Our cities are becoming more digital. The intention is to make life easier for the people who inhabit them — but is it working out like that?

Transportation in particular has seen a huge overhaul during COVID-19, with data analytics and automated systems introduced to make journeys more seamless for commuters.

However, most interactions are between people and surrounding infrastructure, not on busses or trains. Infrastructure is not passive — it’s a key player in ensuring equality in our cities, as referenced in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the G20 focus on accessibility planning.

New tech can be hugely beneficial for our cities, but implementation without consideration can do more harm than good. In recent years, New York City’s LinkNYC Kiosks are an example. Introduced to make WiFi easily accessible to all members of the public, its lack of audible instructions and screen-reading functionality excluded blind communities. Though the American Federation of the Blind took action to correct the problem, it demonstrates a wider trend: city planners do not truly understand the needs of marginalized people.

Artificial intelligence can ensure they do. With AI, municipalities can enable accessibility planning while upgrading infrastructure. Identifying behavior and accurately predicting intent of all pedestrians — regardless of environment, activity, culture or ability — enables truly inclusive, economically viable cities.

On the whole, city infrastructure was designed for the majority of people, without much consideration to differently abled pedestrians and road users.

Inclusive infrastructure is literally built differently.

Defined as any development that enhances positive outcomes in social inclusivity, inclusive infrastructure is essential to increasing social and demographic mobility. It’s an enabler: one statistic cites it as key to tap into the 249 billion euros in tied-up spending power of households with differently abled persons. It makes good business sense; more money in public transport systems means bigger budgets for the sector to innovate with. Ensuring that all persons have full access to work, healthcare and a social life is beneficial for the economy all around.

Still, most digital innovations perpetuate existing biases. Data-based decision making is insightful, but if the data is based on transportation hubs or cityscapes that exclude sections of society, it only serves to make problems worse.

Read the full article about data insight by Maya Pindeus at Smart Cities Dive.