Citizens’ involvement crucial in building ‘smart cities’, expert says

Consultant says technology has developed ‘control rooms’ in line with ‘Minority Report’

The engagement of citizens will be crucial in the development of so-called ‘smart cities’, an international expert on digital planning for cities has said.

Speaking in Dublin on Friday, Volker Buscher of global consultancy group Arup, said technology was now driving innovation in ways we "cannot escape from".

Mr Buscher, who leads the company's digital business, said digital technologies were now an integral part of our cities' transport, health and education systems and services.

He said the choice was not when or if cities would use technologies, but rather, what role the political and civil leadership could take to optimise citizens’ lives in a burgeoning digital landscape.


Mr Buscher told the event hosted by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) that social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing technologies were now giving way to the next wave – including robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Data was now available on an “industrial scale”.

He said technology had created "control rooms and home experiences" that were more like a future from the film Minority Report.

“In our research we haven’t found any citizen actually asking for that.”

He said there was an issue around how the idea of smart cities was projected.


In Scandinavia, they were about a “humane” city that respected privacy and where the citizen and “live-ability” was at the heart of it.

“I think the digital movement has gone too far away from that.”

Policy areas that would drive smart cities from citizens’ perspective included the provision of better services. He cited the Citymapper transport app used in London and other cities as an example which had clearly driven improvements in services.

Innovations would also emerge in “social and health convergence”, which some citizens were already taking responsibility for.

Economic development would also drive the need for smart city technologies.

Mr Buscher noted a recent study which suggested only 36 per cent of people between 18 and 34 had heard of smart cities.

“Most people don’t understand the concept and I think that’s one of the critical issues that needs to be addressed.”

Mr Buscher is a member of a number of advisory bodies including the Smart London Board, which advises the Mayor of London on the role of technology in the economic, environmental and social development of the city.

The IIEA think-tank and policy research institute is funded primarily by membership subscriptions, including from the banking and tech sectors and Ibec.

Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick have all deployed smart-city technologies to varying degrees.

Bike-share schemes

A government report published in January noted a wide range of smart-city technologies were being deployed within urban environments, including city operating systems, intelligent transport systems and integrated travel ticketing and bike-share schemes.

But the report also said privacy, data protection and data security were key challenges because many smart-city technologies capture personally identifiable information and household-level data about citizens, including their location, movement and activities.

The technologies could link these data together to produce new data, and use them to create profiles of people and places and to make decisions about them.