Smart cities need smart societies and democracies

13, February

The smart city concept is complemented with the smart society concept. This combination is key to guarantee equal ...

The smart city concept is complemented with the smart society concept. This combination is key to guarantee equal opportunities for people. Structural reforms based on the interconnected concepts of education and work are urgently needed.

By Martin Padulla for staffingamericalatina


There is a strong bias in the global agenda topics. Middle class debates become national issues. Such debates frequently demand public policies to channel the demands. Plenty of cities in our region today are working on Smart Cities’ projects.

Such projects tend to lack a clear correlation with the development of smart societies. They only consider the development of a digitalized and hyper connected city due to the high penetration of technology and the use of mobile devices.

There is a big debate regarding Smart Cities, but little is said about Smart Societies.

Every government in the region tries to set the digital agenda, with different levels of progress, without focusing on the real transformation, which would be the consolidation of a truly smart society, developing in a smart city.

Projects linked to the digital agenda are focused on urban planning and they are rarely linked to social development, education or work policies. They are transactional, not transformational.

Digitalization, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence demand a more and better educated society, more collaborative, more open, and with more tools to seize the multiple options it has. In other words, it demands societies with more freedom to make a transcendent use of it.

This technological convergence is changing the way we live, the way we relate, the way we learn and work. Citizens have more tools to participate and make decisions regarding the kind of cities we want to live in.

Nevertheless, it seems key to understand that a smart society is that which preserves social cohesion, promotes responsible participation, enhances accessibility for all, respects diversity, demands quality education and training for work, values natural resources sustainability, live sunder the rule of law, and actively clings to inclusive development.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution covers a number of revolutions that are also taking place. Those who must look after the common good should work on new frameworks for economic, industrial and labour relationships to efficiently channel these social phenomenon.

Smart cities may imply an explosion of collaborative innovation or a situation of inequality, disintegration and anomie.

In a short period of time we shall be able to use autonomous vehicles and stop driving, travel in a faster and cheaper way, making purchases from our sofas using our voice, our home will recognize us when we arrive, our robot will develop domestic chores, but we will also need to connect more with what is human, understand diversity including new forms of work, establishing places to meet, develop our socioemotional skills, increasing interpersonal skills with a greater sense of belonging to the “common house”.

A smart citizen is not only hyper connected. For digital cities to make sense, focusing on technology and connections, and truly transforming into smart cities, it will be necessary for smart societies to make a good use of them, and take care of people and they relationships. Smart societies are not necessarily developed in smart cities, they can become key players of towns or small smart cities.

We actively need to promote a number of reforms that bring us closer to a smart, sustainable, and inclusive development. The possibility of choosing, the vocation to provide more freedom, must be a state policy based on the interconnected concepts of education and work, which must be up to this change of time.

This context that includes a major representativeness crisis demands urgent structural reforms. Opportunities are huge. The negative effects for not doing are equally large.

By the end of the day, the challenge remains the same: ensuring equal opportunities.

Our democracies, which are not very smart, are not up to the challenge.


About Martin Padulla

Founder and Managing Director of staffingamericalatina. Martin Padulla is Sociologist (USAL), MBA (UCA) and labour markets expert. He published “Flexible Work in South America” and “Regulatory framework for private employment agencies in Latin America” two books about the new realities of work in Latin America. He is working on the project #FOWiberoamerica.

Follow Martín Padulla on Twitter: @MartinPadulla

 About staffingamericalatina

It is the unique independent digital media specialized in Latin American´s labour markets.

Produce and spread contents, researches and developments about issues such us Employability, Youth Employment, Training for Employment, Decent Work, Private Employment Agencies, Active policies for employment, Teleworking, Public and private actions for the creation of decent work, Green Jobs and Corporate Social Responsibility.

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