Smart cities manifesto and what makes a city smart



At  PICNIC  in Amsterdam was a great event and I spoke on the topic of ‘What makes a city smart’. This was my first talk at PICNIC and it’s an exciting event which brings together smart people across disciplines to create new conversations and ideas.

I am also on the advisory board of the World Smart Capital   program , which is modelled on the lines of the World design capital.

The world smart capital has produced a Smart cities manifesto at PICNIC.  I do not have a link for the Smart cities manifesto but I summarise it from the print copy and then include some notes which I took from the various Smart cities presentations here in Amsterdam and I include my presentation below as well

To summarise the Smart cities manifesto:

-          In the last 50 years, urban populations have grown exponentially. This trends will continue and is expected to lead to an increase in problems we encounter in most large cities today

-          So, to overcome these problems, infrastructure should be enhanced by digital technologies

-          Over a decade long study, the intelligent community forum has found that intelligent communities engage in intensive collaboration between organizations, government and citizens to create change

-          Intelligent cities involve three dimensions:  Human, Collective and artificial intelligence

-          The human element relates to the intelligence, inventiveness and creativity of the individuals who live and work in the city. Richard Florida describes the creative class in his 2002 book The Rise of the creative class

-          The idea of collective intelligence is based on social factors that enable people to work together including the tendency to collaborate, compete, integrate and differentiate

-          The third factor is the artificial intelligence embedded into the physical dimension of the city

-           A city can be defined as smart when investments in human and social capital and traditional (ex transport) and modern(ex ICT) communications infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life with a wise management of natural resources through participatory governance

-          This is a very comprehensive definition. It is beyond the traditional – IT led – emphasis on  sensors and embedded systems.

-          The concept of smart city seems to rotate around six areas: Smart mobility smart economy smart environment smart living smart people smart governance

-          Obviously, mobility plays an important role especially with mobile phones today which incorporate multiple sensors.

-         Finally smart cities lead to a change of participatory governance style and emphasis on new challenges like Privacy and Security for citizens.

From the sessions I attended, here are my notes. You can see full bios of speakers at the PICNIC agenda


Many of these stories support the wider definition of Smart cities as above which incorporates:

a)  Investments in human and social capital

b) Investments in traditional (ex transport) and modern(ex ICT) communications infrastructure

c) Sustainable economic development

d) Higher quality of life with a wise management of natural resources 

e) Participatory governance

So, here are some of the key points and i will add more later as well.

Lorenzo de Rita – Architects build only 10 perc, we build the rest.

Kunlé Adeyemi echoed the same ideas when he said that even cities like Makoko   in Nigeria, which are built on water, follow a pattern of growth driven by people’s needs (ex the need for less direct sunshine) ie they are not built randomly
Matthias Hollwich: The dignity of aging needs to be reinstated and we cannot do that by chasing eternal youth. New Aging explores a new way for society to deal with aging. Old people cannot be ‘stored away’ from society.

Ben Hammersley  looked at how cultures and society change, how technology can outpace good manners, and how designers and makers can change the world.

He said:.

-          We have been talking of smart cities as if they are an option

-          If you can think of a technology – it is inevitable. Moores law says it will happen

-          Technology embodies our values and changes our values

-          And apparently, Thomas Edison chased film industry out of NY to protect his cameras and so the industry went as far away as it could (to LA)

Jorge Camil Starr: Five billion people in the world today have no access to the Internet. A large part of these citizens live in developing countries and marginalized communities. Jorge Camil Starr discussed the model he has built in Mexico which has benefitted more than 150,000 people in less than 2 years.

-          30 perc of creative workforce take 50 perc of wages

-          Urban poverty harder than rural poverty

-          e-learning is more than just giving away computers

-          It does not work if it does not have a humen process behind it

Here is a link to their work I found RIA – OECD – pdf

Art to the People!: Ricardo Celaya talked about the power of art as a communication tool, an instrument to integrate cities and a vehicle for change. Art promotes social inclusiveness by displaying local heroes (instead of pictures of politicians) . Huge libraries and buildings even in deprieved areas are aspirational.

Games in Informal Settlements: Emer Beamer talked about how can a mobile game contribute to improving life in informal settlements around the world? This was based around Mtaani, a game based on the complexity of life including dealing with the scarcity of water, with crime and the escalation of conflict as well as community development. Co-designed with young people from Nairobi, it is spreading across Kenya and Uganda through mobile game websites, Nokia’s Ovi Store and special youth gatherings.

The Emergence of Brand Philanthropy: You can see Coca Coal as an ambassador for world peace!

Bill Mc Donough: A regulation is a signal of design failure. By the way, this talk received the longest applause! Bill Mc Donough’s book is Cradle to Cradle – which I ordered as I was listening to his talk!

In my two presentations, I propose that:

a)      A city is Smart if it follows the ethos of the Internet i.e. becomes a platform or an enabler which unleashes the creativity of it’s people  and

b)      The perfect storm i.e. a combination of various factors which could produce a positive effect is based on two ideas: apps are the glue for convergence across platforms and people are at the centre of the ‘Storm’

Finally, when Tamara Bok interviewed me at PICNIC and asked me about what is ‘smart’ in a ‘smart city’, my response was: A more disruptive question in the future is: ‘What is a City’?’ i.e. this is a moving goalpost and we may find that many of our current definitions of ‘city’ may themselves evolve.

What makes a city smart – Ajit Jaokar PICNIC Amsterdam presentation – Smart cities

the perfect storm – Ajit Jaokar PICNIC Amsterdam presentation





  1. Isn’t information the one thing that makes a city smart because it is so valuable?

    Volunteered information tells us (i.e. suppliers, governments, public services, other individuals) who somebody is, what they want and need, and when they need it. The ‘holy grail’ of information about the nature, shape, location and timing of demand, in other words. A report from Ctrl-Shift on this subject estimates that within ten years, the market value of volunteered personal information ‘feeds’ from individuals to organisations will be worth £20bn in the UK alone.

    So a VPI infrastructure is what makes a city smart, in my view.



  2. Ajit,

    The good news for you is that European cities are apparently leading the way.

    cheers, David

  3. ajit says:

    thanks David! Actually I used many projects in my presentation from the iamsterdam site. good to hear from you .. kind rgds Ajit

  4. Tamara Bok says:

    Thank you for the interview Ajit, I will let you know when it’s edited. For sure it will be more clear to people what a smart city is.