How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Ideas of the 'Smart City'

Accelerated investment in smart city technologies presents increased opportunity for connection and data-driven decision making, so long as cities can avoid the common pitfalls of implementation.

August 5, 2020, 9:00 AM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery

Digital City

Nikko Gajowniczek / Behance

In the opinion and experience of planning professionals and city authorities, the coronavirus pandemic is shifting cities' priorities toward digitalization and the adoption of smart city technologies. As Lara Williams puts it: "The pandemic has highlighted the need for accelerated digital city planning and greater communication with citizens for such population levels to be sustainable."

Cities like London and Vancouver are accelerating and repurposing in-progress projects to enable the collection of data that can inform data-driven decisions in response to the coronavirus crisis. According to Williams, cities are also investing in technologies to connect remote workers. In Vancouver, for example, with the implementation of LED street lighting systems and a shift to remote work infrastructure, the city predicts significant post-pandemic savings in the midst of an economic downturn. 

Understanding the role of digitization in cities large and small is an increasingly ubiquitous priority for city authorities and infrastructure owners. Williams says, however, that cities should take test runs before implementing massive changes and that, "small pilots leading to scalable solutions with an organic approach are preferable to sweeping policy changes."

Another consideration for city authorities considering the implementation of new technologies: prioritize data privacy and digital citizenship as part of the process, making sure every member of the community has equal access to prerequisites for using the technology, including knowledge of how the systems function.

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