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John Harlow wants cities to move away from the mentality of, “Let’s build technologies and then put them places.” Instead, he says, city leaders should ask: “What do people need in this place, and how do we help them?”

(Credit: John Harlow)

Harlow is a smart cities research specialist at The Emerson College Engagement Lab, a visiting fellow at New York University’s GovLab and an affiliated researcher at the Artizona State University Center for Smart Cities and Regions. Currently, he’s working with Boston’s Betablocks smart city action research project. 

It’s difficult to know what citizens need, and to help citizens articulate it, says Harlow. Efficiently gathering data on city issues and problems consumes government time and money. 


Using energy storage for reduced downtime

Harlow’s research helps cities understand how to effectively engage the public in every step of smart city technology deployment, from defining the problem, to identifying the solution and monitoring the technology during the pilot phase.

The main takeaway? Smartness in cities comes from people understanding what’s important to them and what problems they are experiencing, he says.

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