Definition of “smart”, according to Webster

1 : making one smart : causing a sharp stinging

2 : marked by often sharp forceful activity or vigorous strength

3 : brisk, spirited

4 : mentally alert : bright

5:  knowledgeable, shrewd

6: witty, clever, pert, saucy

7: neat, trim, stylish or elegant in dress or appearance

8: characteristic of or patronized by fashionable society

9: operating by automation

10:  using a built-in microprocessor for automatic operation, for processing of data, or for achieving greater versatility


Interesting, Isn’t it. The definition that we would immediately go to when describing smart parking or cities, is the tenth listed by the dictionary. Is this because of our lack of knowledge in English, or is it because we are jumping to a conclusion fed to us by the technocrats?

Wags like me go with door number two. We are led to believe, by our betters, that “smart” means putting all the technology we can find in place to solve our management and commercial problems. And once we do that, we are golden.

I beg to differ.

What if the definition we use was numbers 2,3,4 and 5? What if we used our own brains, not ones supplied by definition number 10, to determine just what we wanted in our parking operation, or in our city, or in our schools, or …..

Let’s face it. Technology manufacturers have no clue what we want to accomplish in our respective businesses.  A university may want to ensure that its parking systems is fair and that students and faculty get to class on time, a hospital may want to have a program that helps patients and visitors during times when they are in great stress. A shopping center may want to get people in the mood to shop and spend money. An office building may want to maximize parking space and thus profits, a municipality may want to protect a resource while changing the way parkers act. Is there any way technology can do all that?

Of course not. Like a farmer, first we have to decide where we are going to plant. Then decide what crop best fits the location, and the market. Then find the funding to make it all happen, and THEN, select the right tools and get to work.

When we think of “Smart Parking” we instantly think of electrons flowing through silicon. Of cell phones, of high tech payment schemes, of data collection, of license plate recognition.

Would it serve us better to consider what we were trying to accomplish with cell phones, data, payment, and lpr and THEN begin to search for the tools that will help us accomplish our goals, be they smart or dumb.

Let’s determine what we want to plant, and then hop on the tractor.


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John Van Horn

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