Can Smart Cities be inclusive and equitable?

November 28, 2019

3 takeaways from the Smart City Convention, Berlin 2019

Smart Cities are now the number 1 driver of 5G technology world-wide. Think about that for a moment – interconnected, digital and intelligent cities is a bigger driver for super-fast internet services than industry 4.0. We do not doubt the benefits of smart cities, but how will all of the citizens share them? Will Smart Cities really make the world a better place for everyone? Once you have read this blog you will be in a better position to decide whether Smart Cities are inclusive and equitable.

In July 2019 the G20 launched the Global Smart Cities Alliance and it was a hot topic at the Smart Cities Convention Berlin in October. In fact, if you are interested in nominating your city for a pioneering role in the work of the Alliance, the World Economic Forum (serving as secretariat for the alliance) is seeking 20 – 50 cities across the world as frontrunners in the implementation of common solutions based on open APIs and Data Models (see link below).

The goal of the Alliance is:

to unite municipal, regional and national governments, private-sector partners and cities’ residents around a shared set of principles for the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies.”


Currently, there is no global framework or set of rules in place for how sensor data collected in public spaces, such as by traffic cameras or Wi-Fi hotspots, is used. The Alliance establishes and advances global policy standards to help accelerate best practices, mitigate potential risks, and foster greater openness and public trust.

Cities occupy 2% of global land mass, but are responsible for 70% of global GHG emissions, so reducing this impact would lead to a more inclusive and equitable society – as long as it is done without infringing the rights of the people whose data will drive the reduction.

3 ways how this can be achieved:

  1. 30% of city traffic (and therefore emissions) is from cars looking for parking – technology can provide a solution. Using IoT connected sensors to monitor free parking spaces, traffic sensors to monitor congestion and route planning applications, drivers can be directed to the optimal free parking space. There is no need for the sharing of personal data (i.e. data that could be combined to identify you personally). Win-Win-Win.
  2. 30bn different IoT devices will be connected in 2020. It is possible to have cameras that blur the faces of the people being filmed so that general movement trends are tracked without tracking individuals. It is possible to have microphones that monitor noise levels and not individual conversations. Sensors, used for most purposes, can be GDPR compliant.
  3. Open Source software, common APIs, sharable Data Models and International Standards have been developed to level the playing field. To date, large corporations have dominated the Smart City software agenda – they have been the only ones seen as being able to deliver such complex solutions. Today, boosted by the G20 Smart Cities Alliance, there are internationally agreed open source platforms and standards that Smart City solutions can be built on. Cities can specify the use of these open source platforms to enable knowledge share, interoperability and data leverage, whilst avoiding supplier lock-in to large solution providers.

IF smart cities = open source THEN > inclusivity & equity

Perhaps this is a simplistic formula, but the principle is valid. By using open source platforms and agreed international standards, we enable the move away from a smart city agenda dominated solely by share-holder driven goals and towards a hybrid public / private sector solution that considers the citizen and SME community.


We have experience of creating consortia, developing smart city projects and preparing funding applications across Europe. If you would like our opinion on your venture’s chance of success, or business plan advice, please get in touch.

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