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Yahya Mohamed Mao, Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Scientya.com questions ‘can Sustainability be the Answer to a Growing Smart City Backlash?’ is answered in his write up below. The picture above is for illustration and is of FinExtra, publisher of this article.

Can Sustainability Be The Answer To A Growing Smart City Backlash?

2 August 2021

The constant and ubiquitous transfer of data from various sources to a single government entity has led to concerns that these sources could turn into electronic panoptics as governments use data-driven technologies to maximize effective surveillance of their citizens. Smart City technologies have been developed with practical applications to improve effective law enforcement, optimize transportation services, improve basic infrastructure, including the provision of local government services, and e-governance platforms. This will improve urban planning and allow governments to tailor their services to the local population.

In some cases technology companies are believed to enter into opaque partnerships with municipal authorities that have profited from the project at their expense by using public resources such as land and development rights. Such criticism is also drawn from data protection factors, since information flows function at the level of citizens and governments and undermine the concept of urban anonymity.

In several cases, lawmakers have passed or are considering legislation that would ban or restrict the construction of 5G cellular towers due to health concerns. While private and business industries consider 5G as a true milestone in today’s technology landscape, residents are largely suspicious of city governments and large technology companies in smart projects whose data track and collect over their everyday activities, not only compromising their privacy and security, but also selling the data without their consent. Fears of privacy intrusion in today’s digital age and rampant development that undermines public interest have exacerbated the erosion of trust between residents and municipalities, especially when private companies manage smart projects. 

Moreover, people are afraid that the government will use the data it collects not only for the big government, but also for the companies that sell it. The lack of transparency about what happens to the data, in my opinion, is multiplying the increase in activity in smart cities.

It seems evident that smart cities cannot harness the potential of new data, emerging information technologies and many other components that are essential to fulfill the promise of better services and a better quality of life. One of the most important components of smart cities is sustainability, and sustainability as currently understood is poorly understood.

The exclusion of Smart City definitions from essays on technological solutions in computer science, engineering, and mathematics is one limitation of this study. Further research into the contribution of smart cities to sustainable development is essential. In fact, research suggests that one of the main objectives of Smart City initiatives is to improve quality of life, but there is no definition that explains what this means and what the cost to society and the environment will be. When defining smart cities, it is not clear whether economic growth and improved quality of life are closely linked or whether they are presented as competing agendas. Future efforts to define smart cities should take into account the cause-effect relationship between improving the quality of life and the use of modern technologies and reflect on the dimensions of sustainability.

Economic and financial resources influence the ability of governments to develop and maintain smart cities. Smart cities should focus on social sustainability not only on the provision of services, but also on sustainable mechanisms of civic engagement (Webster and Leleux, 2019) and knowledge sharing with employees (Radulescu et al, 2020) to achieve social sustainability. In terms of the attractiveness of urban life, the introduction of digital technologies and sensors to collect new data will help document weather conditions, noise, temporary projects, pop-up installations, festivals, festivals, holidays, day and night time and impact on usage. This will help landscape architects and urban planners to make informed decisions about the development of public places so that they are pleasant, inclusive and attractive places. 

Payment structures in Smart Cities

According to The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) the following cities are the leading global smart cities:

  1. Singapore
  2. Dubai
  3. Oslo
  4. Copenhagen
  5. Boston
  6. Amsterdam
  7. New York
  8. London
  9. Barcelona
  10. Hong Kong

Interestingly, several of these locations also ranking high on Findexable’s index of 2020’s leading fintech hubs. As a consequence, digital payment architecture is expected to be similarly advanced.

A growing backlash?

The growing backlash against large technology companies, combined with the pandemic, has led to a waning enthusiasm for the term that dominates the discussion about the future of cities. Dropping the term “smart city” does not mean ignoring the technology’s potential for better cities

Conferences, marketplaces, and exhibitions have sprung up to showcase the latest gadgets that cities can buy to transform themselves. The challenges posed by smart cities have prompted metros of all sizes to embrace new technologies for the benefit of all, it seems clear, in order to join a growing global club of innovative communities. 

The link between smart cities and the extensive development of technologies makes it unsurprising that today’s tech companies are heavily involved in the building and growth process. The likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Huawei have developed various ideas for smart cities. IoT devices are in need of the collection of information making the latter essential for running a smart city. In this manner, Amazon and Google’s venture in smart city activities should not come as a surprise. As we all know, they have been making our homes progressively filled with gadgets such as Alexa and Google Home for a long time. It was only a matter of time before the scale increased!

The concept of smart cities dates back to the 1970s, when Los Angeles created the first urban big data project. Amsterdam became the first smart city with the creation of a virtual digital city in 1994. When in 2011 the inaugural Smart City Expo World Congress was held in Barcelona, it has immediately become an annual event dedicated to smart cities’ development. By 2050, up to 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities and smart cities have been considered the ideal solution after decades of population growth and unplanned urban sprawl across the globe. Cities have a central role in strategic sustainable development. However, is smart also sustainable? Uncertainties and lack of trust resulting from the constant and ubiquitous transfer of data from various sources to a single government entity with tech giants believed to enter into opaque partnerships with municipal authorities have led to an increasing antipathy towards smart cities. People are afraid that the government will use the data it collects not only for the big government, but also for the companies that sell it. Could placing emphasis on sustainability be the answer to a growing smart city backlash? Lack of transparency is an important issue that must be actively discussed. We should stop presuming that “smart” is automatically “sustainable” and include sustainability as cornerstones of smart cities concept. Lack of transparency and people’s mistrust of how sensitive data is used accompanied by a poor understanding of sustainability and its relationship with increasing quality of life may contribute to the growing antipathy towards smart cities.