In the lead up to the Smart Cities 2019 conference in May, we spoke to Keynote Speaker Stephen Yarwood, urban futurist and former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, about his citizen-led approach to planning cities.

While many conversations around smart cities focus on advancements in information, communications and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, Mr Yarwood argues for a ‘bottom-up’ approach that puts citizens first.

Just like any urban development project, smart cities need to be strategically planned, with Local, State and Federal Governments providing leadership.

However, Mr Yarwood stressed that cities are all about people, so any approach to designing a smart city must prioritise their needs.

“Rather than designing cities and expecting people to live in them, we need to make sure that we understand what people want, and enable the citizens of the future to achieve what they want to, and what they need to, to be good citizens for today and tomorrow,” he said.

“Until such time as people physically get out of bed and do something different to the day before, nothing actually changes. So understanding the role of the citizens, the needs of the citizens, and behaviours of the citizens are really fundamental to how cities are actually built.”

Mr Yarwood said this type of citizen-led approach boils down to one simple truth: although smart cities are still on the horizon, the smart citizen is already here.

By utilising the new technology already available to us, in the form or smartphones, home assistants and the like, the smart citizen is already driving change in our cities today.

“Most people may well have used their phone apps to jump on a plane, check in at the airport, get an Uber, find a hotel, and book the hotel on their phone, check in on their phone,” Mr Yarwood said.

“Citizens are also wearing smart devices, and they’ve got smart technology in their homes.”

Mr Yarwood emphasised the importance of working with existing infrastructure that citizens are already used to.

“We need to understand the opportunities that infrastructure provides within cities for us, rather than re-engineering them and then telling people that they need to use our technology, use our rules and use our apps to run cities.”

“We can’t expect people to do what we want them to do. We have to understand how people want to do things, and then enable them to do them.”

Stephen Yarwood is considered an international expert on the future citizen and the relationships between people, technology, infrastructure, society, cities and quality urbanism. Our keynote speaker at Smart Cities 2019, his presentation Smart cities need smart citizens: a bottom up approach to the cities of the future will provide the ideal launching pad for the event.

To hear more from Stephen, buy your tickets to Smart Cities 2019.