Smart cities disconnect? Survey finds most in U.S. don't know the term

Wed, 2014-09-24 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi


Do residents think their city is as smart as city officials do? A new survey finds the answer is probably not.

In fact, few people have even heard of the term “smart cities.” That's according to Roberta Gamble of Frost & Sullivan, writing for Meeting of the Minds on preliminary results from a recent survey of 1,000 people in the U.S.

Barely a third of those surveyed had even heard of the term smart city, she says. And those that had were almost exclusively high-earners with college degrees.

Little awareness by those who stand to gain
The key opportunity identified by the survey is an educational one. Cities can’t assume that residents know about or even understand their efforts. And the survey shows cities should aim for a wide audience that covers their entire spectrum of residents.

Given that smart cities aim to improve the lives of all their residents, it may be somewhat surprising to find that the people who know the least about them are the ones who stand to gain the most. Nobody without a high school diploma had ever heard of the term. Further, only 16% of those making $40,000 or less had.

By failing to reach those in the lowest economic tiers, cities miss a key opportunity to build support and engagement from a group that could be the biggest smart cities fans.

There are no smart cities
Those polled were also asked if they live in a smart city and the majority said, “No.”

The cities getting the most “yes” votes include three in California – San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco – as well as New York and Columbia, Ohio. But even on that list of the five smartest cities, there isn’t a single city that got more “yes” than “no” votes.

In the city identified as the very smartest, only 46% of its residents who were polled thought it was a smart city.

According to the survey, the problem may be that cities and their residents don’t agree on what it means to be smart.

So what do people want?
Many cities spend a lot of time and resources developing apps, but according to the survey, that’s not necessarily what their residents want. In fact, when people were asked what makes a city smart, apps didn’t even rank among the top five answers.

Internet access does appear to be very important to people. Wi-Fi and 4G both made the top five list, coming in second and fifth, respectively.

But ranking even higher – placing at the very top of the list – was having energy-efficient buildings. And having smart buildings with automated controls came in third.

The citizens polled also believe that their city’s systems should talk to each other.

Key takeaways
The final report won’t be available until later this year, but the early findings should give cities that aspire to be smart a lot to think about.

For starters, before embarking on a big project, they should probably determine if it's something a wide cross-section of citizens really want. The survey consistently showed that people in the bottom economic tiers feel left out.

And if you have done something smart, don’t be bashful about educating the public. It appears that most people won’t notice your efforts if you don’t tell them.

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