Wednesday, April 8, 2020
When Smart Cities Become Dumb Cities
Try to Improve an Existing City First
When Smart Cities Become Dumb Cities
  • By David Sehyeon Baek
  • August 23, 2019, 11:15
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David Sehyeon Baek

David Sehyeon Baek is a columnist -- Ed. 

“Where is Bus 9000 coming by now? I should be in a meeting by 7 p.m.!” My colleague took out her phone and showed me where our bus was. In her app, we could see all the movements of the buses and the estimated arrival time. Subways were easier. At least here in Seoul, there is no traffic jam in the subway system. It works like a clockwork. Buses can be a bit affected by the traffic jam. Overall, they make it on time. But knowing where my bus is doesn’t change the situation; it just helps me to be patient. Honestly, I don’t even have to look at her app in the smartphone, because it is no wonder that buses are coming late during the rush hour.

I went on a business trip abroad. The government of the country was promoting their public Wi-Fi nationwide, their improved Internet speed and ubiquitous availability. When I went to that country a few years ago, the Internet was not that good and so it was difficult to use the Google map whenever I had a meeting with a business partner and had to arrive in their office in time only with the address. Now it is easy, thanks to the improved Internet. Walking towards the office of our new partner, I was almost hit by a big van. I looked around to find out what had just happened. I couldn’t understand why I was walking on the road, not on the sidewalk. The sidewalk was just too narrow. One woman was walking towards me on the sidewalk at the moment of the van passing me by, and either the woman or I had to walk off the sidewalk. I got off the sidewalk, and that was when the van almost hit me.

The government of this country was promoting its cities as smart cities with all that big data and Internet, sensors. Why not build good and safe sidewalks? The Internet and big data won’t save people’s lives on those horrible sidewalks.

Drones might deliver my stuff, autonomous vehicles might transport people and robots with AI might serve you in a restaurant in the near future. You don’t see garbage on the ground because all the garbage is collected underground and you won’t smell the garbage truck on a regular basis on the street, though it remains to be seen how long they can maintain that system. Public Wi-Fi will be everywhere, making it easy to use the Internet. There will be tons of sensors in every corner of the city, collecting data for better service and face recognition technology will be loaded into the system so that it can help the police capture criminals. Citizens will enjoy connectivity, convenient services.

This is not to deny all the benefits smart cities will bring to our life. Technology will play an important role in smart cities. While they talk about all the technology needed to construct smart cities, the most important element to consider is people. A smart city is not supposed to be a city that looks great when you take a photo. It is not supposed to be built to show off your technology. It is supposed to be for people. It is not about how many smart cities you build in your country; it should be about how to improve living conditions.

I remember visiting one country and realizing that there are so many problems with the cities. Building a smart city should make a better life for people. When the infrastructure is inhumane and the living environment has no good consideration for people, big data, robots, IoTs, or drones won’t bring any happiness. Whenever we talk about smart cities, the first thing they say is how the Internet will be ubiquitous, and how the city will be better with technology.

Yet, people should be considered most. Building a smart city should resolve the existing problems and any foreseeable problems through technology and good designs. Instead of buying a big landmass and starting to build a new expensive city, it might be better to go to the old cities where there are many problems. By using the most recent technology, the problems of the old cities should be resolved. While people are suffering in another city, building a new expensive city nearby won’t be very helpful in the long run. While people suffer from poor public transportation, setting up the Internet and IoT won’t resolve the issue. It takes a lot of money to build one smart city. Don’t try to build an expensive one; try to improve an existing city first. You need to talk to the people living there. Otherwise, smart cities are nothing but dumb cities.