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Play #1

Embrace “Smart Cities”

Print a PDF of Play 1: Embrace “Smart Cities”



In conversations concerning smart cities, diverse perspectives can bring many different understandings of the definition of “smart” to the table; “smart” can refer to devices, data, analytics, processes, people, or all of those things. This breadth offers opportunities to strategically usher priorities into conversations about the future of the technologically enabled city. The term “smart city” has the power to draw companies, municipalities, researchers, and publics together to transition cities from the analog past into the digital future. Public values should define the contexts, nuances, and dynamics of such transitions, which might otherwise be subject only to market values.


The “smart city” originated as a marketing term used to sell mainframes to cities in the 1980s; it functioned as a clever and compelling articulation of streamlined city infrastructure, using accessible, everyday language. Unfortunately, this type of branding exercise too frequently comprises the extent of public outreach concerning “smart,” with cities often prioritizing technological solutions that exclude public participation and knowledge. Thus we pose the question: how might cities better leverage popular excitement about smart cities into opportunities for greater civic participation that provides public value?

Action Ideas

  • Embrace the smart city frame as an opportunity to highlight what matters in your place
  • Turn jargon and technical language into language accessible to publics
  • Use “smart” to revisit how your place engages publics
Play #2

Cultivate Local Innovation Ecosystems