Are There Any Flaws In Our Smart City Vision?

In recent years, developed nations and those cities with the capacity to do so, have been eager to adopt the use of internet based real-time technology as tool to support their planning and urban design agendas.

For several decades, cities who have implemented tech-based innovation have become known as ‘smart cities’ and as Saunders (2015) comments, “the combination of sensors, data and advanced computing has promised to speed up information flows, reduce waste and sharply improve how efficiently resources can be managed.”

Smart cities have enormous potential to make our urban environments more sustainable, and there is no more important agenda right now than designing and planning for a more sustainable future, however as Saunders (2015) says that there are a few flaws with the smart city vision:

1) starting with technology rather than existing urban challenges

2) insufficient evidence demonstrating that smart city solutions can address real-world problems

3) lack of connection between smart city technicians and designers/planners who are already dealing with many of the problems that smart cities set out to tackle and I might add;

4) lack of safeguards to protect citizens from data abuse.

As nations like Singapore and China deploy vast networks of real-time information gathering we will be faced with the potential for potentially questionable uses of this data to emerge. Not all nations implementing smart city technology have the same commitment to human rights, freedoms and privacy as exists in countries such as Australia. As Poole (2014) says the things that enable smart cities, – a vast network of sensors amounting to millions of electronic ears, eyes and noses – also potentially enable the future city to be a vast arena of perfect and permanent surveillance by whomever has access to the data feeds.

If we can however ensure that meaningful safeguards and practices are in place at the national and international level to ensure the tools of the smart city are not turned against its citizenry, then we undeniably stand a very real chance of bringing forth a major shift towards a more sustainable urban vision for the twenty-first century. After all, as Jan Gehl famously said “nothing in this world is more simple and more cheap than making cities that provide better for people”.

Author: Stephen Burton


Gehl, J. and Gemzoe, L. (2000) New City Spaces, Denmark, The Danish Architectural Press

Poole, Stephen (2014) The Truth About Smart Cities, The Guardian Newspaper, 18 Dec 2014.

Saunders, Tom and Baeck, Peter (2015) Rethinking Smart Cities from the Ground Up, NESTA, England

View all articles