Around the world, governments are making cities “smarter” by using data and digital technology to build more efficient and livable urban environments.
This makes sense: with urban populations growing and infrastructure under strain, smart cities will be better positioned to manage rapid change.
But as digital systems become more pervasive, there is a danger that inequality will deepen unless local governments recognize that tech-driven solutions are as important to the poor as they are to the affluent.
For urban planners, data and technology are valuable tools in the drive to improve administration and services. But while these innovations are making urban environments more livable, they come with a hidden cost: the potential to deepen inequality among digitally marginalized groups.
While offline populations can benefit from applications running in the background of daily life – such as intelligent signals that help with traffic flows – they will not have access to the full range of smart-city programs. With smartphones serving as the primary interface in the modern city, closing the digital divide, and extending access to networks and devices, is a critical first step.
City planners can also deploy technology in ways that make cities more inclusive for the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and other vulnerable people. Examples are already abundant.