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Smart Cities, Arts and Culture

[Boston, Massachusetts, USA]

Art and Culture Are at the Heart of Smart Cities


- Overview

The main goal of smart cities is to optimize city functions and promote economic growth while improving the quality of life of citizens through the use of smart technologies and data analytics. 

Smart city technology without an artistic and cultural component will only lead to one-sided development. So you need to work to design, attract, retain and develop our city’s creative workforce. Technology and art and culture must embrace each other. We cannot have smart cities without art and culture.

Art and culture are essential to smart cities. They play a role in: 

  • Celebrating a city's unique strengths
  • Attracting and retaining a creative workforce
  • Developing a skilled workforce
  • Urban branding
  • Providing space, an audience, and a market for artists

Smart cities should be designed to meet the needs of citizens, including a thriving cultural and artistic community. They can provide:

  • Creative clusters and art and cultural districts
  • Space, an audience, and a market for artists
  • Examples of creative activity

Arts and culture can also:

  • Define a city's liveability
  • Celebrate a city's unique strengths
  • Be an economic driving force
  • Reveal hidden aspects of the lived experience and quality of a city's design

Urban development can benefit greatly from new information and computing technologies, but without strong human and cultural connections, smart cities may underperform.


- Reinventing “Smart Cities” through Culture

The smart city mainly focuses on the technical aspects. But the question that stands out in the public debate is whether they actually live up to expectations in terms of changing the lives of citizens. 

In spite of the ambitious plans and the technologically super-smart premises, the city has failed to attract citizens. The basic problem is the element of culture, which has been completely overlooked. The inadequate vision of urban sustainability, which persistently emphasizes economic and environmental indicators, while failing to understand a place’s cultural nuances, produces cities that are neither smart nor sustainable. 

Urban plans should emerge from an amalgamation of technology and culture. In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, one of the tribunes asks the crowd: ‘What is the city but the people’. Indeed, improving the quality of life is not only a question of technology; it is a question of connecting and inspiring people; it is a question of offering jobs and the opportunity to dream; a question of alleviating differences and adopting inclusive stances. And, beyond doubt, it is a question of empowering people and instigating political awareness and civic participation. 

The path to this goes through the initiation of urban projects that embody standards of development that are culturally adaptable. Contextualized urban projects emerge from the understanding of the history, the societal principles, and the artistic aesthetics of a place.


[&quot;Ladies on a Hill&quot;, (1914)<br /> <br /> -Charles Courtney Curran-]

- Smart Cities, Arts and Culture

Smart cities can benefit from art and culture in several ways, including: 

  • Public art: Can help people become more comfortable with using digital devices. It can also foster trust-based dialogues with the community.
  • Cultural heritage: Smart cities can improve access to cultural heritage sites.
  • Economic driving force: Art can be an economic driving force.
  • Quality of life: Public art can improve quality of life in cities.

Other benefits of art in smart cities include: 

  • Celebrating a city's unique strengths
  • Influencing people's information behavior
  • Humanizing the built environment
  • Invigorating public spaces


- Promoting Creative Economy and Knowledge-based Society

The creativity of a city is an important metric for “smartness”. Establishing art and cultural districts—with venues, galleries, public performances, cafes, and shops—is a wonderful way to invest in human and social capital. Empowering communities strengthens civil society and closes the gap between the electors and the elected. 

A city prepared to satisfy needs for self-fulfilment and participation is a city that attracts and retains a creative force and devoted citizens. In fact, this symphony between a city and its citizens paves the way for a well-skilled and prepared community to meet the challenges of the future. 

Cultural institutions and artists animate communities and ignite change. It is no wonder that many think-tanks point out that the era of the “Creative Class” has arrived. According to the Nomura research institute, the elements are in place for the “Creative Age” to flourish; a period during which nations prosper because they respect and tolerate individual freedom of expression and recognize that innovation—and not mass, low-value good production—is the driving force for the new economy. Therefore, art and creativity become critical to exploit the linkages between culture and commerce. 

Over the next decade, it is estimated that some US$250 billion will be invested in the creation of new cultural districts around the world. Reinventing a city that values creativity and innovation is like discovering some basic ingredients of development. 

For a synchronous 21st century city, no other path than that of knowledge and culture can guarantee a smooth transition to economic sustainability and socio-political viability.


[More to come ...]

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