The latest buzz-phrase catching fire in planning and technology? Smart city concepts. The various strains of reactive infrastructure and efficient transportation that make up these new ideas for smart cities suggest a cleaner, less crowded, and more clever version of urban life is right around the corner.

But with developers and technologists anointing everything from digital signage to entire neighborhoods with the smart city label, it can be hard to figure out what the term really means. Who gets to decide what these technology-infused visions of urban life look like—and how they operate? Even the best-publicized smart city concepts, like the Toronto waterfront project from Sidewalk Labs, have generated significant blowback when it comes to issues of data privacy.

More importantly, what makes them “smart”? Convenience is one thing, but there’s a big difference between data and wisdom, between the information gathered by smart cameras and the vision of lifelong citizens. That’s why a new raft of technological advancements being adapted for cities can be so transformative.

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