Even though the term Smart City is not a new concept, as it emerged twenty years ago, there is currently no unanimously accepted definition of it. At the same time, other "labels" have continued to emerge and circulate that correspond to different models of territory management: Intelligent, Digital, Green, Humane, Sustainable, or Inclusive City.

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In addition, other labels are gaining in popularity, with the aim of overcoming certain territorial "barriers". For example, in Belgium (particularly in Wallonia), the Smart City term is often associated to the urban landscape, and is therefore not always in line with the territorial realities of our municipalities (given that nearly 50% of Walloon municipalities are in rural areas). On the other hand, the activities of a municipality are not limited to its administrative border, since it has to interact with neighboring entities. In order to correspond more closely to these realities, new notions are emerging. We therefore speak of Smart Rurality, Smart Village, Smart Territories, or Smart Region.

As we can see, many labels are circulating. Indeed, each expert, each authority will have its own vision and its own model, according to its convictions, but also the objectives it wishes to achieve. So how do we define what a Smart City is ?

Our vision


At the Smart City Institute, we prefer to talk about sustainable and smart territory. In our vision, considering the city (or territory) of tomorrow means first and foremost reviewing our way of life, but also our way of interacting with our environment in order to provide a sustainable response to the major societal challenges of our time: increasing urban population and poverty, an aging population, climate change, the digital revolution, globalization, the food crisis, etc.

In concrete terms, the smart city or smart territory, through various projects, will therefore aim to reinvent our daily behaviors: for example, the way we travel, transport goods, recycle our waste or consume and produce food. It is also intended to be more inclusive by seeking to reconnect citizens with each other, but also with public authorities and decision-makers. The smart city thus relies on collective intelligence to rethink its territory, thereby ensuring that all stakeholders in society are mobilized. Of course, it is important to note that the ultimate objective, through the implementation of all these projects, is to ensure not only the sustainability of the territory, but also the well-being of the citizen.

What is the role of technology ?

In our vision, technology - and digitalization - occupy the place of the facilitator. It represents a means for our territories to achieve their sustainability objectives, and to develop cities with a high quality of life. All too often perceived as accentuating the digital divide, these technologies can, on the contrary, if they are well framed and used, represent a new means of creating links and improving social inclusion. Moreover, the more we master them, the easier it will be for us to make choices about their use and the model of city we want to see emerge.

Finally, to the question "What is a Smart City ?", there is no right answer. Everyone has their own definition, as long as it suggests a project for a sustainable and inclusive future for our cities.

Photo credit : Ivan Aleksic - Unsplash

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