I remember when I was in elementary school in Detroit in the ’70s, it was not uncommon for teachers and administrators to trot out the school’s best and brightest to show how well our school was doing. Our school’s best would go to science fairs, spelling bees and quiz bowls to show off our skills and to make everyone feel good about not just the state of our schools, but the state of our future. In addition, the school’s smarties would meet up with other smarties, and begin a dialogue between them that excluded them from students in their own schools.
What a crock. While the “best and brightest” or, as W.E.B. DuBois called them, the “Talented Tenth”, were going around showing just how smart they were, so many neglected children lost out on the attention and resources needed to give them the education they so desperately needed.
That’s how I view stories like Fast Company’s “Ten Smartest Cities in North America.”
Fast Company’s Boyd Cohen has developed what he’s called a Smart Cities Wheel, a visual tool that shows the elements that make up smart cities. I don’t disagree with any of them. It’s pretty simple:
smart economy + smart environment + smart government + smart living + smart mobility + smart people =
Where I have problems with this is with the indicators used to determine the “smart” factors, and their impact on the entirety of cities. I get the distinct feeling when looking at at 2013’s list of smartest cities that we’re simply comparing the “Talented Tenth” of each city, without fully examining the reach that these efforts are making into all parts of the city.
I look forward to the time when being a smart city will be about improving the prospects for the greater part of the city instead of a select group.