By: Laura Schewel on October 12th, 2013

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From Smart Cities to Wise Cities

Smart Cities

How far can we take the concept and the value of Smart Cities? Are there limits?

Yesterday, I participated in a panel at MIT's EmTech 2013 Conference called "Emerging Technologies for Connected Cities" with Katherine Frase from IBM, Carlo Ratti from MIT, and Yu Zheng from Microsoft. The excellent moderator, Brian Bergstein from MIT Tech Review, posed the question.

The discussion created a useful framework for thinking about, and challenging, notions of Smart Cities: differentiation of Smart and Wise Cities. "Smart Cities" usually connotes hyper-real time, individualized data and connectivity. Think real time transit arrival updates or stop light timing or tolling. These applications absolutely have value. However, cities are ultimately NOT real time entities. They evolve over decades, if not centuries. A decision about development made in 1990 probably has more impact on transportation behavior today in a San Francisco neighborhood than any amount of real time data ever could.

That brings us to the concept of "wise" cities. I use the term wise to show that's its deeper and more long-term than mere "smarts." A wise city would leverage the massive amounts of data generated by today's devices and sensor to guide long-term thinking, planning, and activity. For example, choosing how to prioritize urban revitalization or re-development efforts, or new transit corridor design. 

Both Smart City and Wise City applications are important and valuable, and both have shortcomings. StreetLight falls more into the Wise than the Smart City category. 

It was a thought provoking panel and conference, and StreetLight was very proud to be a part of it.