Introduction: Future Cities: Smart by default. Humane by choice.

The concept of smart cities evokes mixed feelings, somewhere between a technological dystopia and an urban utopia. Smart refers to the use of (digital) technology and data. However, technologies and data have no intrinsic value; they are connected with destruction and with survival as well. In 18 short essays, I will investigate aspects of the humane city and which technologies and data can contribute to the development of humane cities. The development of a humane city does not happen on its own: It is a choice that requires a lot of effort. Once this choice has been made, deploying smart technology is self-evident. After all, which city would want to be dumb? That is why the leitmotif of this series is ‘Future cities: Smart by default. Humane by choice’.

Future Cities

Focusing on cities does not exclude the countryside and smaller municipalities. The reference to cities stems from the tendency of people to concentrate in urban areas. This concentration also has consequences for the less or unpopulated parts of the world and the oceans. Cities cannot exist without the rest of the world, but the balance is disturbed in many ways. Becoming humane also means developing an equal relationship between the city and its environment.

Humane by choice

In this series humane is the result of the simultaneous application of three principles: sustainability, social justice and quality of life.

Meaningful work and a fair income for all, which does not come at the expense of earth and nature or future generations’ prosperity.

Social justice:
Equal opportunities, freedom, democracy, security, legal protection and respect for diversity in the way people live together.

Quality of life:
The contribution of the man-made environment, including work, housing, community, education, care and other facilities to the growth of human capabilities and happiness.

Choices must be made within each of these principles and the three principles as a whole must be in balance. As a result, becoming humane is a process of growth, shaped by the contribution of many.

Smart by default

Technology and data do not have intrinsic value. Existing technologies stem from the pursuit of political and commercial interests and scientific discoveries. Their impact has been destructive and blessing as well.

This series of small essays will provide examples of applicable technologies, recognizing that technologies that support life in humane cities partly have to be developed yet.

Urban challenges

Urban policy and practices face a double challenge: becoming humane and developing or deploying supportive smart tools. The 18 essays in this series represent each one of these challenges (figure below) and propose actions to address them.


*) This series was brought to you by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.