By 2050 70% of the earth population will be living in cities, and that is reason enough to start thinking about how to design our cities for the upcoming challenges.

Smart cities and Big Data promise to deliver a better city, that will improve our quality of life, a city in which you will feel safe and connected.

There are different ideas about how to create the future smart cities, from leaving their management to big private companies that will come an implant their IT solution, to a bottom-up approach in which citizens contribute to improve the city by collecting data and sharing it.

In the book Illuminated Cities from Laurence Henriquez, he examines the problem from the origin till our days, grouping smart cities in three main types.

Smart Cities

Laurence talks about three main types of smart cities: greenfield projects; retrofit projects; and community-led bottom-up initiatives (BUIs).

There are a growing number of large-scale greenfield developments around the world that combine aspects of housing, retail and leisure with smart technology into what are essentially fully-formed smart cities.

In 2009, the South Korean city of Songdo paid Cisco Systems $47 million to construct its plumbing infrastructure based on smart (sensing) technologies. Songdo is dubbed by some as ‘smart city-in-a-box’ because it was built from the ground up with Cisco technology as part of its DNA.

Songdo is not without its criticisms as it is said to exclude the poor and working class. Additionally, many of its innovations are still not fully operational. The latter is due to the fact that the city is only partly in use (less than 20% of the commercial office space was occupied at the beginning of 2014).

Despite these drawbacks, every year more and more people are leaving Seoul and moving to Songdo, not necessary for its ‘smartness’, but because its tight knit urban design allows most residents to walk from home to work within 15 minutes.

SONGDO is not a real city per se, but rather the first iteration of an extremely expensive, top-down designed product that is meant to foster an ideal corporate environment and business experience.

Smart retrofit projects have been realized in all kinds of cities on a variety of scales; from the OV chipkaart and Oyster transport card systems in The Netherlands and London to the inclusion of RFID and biometric data on passports. The most famous examples of existing cities made ‘smart’ through retrofit are Singapore and Rio de Janeiro. The former was developed and branded as Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SGK) and based on IBM support.

Finally the bottom-up initiative (BUIs) cities which are made up of individuals with dreams for the future and concerns about their local community and a world that at times seems impossible to change.

This bottom-up initiative (BUIs) are based on the idea of a illuminated city. Illuminated cities are citizen-focused, community defined, open-source cities that harness technology to enhance democracy and distributed governance, support individual and collective autonomy, community participation in urban planning, and enshrine the citizen’s right to privacy and protection from commodification.

A illuminated city uses technology to reveal the unseen relations between urban communities and the wider natural systems that support them. The idea would be to lay the Smart City to rest and move towards the illuminated city. To acquire this and build the illuminated cities we should evolve from urban consumers to smart citizens.

Many of inequalities found in cities are the result of an economic system that rewards capital, speed and greed over more humanistic concerns.

The first step towards the creation of illuminated cities is the creation of social, political, and economic infrastructures that support the growth of smart citizens.

Our institutions need to prepare the youth for a technology dominated future where creativity and social skills will be paramount. A potential engineer that is morally guided, conscious of social problems and is engaged in a community is more likely to consider design factors beyond efficiency than otherwise. As the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset once said, "to be an not enough to be an engineer".

The question of what we want our future urban spaces to look like cannot be separated from what kind of people we aspire to be, the kinds of social relations and lifestyles we deem fruitful, or redefining our relationship with the natural environment.

Illuminated city encourages citizen-led, bottom-up initiatives (BUIs) that focus on sustainability and social inclusion and urban planning policies that give communities more control in designing the public spaces they interact in.

This is not some baseless fantasy, as thousands of citizen led projects are already popping up all around the world. Initiatives like smart citizens lab at institutions like Waag Society, contribute to this idea of illuminated cities.

In the end, bottom-up initiative (BUIs) are ‘smart’ not because they are born of technology; they are intelligent because they solve multiple urban problems like social capital, sustainability, urban resilience and community spirit all at once.


This book has helped me to get a better idea of what a smart city is and the different ways to build the smart city of the future.

As a participant in the smart citizen lab, I had the opportunity to take part in this beautiful initiative that made me believe that the illuminated is possible yet difficult to implement unless there is a commitment and involvement from the public institutions.

As I said before in my smart citizens post, I encourage you to join the smart citizens movement and start to create and build a smart city in which the citizens and its communities model it.

I leave here the song that came to my mind after reading the book. I hope you like it, and do not forget to enjoy the life.