As urban populations grow increasingly diverse, many cities are turning to technology and smart city solutions to build more livable environments and improve the delivery of public services. However, smart city design and implementation shortcomings, coupled with the digital divide between different population segments, might unintentionally leave some communities behind. This is prompting cities to confront the question: How can digital solutions advance, rather than impede, inclusion?
This article explores the relationship between technological innovation and inclusion in today’s cities. Based on research, interviews, and engagement with city leaders around the world, we outline six enablers that work around core principles to help bring smart cities to life.
These enablers include:
• Data and security: Increasing representation and transparency in government data
When governments collect incomplete data or fail to engage residents in decisions about how their data is used, they run the risk of undermining the utility of and trust in public data management. Policymakers can address this issue by improving the management of public datasets.
• Digital and technology: Expanding digital access and skills
Participation in smart city initiatives is contingent upon residents’ ability to access and navigate digital channels and services effectively. Cities can address these challenges by assessing the availability of internet infrastructure, expanding digital connectivity, boosting internet adoption rates, and promoting digital literacy programs.
• Ecosystem: Driving community cocreation
When historically marginalized groups are excluded or underrepresented, cities risk designing solutions that may not meet everyone’s needs. Living laboratories, resident advisory committees, and multimodal crowdsourcing can help policymakers gather feedback from community members to tap into the collective intelligence of constituents.
• Finance and funding: Incentivizing inclusive innovation
Funding for smart city initiatives that target low-income or hard-to-reach populations is a persistent challenge for many city governments. Public and private sector incentives that spur technology usage and economic growth can address equity challenges.
• Internal organization: Driving intergovernmental collaboration and tech-savvy staff
Dedicated inclusion councils staffed by representatives from city agencies who have deep ties to underrepresented populations can help improve collaboration. Embracing cross-departmental communications and breaking down knowledge silos can also expand the effectiveness of smart city initiatives.
• Policy and regulation: Making inclusion a strategic imperative
New technologies and data collection practices, such as video surveillance, have amplified many residents’ privacy concerns. Municipal governments can demonstrate their commitment to these concerns and digital inclusion by incorporating metrics that measure the inclusivity of smart city initiatives into citywide strategic plans.
Smart, connected infrastructure and data-driven technology have the potential to improve the lives of millions of urban residents in the United States and billions around the world. Cities that make inclusion and engagement a cornerstone of their smart city efforts can build long-term trust with their communities and ultimately reap widespread economic benefits. Where do cities start? Read the full article to learn more.
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