When building Smart Cities, policies and strategies surrounding it should be centred around people, not technology. “Smart” is not just about installing digital interfaces in traditional infrastructure or streamlining city operations. It is also about using technology and data purposefully to make better decisions and deliver a better quality of life.

Quality of life has many dimensions, from the air residents breathe to how safe they feel walking the streets. Recently, McKinsey Global Institute analysed how dozens of digital applications address these kinds of practical and very human concerns. The company finds that cities can use smart technologies to improve some key quality-of-life indicators by 10 to 30 percent—numbers that translate into lives saved, fewer crime incidents, shorter commutes, a reduced health burden, and carbon emissions averted.

Smart Cities add digital intelligence to the urban world and use it to solve public problems and achieve a higher quality of life. According to McKinsey, there are three layers of “smartness” that will elevate life in cities of the future. First is the tech base that includes networks of connected devices and sensors. Second is smart applications and data-analysis capabilities. And third is adoption and usage, often leading to better decisions and behaviour changes.

In light of the findings state above, Smart cities should have the following four characteristics: innovativeness, sustainability, scalability and repeatability. In terms of building a smart city, there are five main areas that one should consider: governance, society, infrastructure, environment and the economy. In terms of governance, urban planning, city operations and finance, city engagement should be considered. In terms of society, public safety and security, health provision, access usage and completion of education, social inclusion and demographic change should be considered. In terms of infrastructure, water, waste, mobility, ICT connectivity, energy, and community should be considered. In terms of environment, air pollution, land protection, water protection, biodiversity protection and urban resilience and adaptation to climate change should be considered. In terms of economy, urban business environment, private sector investment, development of a competitive economy and green growth should be considered.

Smart Cities could transform many aspects of our lives, and therefore, Smart City projects should put their emphasis on people, not technology. And the four characteristics and five main areas of focus mentioned above could help cities around the world to build a more people-centric Smart Cities.