The increased use of data and technology by cities around the world to improve urban infrastructure and to enhance the quality of life for their residents has led to innovative solutions to municipal challenges, while also raising questions on how to best create an inclusive social and economic infrastructure. Proponents of developing strategies for integrating technology and data into cities, termed “Smart Cities,” claim its potential to be transformative in addressing systemic challenges and improving the lives of citizens. But, creating “Smart Cities” is not without controversy, particularly when it comes to creating urban environments that are fair and sustainable. How can technology better address a city’s challenges? How can data challenge misconceptions? Can a smart city promote a sustainable, equitable future? Or is the concept overhyped?
In October 2019, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue partnered with the University of Central Florida Office of Global Perspectives and International Initiatives to organize a dialogue that provided a platform to share common issues, discuss potential solutions, and identify opportunities within smart city ecosystems. The dialogue took a multi-disciplinary approach and focused on themes such as data collection, analysis and management, transportation, housing, resource management, public health, and smart tourism. Experts in the field attended from the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa, North America, and South Asia.
In the year since the dialogue, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven some comments during the dialogue particularly prescient. The global crisis has accelerated both the potential positive outcomes of building “smart” as well as the concerns about unfettered application of data and technology. Many of the concepts and examples highlighted at the dialogue remain highly relevant and worth further debate in the post-COVID era.