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A theory of Smart Cities

The Urban Systems Collaborative is a new professional community that has formed to foster mutual learning among members of different professions such as architecture, planning, engineering, transportation, utilities, information technology, operations research, social sciences, geography and environmental science, public finance and policy, and communications. One of its main goal is to understand the impact that information technology can have on the urban fabric and norms of behaviour.

Even though dense and diverse cities come with positive benefits, they also come with negative aspects such as informal development, traffic congestion, waste management, and access to resources and crime. The tax revenues used to answer the immediate demand for services comes at a later point in time, creating inadequacies. Meanwhile, due to globalization cities on opposite sides of the planet have been connected in forms of competition previously unknown – for capital, for resources, and for the Creative Class. In order to rise to the competition, cities experimented with new approaches to the planning, design, finance, construction, governance, and operation of urban infrastructure and services that are broadly called Smart Cities.

According to the authors, this paper describes steps towards a model that can unify the perspectives of the professions in the Urban Systems Collaborative. It begins with examples of Smart Cities and why this movement is so active and how information technology plays roles in shaping new norms of behaviour intended to facilitate the continuing growth of dense populations. Then, it explains a key hypothesis of the Urban Systems Collaborative that the increasing accessibility of information will enable us to develop Urban Systems models that are capable of helping citizens, entrepreneurs, civic organizations, and governments to see more deeply into how their cities work, how people use the city, how they feel about it, where the city faces problems, and what kinds of remediation can be applied.

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