In recent years, the smart city debate has taken a significant turn. We are increasingly moving away from discussing monolithic, top-down programs that prescribe specific technologies that cities should adopt. Instead, we are engaged in more open and targeted discussions about what benefits and improvements new technology can really deliver for civic leaders and citizens. As a city planner, urbanist and technologist this trend encourages me that the smart city community is moving in the right direction. Instead of talking about technology adoption for its own sake we are focusing on how purpose—shared purpose especially—accelerates smart city adoption.
Purpose can mean many different things depending on the particular context. I vividly remember a mayor of a large US city lamenting the fact that basic infrastructure upgrades aren’t “sexy” enough to gather popular support and yet they are often the cornerstone of what city governments must provide. In order to unpack the multifaceted nature of purpose, I propose thinking about purpose in three different categories: Infrastructure, Services, and Community.