How Smart Communities Will Work

Smart communities can be smart in all kinds of ways. Want to learn more? Check out our incredible homes of the future pictures.

The phrase "smart communities" makes me think of a community that only allows MENSA members. Other names tossed around include "intelligent communities" or "smart cities," although they're not always used the same way.

A community of super-smart people sounds good, and the attributes of its citizens do play a part. But the actual definition of smart community (and its analogues) depends very much on who you ask. Several organizations around the world, such as the World Foundation for Smart Communities and the European Smart Cities Project, have sought to define the concept but also to create a model and recognize existing examples of smart communities for their efforts.

Improving the ability of the community and its members to compete in today's world is a major goal of smart communities. The Intelligent Community Forum uses the term "broadband economy," arguing that "global economy" isn't broad enough to describe "an economy in which for all intents and purposes the hard-working people of Bangalore and Beijing live right next door to the hard-working people of Boston, Brussels and Buenos Aires" [source: ICF]. A community's economic viability isn't just dependent on the people in the community -- businesses all over can have access to some of the same tools and resources. At the same time, the local economy has to be viable enough to make people want to stay and move there.

Historically, infrastructure has been about building and maintaining things like power systems and roads, also known as hard capital. But smart communities are also concerned about "soft" capital -- things that better the community but aren't necessarily tangible. These might include its governance, policies and educational opportunities. Sometimes, the term has been employed to describe cities that are on the cutting edge of information and communication technology (ICT), but it's about way more than just having an Internet connection, as we'll explore in the following pages.