Smart can be overwhelming – everybody wants it, but nobody really knows what it is. Design needs to be centred around our behaviours to create human-centred buildings and urban spaces that are focused on the end user and the benefits to them.

A smart, human-centred design looks specifically at how buildings and urban spaces can connect individuals with their neighbours and surrounding community and ensure their wellbeing. By focusing the process on the individual, it means that the final design will work today and in the future, and respond well to the rapidly changing landscape of technology and human behaviour.


Smart is overwhelming everybody – everybody wants it, but nobody really knows what it is

It’s all in the data
Data is being collected everywhere already but it’s what we do with this data, and how we respond to information on building use that which will play a vital role as smart cities develop. Urban environments will develop based on human behaviour and how we choose to live, work and play within a space. For example, shopping malls are uncovering the vast commercial benefits that can come from engaging with customers based on their personal preferences, whilst healthcare providers are beginning to tailor services to individuals based on the data collected from personal health tracking devices.

Additional revenue streams will become available in most markets thanks to a smart approach to design and the integration of well-chosen technologies. Developers can study space utilisation and dwell times, helping them to understand and alter the use of a space if required – imagine a bustling coffee shop that, based on trackable user behaviour, can respond to, and accommodate, the need for a collaborative working space during certain hours of the day?

With this in mind it is not hard to image the disruption and ‘uberisation’ of commercial real estate. As more firms opt for co-working spaces rather than being locked into rigid, long term tenancy agreements; digital applications are making it easy for firms to book facilities, such as meeting rooms, desks and storage space.

Similar ideas are being used to drive greater human engagement in communities. Apps can easily share information about local groups and suggest spaces for groups to meet, encouraging face to face interaction with neighbours and tackle the growing trend of loneliness and disconnect caused by an over reliance on technology.

A word of caution
As cities continue their rapid development in to the future, technology and building design will be an enabler of connected communities and smart cities, however we need to be sensible in our approach. Wherever technology is deployed in the built environment, developers need to ensure there is a clear business case for doing so. Rolling out technology for the sake of it, is a costly and time-consuming exercise.

It’s undeniable that Big Data will help offer us truly smart and integrated spaces in the future however it is vital that keep the human at the centre of our approach to smart cities, remaining mindful of the need to focus on people’s wellbeing and for humans to be connected with their communities and finding a way to balance the benefits of tracking human behaviour for the benefit of the individual vs the desire to use personal data to increase revenue streams.