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Think of a smart city, and the mind often wanders to sensors, sustainable energy and perhaps the ever-present internet infrastructure that ties it all together.
But an event at Spark Baltimore on Tuesday night brought attention to the piece of the digital-enabled equation that includes people. In listening to a series of speakers brought together by the platform Digi.City, it was clear that connecting devices might be inevitable, but a primary concern to prepare Baltimore will involve connecting the community.

It’s a message that Digi.City founder Chelsea Collier hears traveling the country. The Verizon-sponsored Baltimore event was one of about 35 she has undertaken in recent years to bring different sides of the community together to discuss how urban life will evolve. She highlighted that human side as a key theme of a presentation to begin the night.

“Technology is like tofu. You can apply it to good or you can apply it to bad, but it’s how humans work together to use it that makes the difference,” she said.

Speakers said this will mean working together across the entire city, and a familiar Baltimore name was on hand to reinforce this message. Torrey Smith, the recently retired Baltimore Ravens wide receiver who was a part of the professional football team’s Super Bowl glory, talked about his work in the city with the Torrey Smith Family Fund. This takes him to work with youth in the parts of the city where technology access isn’t as prevalent as downtown. (For reference, a Deutsch Foundation report found that nearly 75,000 households in Baltimore lack internet access.)

“I want to do my part to close the gap and raise equity across the board,” he said, encouraging the audience to see potential in the whole city.

“As great as things that happen in a lot of these buildings are,” he said, speaking of places like Spark, “I would challenge you to step outside of that.”

If those connections among people aren’t made, introducing more technology could only exacerbate the divides that are already present. And that starts with education, said speakers on a panel that followed Smith’s talk.

For companies that are coming in and spreading new technology, it means educating the people in these communities about what smart cities are. Panelists also stressed the importance of building trust with communities, and only promising what will ultimately be delivered.

“You need to explain the impact of this on communities, and you need to tell them how it’s going to be installed and what it’s going to look like,” said Mike Hilliard, community services program director of HARBEL Community Organization.

And it means engaging students, as the technology brought by smart cities will also bring new opportunities in the workforce.

“If we are not working with youth and letting them know that this is an opportunity for them, we are going to be left behind,” said Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director William Honablew, Jr.

Empowered to build and maintain the technology powering a smart city, those within the city where the technology is introduced will have a chance to take part in the jobs and other economic gains that come with it.

“If you have a creative community you will have a smart city,” said Tyrone Taborn, publisher and editorial director of Career Communications Group, Inc.

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