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Plasma Technology
Inclusively SMART

10 Oct 2018   Author: Frazer Anderson

 "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" —T.S. Eliot.

Part 4

Inclusive ‘smart city’ development doesn’t necessarily mean we should “build for everyone”.

While there is an obvious wish to design products and services “for everyone” so that “everyone” benefits, in the real world it’s not as easy as that. When designing for “everyone”, there is a pronounced tendency to assume that the intended users are able-bodied, digitally literate, and financially stable. It is also very easy to make assumptions about how ”everyone” fits into the ideal Smart environment.

The environment of the future should work for real people, not idealised and unrealistic model citizens. If this is not done the Smart environment can end up helping those who need it the least. Some of the developments I mentioned in earlier Blogs: upgrade of central transport links, automated bin collection, installing 5G and traffic control, are important and interesting innovations that help city services function more smoothly and with less expense, but don’t help the individuals who need the most help.

In Europe, there are 80 million people with disabilities. These citizens aren’t going to appreciate smart buses or flashy pop-up stores unless they have basic space and access for their mobility equipment.

The elderly who may well have a very limited capability or interest in the digital world will struggle to appreciate faster network speeds and digitised services unless they understand how to use them.

The one in four adults in the UK who have less than £100 in savings aren’t going to be able to use Amazon’s cardless shopping centres when they cannot survive the economic shock of a broken fridge or a parking fine.

Creating an inclusive and resilient city environment does rely in part on creating a future-focused data environment and a responsive, built infrastructure that facilitates the Smart innovations we see on a day to day basis. 5G is the 2018 front-runner for swifter service speeds, but this doesn’t just mean we can tweet faster.

Truly smart cities with a focus on inclusion should use the huge amounts of data available to target and respond to gaps in public services, asking questions such as; Where are citizens travelling for long periods of time to access cheap food? Where are citizens barely using the bus services at all? Where is inaccessible for citizens with disabilities and why? Where are school grades dropping? Why are crime rates spiking?

A ‘smart’ city is, at its core, still a city. It is both carefully designed and organic. To realise a positive future by optimising the city environment, we can’t just improve the things that are working, but must target areas of the city where services are failing citizens. Inclusion means actively taking steps to challenge and change our approaches to Smart city design by targeting service gaps and problems and engaging citizens with these from day one.

With careful design and strategy now, we can create a future where the bar for reaching independence and self-sufficiency is lower, and inclusion in the city is a matter of course.

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