Making Smart Cities Scientific

Attend the ‘Making Smart Cities Scientific’ panel at the second annual Smart Regions Conference!  Details here.

Attend the ‘Making Smart Cities Scientific’ panel at the second annual Smart Regions Conference! Details here.


Written by: Zack Huhn

Science continues to push the limits of technology and humanity. And it must as 65% of the world’s population will live in urban cores by 2040 where we already use 60-80% of the world’s energy and generate 60% of the global GDP. This creates challenges for urban, suburban, and rural communities that cannot be ignored. As new opportunities are created, so are new risks, especially in the context of smart cities and automation. We can afford to make mistakes, to learn and iterate; but we cannot afford to get it wrong.

Are we prioritizing planning that improves people’s lives? Planning that is technology enabled, but people-centered? Planning that creates better, safer, more equitable places to live, work, and visit? Planning that will alleviate otherwise strained municipal budgets?

Today, we have the opportunity to listen to and analyze the built and natural environment like never before. What does that empower us to accomplish? For people? For nature? For the future? What does it mean to be predictive instead of reactive as a city or region? How are we funding it? How will all of the systems work together? Are we prioritizing interoperability, privacy, and resilience?

Today we explore the challenges that can be overcome leveraging smart technologies, policies, and strategies. Every day I hope to spark collaborative and actionable thinking about how we will use technology to bridge the gap to improve people’s lives. And most importantly, to ensure that technology isn’t leveraged to do the opposite of that. The question that might be asked of us; the question that I ask myself is, “What did you do to compel your community to invest in these things?”  

We might also ask, “What are we doing to make smart cities scientific?” For governments and technologists, partnerships with academic and research institutions are particularly important as there are not yet hundreds or thousands of use cases that define and prove the concepts behind smart cities or regions. A scientific truth isn’t the result of one experiment or project. It has to be verified. Preferably by a competitor or external peer. A consensus of observation will have emerged only after we can compare, test, and verify instances across cities and regions. This requires constant communication and collaboration. This requires a new way of thinking about infrastructure, planning, and cooperation - beyond city limits and across party lines.

Why is it so important that the Smart Cities Caucus launched in the 115th United States Congress? Why is it so valuable to have programs such as National Science Foundation Smart and Connected Communities or the United States Department of Transportation Smart Cities Challenge? What doors will be opened by MIT Media Labs or the University of Cincinnati NEXT Mobility Lab? What findings and projects will propel us forward as a result of the Smart Infrastructure Challenge?

We must learn from, compare, and iterate as needed to move forward efficiently and effectively. Technology alone cannot solve our problems in mobility, safety, or sustainability. Technological advances are key to solving problems that impact our daily lives, where we travel, and how we live; but technology is only as useful as the policies and strategies that enable it. A scientific consensus will allow us to build smart cities and regions - connected communities - that are rooted in resilience and interoperability; that are designed to improve people’s lives, reduce environmental impact, and optimize otherwise inefficient government systems. A scientific consensus will help leaders and communities build trust in these new ‘things’ that when applied, can improve the standard of living for people regardless of socioeconomic or physical barriers. What are you doing to compel your community to invest in making smart cities scientific?

If you’re interested in updates on how interdisciplinary stakeholders are working together to make smart cities scientific, sign up for the newsletter join leaders in Columbus, OH at the Second Annual Smart Regions Conference on October 25 and 26 at the Hyatt Regency Downtown.