Connectivity is Needed in Smart Cities

By Michael Landerer

In our class on Living PlanIT when we dove into what the actually characteristics of a smart city were, I was amazed by the omission of “connectivity”.    Further, in looking at definitions of “smart cities” defining them as cities that exhibit smart economy, smart mobility, smart environment, smart people, smart living, and smart governance, smart connectivity is hardly mentioned. [1]

Based on the way people live their modern lives, the first thing that I thought would be a characteristic of a smart city would be connectivity.  Connectivity at a basic level could consist of universal WiFi and superior mobile coverage.   Beyond municipal Wifi smart connectivity can include a wide array of features greatly enriching the lives of residents.

A great model for such connectivity is right under our noses, Harvard University.  Not only is the Harvard Campus wired, but Harvard has the ability to communicate easily with all of its students.  It is able to email students about upcoming events or contact them in the case of service interruptions or a power outage.

Related to connectivity, there are various other aspects of HBS that could be integrated into a small to mid-sized urban environment that could be greatly beneficial to citizens.   At HBS, we have Classcards that allow us to see who our peers are and connect with them.   Security concerns aside, a level of transparency into who the other residents of a city are could have the potential to enrich the lives of its residents.  It could allow people to identify relevant business contacts or find people who share an alma mater.

The Harvard Mobile Application also provides numerous tools that could be transferred to cities.  Real time transit updates and tracking, listing of community events, listing of hours of operations for various facilities, and providing news are all things city apps could do.

How have cities succeeded in being connected?  Various cities have made efforts in terms of connectivity.  Beyond municipal WiFi networks, a few cities stand out.  New York City’s Big App contest has provided city data to citizens in a contest to create apps that have the potential to improve city lives.[2]  Xinjiang, China, a remote oil town has made considerable connectivity strides.  People have access to considerable transit and traffic application providing exact arrival times of transit and video from city traffic cameras.  Homes are equipped with panic buttons for emergency response.  The government even knows real time employment information for citizens allowing quick response to economic needs.[3]

There are undoubtedly numerous aspects that can make a city “smart”.   To me however, a city cannot be smart unless it is connected.  A connected city runs intelligently and enriches the lives of its residents.


[1] Fast Company, The Top 10 Smartest Cities in North America

[2] Fast Company, The Top 10 Smartest Cities in North America

[3] Freshome, 10 Most Impressive Smart Cities On Earth

2 thoughts on “Connectivity is Needed in Smart Cities

  1. Michael,

    You’re right- I think “connectivity” is often assumed to be such a prerequisite for a smart city that folks don’t even mention it, but it’s clearly an assumption that’s completely foundational to the entire idea.

    For things like classcards, I would want the private sector to develop some of these things- and I think the privacy concern is significant. I’m curious how much privacy you’d trade for “efficiency”.

    As in many points in this course, I’d be really interested in how you propose financing this. It seems like connectivity is something people are willing to pay for. Your example of HBS seems to suggest that these services could or should be provided by the public sector, with the price of services built in the overall fees/tax structure. Is this the model of financing you’d propose for connectivity as well?

  2. Great post, Michael.
    I really like the examples you mentioned and just wanted to add some further ideas as well as a framework that might help to cluster them:

    Peer-to-peer connectivity (like the ‘classcards’ you have mentioned), would allow not only for more ‘social’ cities, but also for efficiency gains. I could imagine a platform for example that allows neighbors to share cars, e.g., when two or more neighbors share the same place of work.

    Also residents-to-government-connectivity could add a lot of value by allowing for remote access to government services. Government representatives could for example chat face-to-face with citizens from a remote location and share documents with them, improving service and reducing cost at the same time.

    Another nice example for infrastructure connectivity can be found in Toulouse/France: the city has released an app that guides car drivers to free parking spots in real time, decreasing traffic and pollution and most importantly gives drivers a better time. For an illustration on how this works:

    Finally, I would subsume the panic button you have mentioned under home connectivity, which could also include managing the home remotely (e.g., by turning on the heating one hour before you come home) and a platform that connects the home with other service providers, such as utility companies which could check your usage remotely.

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