Observing the status of a good number of cities around the world would reveal a new kind of urban competition labeled “smart cities”. The concept of smart city emerged more than a decade ago. It first appeared in the literature of architecture and planning around 1999–2000. The concept has emerged due to the collective efforts of digital designers, economists, and planners, for the purpose of obtaining physical changes based on new technologies used in cities. The most accepted definition of smart city states that it is the ability to exploit digital, information, and communication technologies to improve the quality and performance of the physical urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, to be more effective, and to engage with its citizens. The smart city in its current vision makes communication and human interaction inessential or even trivial. This is a real crisis, as some analysts, writers, and specialists have pointed out, that has narrowed the concept of smart cities to the use of information technology, smart phones or smart cards, or smart homes, or anything labeled as smart. Obviously, there is no discussion on how using all these smart devices can contribute to the improvement of urban life and the sustainable future of cities. Therefore, the following questions arise: is the hypothesis that information technology can improve the performance of cities legitimate? Can these technologies actually make the city smarter, and do they make human life better? More importantly, we need a thorough examination of the concept of smart cities to assess their actual impact on quality of life, especially human social divide. Contemporary Middle Eastern and Gulf cities aspire for the new identity of smart cities without substantial assessment that would explore not only their technological dimension but also their impact on the holistic aspects of life. The paper argues for a different perception of the concept of smart city. It might therefore be wrong to describe the city as smart while it is creating a situation of separation, fragmentation, and individualism among communities. Alternatively, we might be more proud of a less smart city that allows its community to interact and integrate. The paper conducts a number of comparative analyses and provides cases from the regional and international context to argue for a more holistic understanding of the swiftly emerging concept of “smart city”.


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