Smart Places summary — where people, data and technology come together

The Smart Places illustrated blog article series features thought pieces from thinkers, practitioners, experts and leaders in the built environment, sustainability, future cities, design, data and communities and more. The final of four live Tweet-ups will take place on Thursday 23 June from 3–4pm on Twitter at #smartplaces, and the series will culminate in a one hour online Panel Discussion with the seven authors on Friday 26 June from 3–4pm. Join us on Thursday for the last Tweet-up with Sally Kerr and get your free ticket for the panel on Eventbrite. See the full programme of events for more information.

Over the past four weeks, the Smart Places series has posed various questions and prompted discussions around active citizen engagement and participation alongside the use of new data and technology. Through articles by key thought leaders in this field, accompanied by live Tweet-Ups, the series has asked how we can improve places for people. Each of the articles has addressed one dimension of place-based challenges and proposed ideas and questions to help create a better future.

Some key themes that have come up in discussion have been…


A reoccurring issue in the Smart Places discussion has been data, or the lack thereof. In a world seemingly full of data, there is a lack of consensus around methods, sources, formats, standards — the elements that make data easier to access, share, integrate and analyse. To improve the design of our cities and places, we need consistent data that helps us understand how people use places. This data, combined with thoughtful reflection on designing for diversity, can help to support and inform design decisions.


A world in lockdown has brought to light structural issues which cities face. In Edinburgh, streets which prioritise motorised vehicles leave little space for people walking or cycling. While we are required to stay socially distanced, we need to find new ways to reimagine city infrastructures to create space for people to move around and to gather outside. Community ‘hubs’ and local businesses can make resources easier to access and make cities more accessible and inclusive.

This led to a discussion about how we could redesign our cities to better serve those who live in them. How can cities be designed in manners which are agile and flexible, allowing the built environment to adapt to the changing needs of its citizens?

Community building

Underlining the series and its articles are questions of how we encourage, facilitate and create communities. The increasing use and importance of data and technology presents opportunities and challenges alike to making face-to-face or in-person connections. For example, while the use of technology and digital spaces reaches and includes certain groups, such as young people, it can equally exclude others. How can data and technology be used by communities in order to facilitate inclusivity, accessibility, and real connections?

The Smart Places series has asked how we can put data and technology in the service of people to create the kinds of places that we want to live in. This also requires us to consider how technology and data can be used in ways which are responsible and safe. There is a need for bodies and laws which regulate the use of powerful new technologies. Rather than being at odds with nature and humanity, digital technology should be employed in the effort to mitigate climate change, connect us to the environment and protect the citizens of the world.

Covid-19 has both brought to light many challenges and opportunities at the interaction point between people and place. It is pushing us to reflect on and rethink our infrastructure, the purposes it serves and how it shapes us and we shape it. Now more than ever it is vital that we rethink and reimagine our places so they reflect and provide for the needs and values of the people who live in them.

Don’t miss the final live Tweet-up on Thursday 25 June from 3–4pm at #smartplaces on Twitter and the panel discussion and public Q&A with all seven authors in the Smart Places series on Friday 26 June from 3–4pm! Sign up via Eventbrite for your free ticket.

We bring people together to solve problems using data and design.