Half the world’s population now lives in...
The world’s population is forecast to reach seven billion on 31 October 2011, according to the United Nations, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for us all. With more than half of these people living in urban areas, new ways of thinking are needed to realise the benefits that such density can bring. For many, the future lies in 'smart cities', where information, communication and technology transform the way that cities are governed, operated, interacted with and experienced.
Smart technologies can create more efficient systems and better informed citizens. With the Internet of Things (the networked connection between everyday objects) now including smart phones and tablets, social media, super fast broadband, and real-time instrumentation, we already have all the necessary tools to deliver smart cities. There is much consideration being given to how we can harness the power of these emerging technologies.
But there is the broader question: which people in society do these technologies benefit?
The link between urbanisation and socio-economic development is rarely disputed. But in many cities worldwide, economic growth has not resulted in prosperity for all. Instead the gap between rich and poor has widened, with many of the view that there are now two cities within each city. Perhaps the real challenge is how smart technologies can help to make urban areas more sustainable and better places to live for all inhabitants?
To illustrate this with the example of transport: how can smart urban mobility policies address transport planning and gender issues? Are urban transport systems planned to fully account for women’s transport needs or are city transport systems largely planned by men with men in mind?
Generally women are smaller than men, have less reach, and are less strong. Women also tend to be more 'encumbered' (for example by infants, shopping, etc) which affects access to public transport and the pedestrian environment. Women typically take a greater share of the burden of caring roles for children and the elderly which means more complex journey patterns.
Women also have lower average incomes than men which means less access to a car and higher public transport use. Women can also have different perceptions and priorities – such as fears about security (although men are more likely to suffer violence in public places) and concern about air quality issues (asthma).
I would say that the smart approach is for cities to take into account the needs of all inhabitants when planning. Smart Cities and technologies can be part of the 'how' and the 'what' for addressing sustainability and resilience in our cities, but do we always understand the 'why'?