The revitalized Brooklyn Navy Yard brought together academia, non-profits, private industry, and government leaders from around the world for the Smart Cities NYC ’17 conference and expo. Deliberating the future intersection of technology and urban life, key themes over the 3-day conference included digital inclusion, citizen empowerment, and the potential for technology to increase resident access to essential city services. It was encouraging to see the emphasis on digital inclusion and accessibility displayed by leading suppliers and city officials.
Digital Inclusion and Accessibility
A good example of how digital inclusion is being approached was provided by Microsoft, along with its partners G3ict and World Enabled, with the launch of the Smart Cities for All Toolkit. The toolkit is designed to help city officials and urban planners make more inclusive and accessible smart cities, particularly for the more than 1 billion people with a disability around the world. Tools developed for cities include a guide for adopting information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility standards and a guide for ICT accessible procurement policies, among others. The Smart Cities for All initiative is also in the process of developing a Smart Cities Digital Inclusion Maturity Model that will help cities evaluate their progress toward their ICT accessibility and digital inclusion targets.
A desire for greater inclusivity could also be seen on the transportation side, with many cities discussing the possibilities offered by mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions. MaaS has the potential to broaden transport options and lowers costs for consumers, enabling residents to have better access to potential areas of employment or leisure. One of the common initiatives is the deployment of multimodal transportation planning apps. These solutions, as shown in Conduent’s MaaS apps in Denver, Los Angeles, and most recently Bengaluru, allow residents to choose between an array of public and private options (such as bus, train, rideshare, carshare, and bikeshare) and help inform users of the cheapest or fastest ways to travel. Eventually, cities will be able to offer incentives and discounts to riders for taking certain transport options, for example, to mitigate congestion.
Bridging the Digital Divide
The primary goal of the global smart cities movement is to utilize technology to improve the quality of life in cities. While concerns about security and privacy have been well-documented, less focus is given to the potential for smart cities to increase the divide between small and large cities, the wealthy and the poor, and the healthy and the sick. To ensure these divisions are reduced rather than worsened, smart city programs need to ensure all segments of the population reap the benefits digital technology can provide.
These themes from the conference, along with recent major projects announced in cities such as San Diego and Columbus, provide further evidence that the smart cities market is evolving from one-off pilot projects toward more holistic outcome-focused approaches that consider the needs of all city residents and communities.