Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience - Future of Smart and Sensible Cities

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Jun 03, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience - Future of Smart and Sensible Cities

Salzburg Global Fellows explore the future of smart cities and what this could mean for green innovation Photo from Twitter/@IucnUrban

What exactly are “smart cities”? Are smart cities a menace or opportunity? How can smart cities help spur “green” innovation? These were questions participants of the Salzburg Global Seminar program, Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience: Harnessing Nature and Protected Areas for the Sustainable Development Goals, were asked to consider on the third day of the program.  

Participants heard it was an exciting time to look at the exponential way things are changing, with sophisticated AI within cities giving birth to a trillion-sensor economy. But how can this data be used meaningfully?

One term emerging is “collective intelligence” - using AI to harness human intelligence of large groups for social change. Cities don’t need to work hard, participants heard. Humans can act as sensors. The feedback is already out there in the form of social media, article comments, and forum posts. Interactions can be consolidated, analyzed using AI, and presented on an accessible dashboard.

A participant indicated a city is only smart if it harnesses the collective intelligence of its residents and makes better decisions to improve their lives.

While technology may dominate the “smart city” discussion, participants agreed anyone passionate to solve a challenge is a “smart citizen” and can play a significant role in a “smart city.” The adoption of new technology is just one part of the conversation.

One participant said they preferred to use the term “sensible city” or “responsible city” instead of “smart city.” They suggested this was one way to avoid the “unintended consequences.”

Building off this point, another participant argued one of the challenges with data is that there isn’t a Geneva Convention-type document where it is agreed how data should be used.

Participants asked themselves whether a form of regulation should exist and if this would improve the situation. One participant said it had to be part of the answer to address fears and concerns, but citizens had to lead and set the tone for this conversation.

In among the exponential changes taking place, cities have the opportunity to empower and disempower citizens that live within them. New technologies can collect real-time information about environmental indicators, and this data can be used to make cities greener.

One participant cautioned that the aim of a smart city should not be to use every new piece of technology; the aim should be only to make people’s lives better.


The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Partnerships for Urban Wellbeing and Resilience: Harnessing Nature and Protected Areas for the Sustainable Development Goals, is part of the Parks for the Planet Forum. This program is supported by Future Cities Forum, ICLEI CBC, IUCN Urban Alliance, Learning Economy, National Park City Foundation, The Centre for Conscious Design, World Urban Parks, and 21st Century Trust.