When smart cities are people-centred

Develop the first international guidelines to build people-centred smart cities: that’s the task that UN-Habitat, the United Nations body responsible for sustainable urbanisation, entrusted to a group of 31 global experts. These guidelines are meant to fill normative gaps around smart cities and digitalisation, ensuring that any future national and local regulation contribute to the sustainability, inclusivity, and prosperity of urban communities while upholding human rights.

But what are people-centred smart cities? More than a decade ago, when smart technologies started to be deployed in cities, we mostly heard keywords such as ‘digital transformation’ and ‘automation’. The Internet of Things stood out as a great opportunity to connect and control field devices, collect data, and improve the management of public services. Cities were urged to leverage technology to become smart, thus more efficient and sustainable, since data-driven decisions enabled relevant savings on power and water consumption, CO2 emissions, municipal budgets, and more.

This approach is still absolutely valid, but over time we matured a deeper understanding of the impact of digitalization on communities and people, specifically on marginalised and disadvantaged groups. In a world where internet connectivity has become a requisite for full participation in society and access to essential public services, over 3 billion people are still offline. The digital divide affects even developed, modern countries such as the United States: according to Forbes article dated 2023, about 42 million Americans have no access to broadband.

People-centred smart cities are about leveraging data, technology, and services for common good and inclusivity. They are about the ambition of cities focusing on people’s needs, engaging a diverse and wide range of stakeholders, reducing barriers to participation in a human rights perspective.

Shifting from a technology-centred to a people-centred vision is a significant change for city managers, but it’s a collective effort that should engage regulators, institutions, and even tech vendors. At MinebeaMitsumi, our corporate philosophy is to contribute to the realization of a sustainable, eco-friendly and prosperous society – and this cannot be done if ignoring the principles that inspire people-centred smart cities.

We are committed to develop and engineer digital technologies for ethical and inclusive cities. Let’s work together for the good of communities where no one is left behind.


Photo source: Adobe Stock

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