2019 SAIEE President's Invitation Lecture
April 29, 2019  

Supplied by SAIEE Management from SAIEE


While there are numerous definitions and interprettions of smart cities, most of tehse can be encapsulated in the description of Townsend (2013:15): "Smart Cities are places where informations technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even ourbodies to address social, economic and environmental problems." This definition goes beyond describing what smart cities are, but also what their purpose should be - addressing real-world problems and not just enabling unbridled hedonisitic consumerism. Smart cities, therefore, have a crucial role to play in meeting sustainable development goals and improving resilience. Sensors and cameras in monitoring networks alert us to dangers; smart grids and the Internet of Things allow us to optimise energy use and streamline logistics; social media communities allow more participative forms of governance and greater democracy. These are all good things, and why the Smart Cities concept holds so much promise for cities in developing countries.

Less is said of the negative aspects of smart cities, with critiques focusing on the potential for social polarization, the educational and financial demands made on citizens in order to participate in urban life, technocratic and autocratic governance, excessive surveillance, and an engineering approach focused on quantitive data analysis in pursuit of system optimization (Soderstrom et al. 2014).

This paper explores both the promises and pitfalls in developing economies which often come with challenges such as high levels of economic inequity, energy vulnerability, and questionable leadership, but also with the opportunities presented by the potential to leapfrog old systems and outdated solutions to city building. It further considers the possible implications of global systems disruptions such as climate change and a rise in facism and social division, and how Smart Cities interventions can build resilience to these disruptors or make cities even more vulnerable. The conclusion is that Smart Cities is a duoble-edged sword, and we would be wise to think carefully about how we wield it.




Chrisna du Plessis is Associate Professor and Head of Department of Architecture, and Chair of teh School for the Built Environment, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Before joining the University of Pretoria in 2011, she was Principal Researcher at CSIR Built Environment. Prof Du Plessis holds graduate and post-graduate degrees in architecture and sustainable development from the University of Pretoria, a PhD in urban sustainability from the University of Salford, from whom she also received an Alumni Achievers Award, and an honorary doctorate from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Prof du Plessis is Leader of the Priority Theme: Sustainable Construction Chair, as well as Chair of the Programme Committee of the Board of the International Council of Research  and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB). She is also a member of the International Standards Orginisation working group on the resilience of buildings and civil engineering works and serves on the Editorial Boards of the journals Smart and Sustainable Built Environment and Sustainable Earth. She has further served as a juror for the LafargeHolcim Foundation Sustainable Building Competition (MEA region, June 2011 & 2017) and European Solar Decathlon (2011 & 2014). Her research concentrates on developing the principles and guiding frameworks for the practices of smart and sustainable construction and human settlement development, with a focus on resilience and regeneration, and she has applied this in a body of work that spanned the fields of housing, construction industry performance, urban/human settlement development and infrastructure design. She has recently published Designing for Hope: Pathways to regenerative sustainability which was awarded the AfriSam SAIA Award for Innovation in Sustainability in 2016





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