The answers to these questions can be glimpsed in the work done at Medellm in Colombia, which was nominated as one of the ‘smartest’ cities at the Future Cities Summit of 2013. Medellm, a city that was struggling a few decades ago with its problem favelas and high crime rates, was able to reconnect its favelas not through smartphones but with publicly funded cable cars. A record drop in homicide rates from more than 200 deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants to around 62 was achieved by linking slum areas to the public transport network. Increased accessibility to new public place infrastructure, including libraries, schools, and sports facilities, allowed the ‘communities [to interact] in a way they had never done before’ (Poole, 2014, p. 1).
The success of Medellm demonstrates that real connected places will continue to matter and people will continue to value the in-person experiences that proximity affords. There is no doubt that the infusion of ICT makes life easier by making one informed and connected. What is crucial for transformative technologies is to have the sensors in the right places in the city. As society becomes more intelligent by making its citizenry more mindful of the facts, people will do the right thing and strive to avert any predicted disasters.
The plurality of actors involved or associated with the ‘digital skin of the cities’, including technologists, engineers, civic activists, urban planners, designers, and policy makers, results in plural narratives (Rabari & Storper, 2015, p. 27). These actors work together pragmatically or normatively for the agendas in the real space consisting of real people. Thus, while the internet has taken over our lives, face-to-face communication remains and will remain vital for humans.
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The global population has exceeded the nine billion mark. Around 70 percent of the world’s citizens live in cities. The demographic explosion has reached its apogee. There are as many people above the age of 65 as there are under 15. Most of the urban growth has occurred in the Global South, the region that in 2017 included many developing and less developed economies. Cities in this region work hard to develop strategies to provide better opportunities for the youth and the poor. At the same time, a shrinking labor force and the need to provide resources for healthy and active living are the challenges faced by the Global North.
The urban environment has been reshaped, with shorter distances between mixed-use, denser, demographically diversified, high-quality, and connected urban places. This makes it quicker, safer, and cheaper for people to access destinations. People-oriented greenways, pedestrian areas, bike lanes, and public parks abound. High-quality, high-capacity public transport corridors attract concentrated growth and have successfully brought movement and place functions together. The connected place has encouraged a modal shift to public transport, cycling, and walking. Shifts in fuel technology and clean energy have also aided in the reduction of lifecycle emissions of transport systems. Inner-city areas that had experienced a land use shock have been reinvented as livable, connected places that attract creative knowledge economies. Far-flung disconnected suburbs have been transformed into compact, high-quality places to work, live, and play, through reconnection with urban centers via fast, sustainable transport systems.
A new age of accessible autonomy has arrived. With the growth in car sharing and breakthroughs in driverless cars, affordable mobility is within reach of the masses. The increasing shift from personal vehicle ownership to shared vehicle and public transit use has improved asset use efficiency. The average cost per mile has decreased, mainly due to the saved value of the driver’s time. The Internet of Things has become a reality rather than a ‘buzzword’, saving labor and time and redefining domestic and urban landscapes as smart homes and smart cities.