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Shaping compassionate cities

Submitted by nick kamols on November 16, 2018

In honour of Smart Cities Week Australia the Smart Cities Council Emerging Innovators are reflecting on the four themes: connected, aware, accelerate and compassion. This week’s post on the theme of ‘compassion’ from Emerging Innovator Nick Kamols considers that we need to resist our tendency to create self-centred visions for smart cities to create compassionate outcomes.

Many possible futures lay ahead of us. Thinking about the future is one of the most important things humans can do. As we shape the future, both in our minds and in reality, we should always do so with compassion.

“If somebody describes to you the world of the mid-21st Century and it sounds like science fiction, it is probably false, but if somebody describes to you the world of the mid-21st Century and it doesn’t sound like science fiction, it is certainly false” is historian come futurist, Yuval Noah Harari’s recent adaptation of Heraclitus’ “The only constant is change”.

We often view and evaluate forthcoming city-shaping technologies through how we personally would like to use them. Many people think of the convenience of using an autonomous vehicle for their commute without considering the potential freedoms afforded to people with reduced mobility. This same formula of personal discourse in opposition to a compassionate one can be applied to most forthcoming city-shaping technological change. Almost everyone refers primarily to their own experiences when discussing the future. They take what they find to be convenient and attractive, and project it onto society as a whole.

The bold visions of the future purported by some tech elites are perhaps of most concern. This is due to their lived experiences being radically different from most other people, and the disproportionate influence they wield. This has recently been labelled as ‘elite projection’. I propose that we adopt this term into our city-shaping vernacular, so we may more readily scrutinise its influence as these people and companies become increasingly involved in shaping cities.

I won’t attempt to be prescriptive about using compassion as it is subjective and often intangible. In lieu of advice on how to best be compassionate, I offer famed architect Jan Gehl’s advice on how to be inclusive - ”If you make a good city for those of 8 and those of 80, all the rest will be fine”. 


Nick Kamols is a Town Planner and Co-founder of start-up PowerWells. He is the National Coordinator of the Smart Cities Council Emerging Innovators Network. Nick describes his life as being at both ends of the development spectrum, being at the forefront of the future of human settlements, while also working with people in remote communities that don’t yet have electricity.

The views expressed therein are entirely his own.