Our participants’ responses are presented below, grouped according to their leading question (i.e., perspectives on the “smart city”, visions for smart cities, and priorities for urban development) and the sub-themes that emerged from each question.
3.1. Citizen Perspectives on the “Smart City”
Just under half of our participants were familiar with the phrase “smart city” (see Table 3
). Ten said that they had heard the phrase before; three mentioned that they had encountered it at work. Although two participants hesitated to offer their own definition of the concept, the others provided different explanations of what they thought a smart city might be. One suggested that the smart city was “about interconnected services and devices, [such as] smart meters in homes and hot-spots and bus trackers”, while another stated that a smart city “is a city that can react day-to-day to its population”. One participant confessed, “I think it’s quite unclear what it actually means and I think it means different things to different people”. None of the participants who claimed they were familiar with the term mentioned any specific companies, universities or academics involved with smart city development.
Of the twelve participants who were unfamiliar with the phrase, seven offered to guess what a smart city might be. The detail they offered varied widely. One participant in Glasgow said that a smart city “would be a city in which everything is smart, like smart phones and smart cameras and everything like that”. A participant in Manchester said that a smart city would exist if “city planners used data to make areas improved”. Another participant explained that the phrase smart city “brings up images of everything being connected in a digital sort of way”, but she reiterated that she was only guessing. Yet again, none of the participants named specific companies, universities or academics. Moreover, none of our participants used the words efficiency, effectiveness or competitiveness, which appear to be very popular in smart city literature and marketing materials. Many of our participants struggled to be more specific than referencing existing technologies that use the label “smart”, suggesting that the phrase was not very relatable for most people. Despite this lack of relatabilty, every participant was willing to respond to our visioning question and describe what features they might want to see in a smart city.
3.2. Visions for Smart Cities
When asked to describe what he or she would like to see from a future smart city, every participant offered a unique vision. Much like the definitions above, these visions varied significantly in terms of content and depth. Despite the variety amongst visions, four interconnected themes emerged during the interviews: the role of digital technologies in future smart cities, the value of community, the desirability of interconnected and multimodal transportation services, and the importance of privacy.
On the role of digital technologies in future “smart cities”, some participants thought that technology would be a key driver of future developments, whereas others resisted the idea that our lives could be more reliant on technology. For example, one London-based participant described a technology-driven city that would be “kind of like in Silicon Valley, where technology is very ingrained and in tune with the city. People would interact as they do today in normal, daily life, but what would end up happening is that the technology would be so integrated that it [would] become part of a seamless experience.” He went on to describe a shopping experience with digitally augmented windows that recommended nearby products and experiences based on the previous history of the shopper; this would allow every shopper to see an individualised set of advertisements, and have a personal shopping experience, which the participant felt would be very valuable. One Glaswegian participant had a different vision for bringing value to a smart city’s inhabitants, explaining that he “would like to see Glasgow use technology to help with the health issues that the city suffers from. Obviously it’s got a really low life expectancy in certain areas and fitness is quite a bad problem in Glasgow, so if you were able to use technology to help people [address] that on a daily basis, then that would be something that would really improve the overall feeling of the city”. Several other participants described digitally augmented buildings that would respond to air pollution levels, maps that advised people on how to avoid pollution on their commutes, and networked trash bins that would automatically transmit their the waste management authority. However, these technology-centric visions were not popular with all of our participants. One London-based participant acknowledged that his envisioned smart city would likely “mediate conversations through technology, but [he] wouldn’t be happy with that. [He] would want more sincerity, community, and good old fashioned talking”. This was echoed by another participant who admitted that his future smart city would likely feature a lot of advanced technologies, but that he would not necessarily be happy with that. He wanted more community connections, less isolation, and more infrastructures that encouraged sustainable lifestyles, but he was not convinced that technology could deliver any of those. These latter visions were more people-centric than technology-centric, and they underscored another sub-theme that emerged in our interviews: many people believed that community should be a primary driver of the smart city.
Having a sense of “belonging” mattered to most of our participants. In nearly every interview, our participants eventually stated that having a sense of community in their city—through their connections with friends, families and acquaintances—mattered the most to them. Several participants described apps that could facilitate connections amongst neighbours, raise awareness about community events, and notify people about social opportunities. As one participant plainly stated, “if technology could be used to facilitate community interaction, then that would be great”. Our participants not only expressed an interest in wanting to feel like they belonged within their immediate geographical and social communities; they also wanted to belong within their city’s urban development community. In their imagined smart cities, most participants wanted to be consulted about, or at the very least made aware of, technological and infrastructural changes that would take place. They wanted to know what would be happening, where it would be happening, when it would be happening, and what that would mean for them. One participant asserted that “the installation of any sort of tool for technological surveillance should be made public”. Another echoed this sentiment, and noted that even the installation of something like a smart meter could cause community unrest if it were not installed with plenty of notice, “because that’s not just infrastructure change, that’s social change, as well”. Thus, in our participants’ imagined smart cities, communication and connectivity between people, projects and places mattered. That connectivity was expressed in social terms, as well as spatial terms.
Transportation services and infrastructure were mentioned by almost all of our participants. In nearly every envisioned smart city, people described having access to reliable, real-time transportation information. In several visions, this information included direct updates about the arrival times of public transportation services, easily accessible maps of city-wide traffic flows, automated notifications about construction projects, and web-based maps of bicycle routes. One London-based participant praised Transport for London’s services, noting that he thought “London is really good because there is a lot of information about the transit system”. But not all participants felt the same way. One Glaswegian participant explained that “one of the things [he] tends to think about mostly is public transport and having access to up-to-the-minute public transport information. Being able to do that very easily from wherever [he is] around the city, and that taking into account [...] other information about what’s going on in the city that day” was still an envisioned, future smart city offering for him. Moreover, some participants went further than just describing the delivery of information about transportation routes and services. Some described a full-scale reimagining of transportation infrastructure. For example, one participant explained that he wanted to see “tube systems that were connected to other systems and they would operate in a synchronous format.” The same participant went on to explain that “in a lot of cities, they are chunking off a part of the road and dedicating it as a cycle lane. I think that an entirely separate route for cycling would make me cycle more [and I would like that]”. Another participant mentioned wanting to see “a network of automated vehicles [that] is integrated with infrastructures”. These latter types of envisioned smart city experiences cannot be achieved in most existing cities without making some change to physical, as well as digital, infrastructure. But for some of our participants, those physical and digital infrastructural changes were accompanied by concerns about some very real risks.
Many of our participants expressed concerns about who would own the technologies, data, and decision-making processes within their imagined “smart city”. Once again, there was considerable variation amongst participants’ opinions on the importance of these issues. Some participants felt that they should be advised about any and all data sharing processes, whereas others believed that regular consultation and awareness-raising processes would significantly inhibit urban development projects. Others held highly nuanced perspectives about the use, context and ownership of data, explaining that they would need to know the specific details of a digitally driven project before being comfortable with its installation in their neighbourhood. Some participants were especially concerned about partnerships with private companies because those companies may wish to make a profit off of public information, data and services. As one participant explained, “a lot of the time, technology is applied in an urban area by a corporate organisation, and it tends to be about making something more efficient with the end purpose of making more money or making something more profitable. If [my data] is just contributing to a product, then that’s not something that I would be happy [about].” However, we encountered two other participants who explicitly stated that they were not concerned about whether a private company would use their data as long as there was some personal benefit from that company’s product.