At the heart of any sustainability effort is hope for the future: That the right combination of people, resources and ideas will result in communities that are healthier, safer and stronger for generations to come.

So what role does technology have in these communities of the future?

Rob Phocas, energy and sustainability manager for the City of Charlotte, N.C., explores this topic in a recent contribution to CIO Review’s “Smart City”  special edition. Charlotte was one of seven cities to receive a matching grant through the Partners for Places Equity Pilot Initiative earlier this year. The equity pilot initiative supports cities and their place-based foundation partners to develop local approaches for prioritizing equity in sustainability and/or climate action.  (This two-year pilot program is supported by the generosity of The Kendeda Fund and The Kresge Foundation.)”

“I like the latest ‘smart’ technology as much as the next person. Be it a smart streetlight, a digital kiosk, or a solar powered bench that charges your smart device and counts passers-by, it is hard not to find futuristic features appealing.  But as a sustainability director and public servant, I must look past that cool factor,” writes Phocas. “At a recent smart cities conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the conference organizers asked the presenters to answer a question during their remarks: ‘Can innovative smart city technology create coherent and inclusive cities?’”

His answer:

“What started as an industry-lead effort focused on promoting the latest gadgets to municipalities is shifting to a municipal-lead effort to understand which of these gadgets can help staff achieve their mayor and/or city council’s goals of creating a great quality of life for their residents.  Charlotte’s approach is no different, which is why my answer to the question about technology creating coherent and inclusive cities was, ‘No.’ It is people, after understanding the unique needs of their residents, who will use these innovative smart technologies to create coherent and inclusive cities, not technology alone.”

Read Phocas’ take on smart city technologies, and learn more about how Charlotte is working to plan for its future by focusing on meaningful community engagement, in the the full story.