What makes a city 'smart,' anyway?

Rendering of M-1 Rail

Nina teamed up with frequent collaborator and friend of The Work Department Kat Hartman to publish an article for Model D titled, “What makes a city 'smart,' anyway?” about their impression of the recent Meeting of the Minds conference in Detroit. In it, they take the phrase “smart city” to task.

How can cities with real infrastructure challenges like Detroit use technology to connect neighborhoods or to run utilities more efficiently? Nina and Kat highlight our rust-belt neighbor to the east, Pittsburgh, that has confronted its challenges with innovative ideas and community conversation:

In recent years, urban planners, cross-sector leaders, and city enthusiasts have trumpeted the rise of "smart cities." As that conversation gets louder, we can't help but ask: What exactly makes a city smart?
There are varied ideas and approaches to developing smart cities, but the broad conversation centers around how information and technology (IT) can be used to plan and manage a city from a centralized hub. Anthony Townsend, a leader in smart city research, conjures up a skeptical image of a "remote-control city" designed by experts to improve efficiency.
When cracking open the smart city idea, one assumes city infrastructure is connected to the Internet, the necessary conduit required for large amounts of data (information in the most essential form) to run through a city's veins. Basic connectivity allows data to be collected and considered before nuanced decisions are implemented across a large and diverse ecosystem. But what does the process of connecting people -- residents and visitors of cities --- to technology, information, and infrastructure actually look like? And how do these smart scenarios translate in places like Detroit and other legacy cities of the Rust Belt where resources are limited and technology and infrastructure are dated?

Read the rest of Nina and Kat’s piece at Model D.