Smart phones, smart watches, smart TVs, smart doorbells, smart light bulbs, smart refrigerators. There are even Wi-Fi-enabled duvet covers. Smart is an overused word these days.
So it’s no surprise that cities are on a mission to make communities, transportation, and infrastructure smart. Cities all over the world are implementing technology that creates more efficient traffic flow. Technology now predicts buses and trains more accurately and provides free Wi-Fi. Our own city of Columbus is using technology to make downtown parking easier. There are apps that show COTA riders where buses are in real-time. And there are plans to increase the amount of electric vehicles on our streets.
These things are good. They’re worthwhile, and we should experiment with them. But I believe we’re using “smart” in the wrong way. Any time we implement a new policy, system, or technology, the question we should always ask is, “does this improve the quality of life in our city?”
It’s not enough to put in new technology. Smart must include how we use existing resources. And it must include the needs of everyday people. A study done by IMD, a Swiss research organization, shows that backs this up. Just because we call something “smart” doesn’t mean it is. Or that it’s smart for everyone.
We recently attended the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s Sustainability Summit. Time and again we heard the word smart. Sometimes, it was in the context of technology.
But many times, it was used in the way we prefer, meaning intelligent. We heard Christopher Coes from Smart Growth America talk about making communities more walkable, and in turn more livable for all people. We heard Andrew Bowsher from the City of Reynoldsburg talk about how denser communities are more economical and more sustainable. And we heard Letty Schamp from the City of Hilliard talk about using the existing transportation infrastructure in better ways.
We don’t need more. We need better. Planning, budgeting, construction, infrastructure, and transportation. We need smarter thinking, not smarter technology.