Technology, Accessibility, and Climate Resilience: Smart Cities

What does it mean for cities to develop in smart and inclusive ways? Many focus on technological innovation, as this is one of the most visible aspects of making a city “smart.” Technology enables day-to-day convenience for people’s lives and opportunities for environmental sustainability in ways that may have not been available before, like solar panels or other green technology. Smart cities are an overall net positive for society across the globe, but it does not come without challenges. Planning and design requires knowledge, money, and extensive research- both scientific and anthropologic. Not only can the building of infrastructure be expensive, but smart technology brings limitations in usefulness and cybersecurity and privacy problems. 

Along with this, the necessity of inclusiveness, particularly with accessibility, must be addressed for cities to be considered smart. Article 9 of the CRPD lays out the right to accessibility to the built environment and infrastructure of cities, including roads, bridges, transportation, indoor and outdoor facilities, and more. The Right to the City, under the HLPF, states that cities should be those places where people enjoy equal rights and opportunities and as well as “to promote the visibility of local and national actions and struggles for the Right to the City at international forums, as well as to advocate for changes in political agendas at the international level and to monitor the implementation of existing commitments” (Human Rights, NUA and SDGs). Technology in smart cities should be used to increase inclusivity, not exacerbate unequal access. This is already being done through applications on our phones, like mapping applications that assist people in navigation to and inside of buildings. 

In the context of climate change and impending natural disasters, inclusive technological innovation must be used for resilience of smart cities. With the potential in cities for climate chaos, ways to facilitate equal participation and management of risks and disaster reduction are crucial and must include all people. Even cities with strong environmental performance share the benefits of smart innovation and burdens like air pollution and heat are shared unequally (WEF). As the size of cities continue to grow exponentially, this inequality will continue to grow as well, unless explicitly addressed through inclusive and smart ways. SDG 11 is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.