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Centering People in Smart Cities

The People-Centered Smart Cities framework presented in this playbook aligns with the New Urban Agenda Shared Vision #11 of “cities for all”, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensuring that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements.

By creating a framework that centers people in smart city development, the delivery of policies and programmes can be more inclusive and responsive to their needs. The goal of the playbook is to provide local governments with knowledge, tools, and resources that support putting people at the center of digital transformation.

We call this next evolution of the smart city “the people-centered smart city”. People-centered smart cities leverage data, technology and services for common good, delivering the inclusive and sustainable cities that are needed in the 21st century. However, the backdrop of today’s smart city is complex for many national and local governments. The privatization of public infrastructure can reduce public oversight and equitable use of technologies while dwindling trust in public institutions challenges governments’ capabilities. Meanwhile, many cities have become testbeds for new, untested and sometimes unregulated technologies, forcing local authorities to respond to disruptive trends instead of proactively shaping life in cities. As a result, many cities are constantly “catching-up” to today’s technology industries.

Cities are at the forefront of these challenges and bear much of the responsibility to make sure everyone has the opportunity to participate fully in a digital society. To guarantee this, local governments need to consider the impact technology has on access to services and life in cities (the New Urban Agenda commitments  66, 91, 92, 151, 156-159). At the same time, national governments must support and empower local authorities with policies, recommendations and resources to address these digital challenges and opportunities. Smart cities should focus on people’s needs, engage a diverse and wide range of stakeholders, reduce barriers to participation and evaluate digital services and infrastructure from a human rights perspective.