Towards ‘smart cities’ as ‘healthy cities’: health equity in a digital age

  • Morgan Mouton
  • Ariel Ducey
  • Judith Green
  • Lorian Hardcastle
  • Steven Hoffman
  • Myles Leslie
  • Melanie RockEmail author
Special Section on Why Public Health Matters Today: Commentary


The advent of ‘smart’ technologies has already transformed urban life, with important consequences for physical, mental, and social well-being. Population health and equity have, however, been conspicuously absent from much of the ‘smart cities’ research and policy agenda. With this in mind, we argue for a re-conceptualization of ‘digital divides’ in terms of socio-economic gradients at the individual level, and we draw attention to digitally mediated connections as crucial elements for health promotion at an institutional level and for remedying inequities. We do so in part by reporting on a recent symposium. Overall, we begin to integrate the ‘healthy cities’ tradition with the current interest in ‘smart cities’.


Health promotion City planning Urban health Digital divide Social sciences 


Le déploiement des technologies numériques a d’ores et déjà transformé la vie urbaine, et entraîné des conséquences importantes sur le bien-être physique, mental et social. La santé des populations et l’équité sont cependant restées largement absentes des discussions politiques et académiques sur les « villes intelligentes ». Afin de contribuer à instruire ce débat, nous proposons de re-conceptualiser la notion de « fracture numérique » en l’associant, à l’échelle de l’individu, à l’idée de gradients socio-économiques. De plus, nous transposons cette notion à l'échelle des organisations engagées dans la promotion de la santé et dans la lutte contre les inégalités, et pour qui l'accès aux technologies numériques et aux données est un enjeu de plus en plus décisif. Ce travail s’appuie sur les réflexions engagées lors d'un colloque organisé récemment, qui a permis d’esquisser un rapprochement entre le champ bien établi des « villes en santé » et l’intérêt actuel pour les « villes intelligentes ».


Promotion de la santé Planification urbaine Santé urbaine Fracture numérique Sciences sociales 



Ducey, Hardcastle, Leslie, and Rock are members of the O’Brien Institute, while Green belongs to the O’Brien Institute’s International Scientific Advisory Board, and Mouton is a postdoctoral affiliate in the O’Brien Institute. In addition, Mouton holds postdoctoral awards from the O’Brien Institute and the Cumming School. Both Rock and Mouton participate in a series of ‘smart cities’ catalyst initiatives that have received funding from the University of Calgary’s Institute of the Humanities, Libraries and Cultural Resources, and Office of the Vice-President for Research; these initiatives provided inspiration. Also to be acknowledged is the Social Science Research Council of Canada, which funded Mouton through Rock’s Insight Development Grant. Most concretely, this commentary has emerged from the planning process for a symposium to be hosted by the O’Brien Institute on 22 June 2018, which featured Green and Hoffman as keynote speakers. That week, Green was in residence at the University of Calgary as the 2018 Watanabe Lecturer. We also wish to acknowledge CJPH and the reviewers who provided helpful suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript.


This article was made possible by the University of Calgary, including the Institute for the Humanities; Libraries and Cultural Resources; the Office of the Vice-President for Research; the O’Brien Institute for Public Health; and the Cumming School of Medicine.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.King’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.York UniversityTorontoCanada

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