Apr 5, 2022 - Technology

For smart cities, start with the right definitions

Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Most people don't know exactly what a "smart city" is, but proper definitions will be key to making sure they can become a reality and work for everyone.

Why it matters: There's a lot of hype about smart cities and the future of where we live and work, but smart cities won't become a reality, making life easier and more sustainable, without the right policy.

Driving the news: During a discussion on smart cities at the Axios What's Next summit Tuesday in Washington, D.C., participants said equity and adapting to people's work lifestyles after the COVID-19 pandemic is important.

Participants zoned in on the following themes:

  • Technology for good: Smart city tech should make people's lives better with the goal of stronger, more inclusive cities, said Steve Benjamin, former mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and chairman of Flex, a trade association. Cities should focus on examples of where tech helped improve residents' lives: "It's amazing how one bad experience can poison the well," he said.
  • The right branding: Often, people are turned off at the idea of living in smart city due to old or misinformed ideas. "We need to rebrand the concept of smart cities," said Alina Gorokhovsky, chief executive officer of SCG Legal, who said some communities may think of smart cities of being associated with a loss of jobs and privacy.
  • Re-thinking the central business district: The traditional central business district isn't necessary anymore with so many people working from home and wanting all their essential places like doctors and shopping to be nearby, said Corrine Murray, chief strategist at Purposeful Intent.
  • Smart transit equity: Not everyone can work remotely, which is important to remember when developing cities for the future, said Jenna Klym, director of engagement and external affairs for the Greater Washington Partnership. Transit-oriented solutions should be included in any smart city visions, she said.

Be smart: Participants also said federal money is available now to do things like convert office space into residential and mixed-use units, and should be used as soon as possible for greatest impact.

The bottom line: Smart cities that work best will solve problems for all residents, not have the most advanced technology.

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