Urban performance currently depends not only on the city’s endowment of hard infrastructure ‘physical capital’, but also, and increasingly so, on the availability and quality of knowledge communication and social infrastructure (‘intellectual and social capital’). The latter form of capital is decisive for urban competitiveness. It is against this background that the concept of the “smart city” has been introduced as a strategic device to encompass modern urban production factors in a common framework and to highlight the growing importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), social and environmental capital in profiling the competitiveness of cities. The significance of these two assets – social and environmental capital – itself goes a long way to distinguish smart cities from their more technology-laden counterparts, drawing a clear line between them and what goes under the name of either digital or intelligent cities.
Smart cities has also been used as a marketing concept by companies and by cities.
Smart cities can be identified along six main axes or dimensions. These axes are: a smart economy; smart mobility; a smart environment; smart people; smart living; and, finally, smart governance. These six axes connect with traditional regional and neoclassical theories of urban growth and development. In particular, the axes are based – respectively – on theories of regional competitiveness, transport and ICT economics, natural resources, human and social capital, quality of life, and participation of citizens in the governance of cities.
A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.
The label smart city is still quite a fuzzy concept and is used in ways that are not always consistent. This section summarises the characteristics of a smart city that most frequently recur in discussions of the topic.
The basic idea is that “creative occupations are growing and firms now orient themselves to attract ‘the creative'”. While the presence of a creative and skilled workforce does not guarantee urban performance, in a knowledge-intensive and increasingly globalised economy, these factors will determine increasingly the success of cities.
The idea of neo-liberal urban spaces has been criticised for the potential risks associated with putting an excessive weight on economic values as the sole driver of urban development. Among these possible development patterns, policy makers would better consider those that depend not only on a business-led model.
As a globalized business model is based on capital mobility, following a business-oriented model may result in a losing long term strategy: “The ‘spatial fix’ inevitably means that mobile capital can often ‘write its own deals’ to come to town, only to move on when it receives a better deal elsewhere. This is no less true for the smart city than it was for the industrial or manufacturing city”.
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