As blogged on FastCompany.com, an abandoned mine shaft beneath the town of Mansfield, England, is an unlikely place to shape the future of cities. But here, researchers from the nearby University of Nottingham are planning to launch a “deep farm” that could produce 10 times as much food as farms aboveground. Deep farms are an example of what the latest wave of smart cities looks like: putting people first by focusing on solving urban problems and improving existing infrastructure, rather than opening shiny new buildings.
These smart cities look nothing like science fiction. In fact, the sleek, futuristic visions often used to promote smart cities tend to alienate residents. Isolated high-tech buildings, streets, or cities can foster social inequality, and even free WiFi and bike-sharing schemes mainly benefit the affluent.
So, instead of chasing ribbon-cutting opportunities in city centers, planners, community leaders, and researchers are coming together to tackle mundane but serious issues, such as improving poor-quality housing, safeguarding local food supplies, and transitioning to renewable energy.
In my own research, commissioned by the British Council, I looked at how new projects and partnerships with universities in eight European cities are making life better for residents, through the clever use of technology. You may already be living in a smart city—here’s what to look out for.