Lydia Lim: People, not technology, make cities smart

It makes sense to start with residents, how they live and what they have to say, when drawing up a smart-city vision

On a recent visit to New York City, I lost my way on two separate occasions while walking through Central Park. There was a time when that would have been a far from pleasant experience; in the 1980s, for sure, which was when I first visited the city as a child with my parents and younger brother and wondered why our Chan Brothers Travel package tour included a stop at a park that struck me as dirty, dusty, pockmarked by graffiti and reportedly riddled with crime.

In the decades since then, America's most famous urban park has undergone a remarkable transformation. To get lost in it today is to meander through a 341ha green oasis - more than four times the size of Singapore's Botanic Gardens - that stretches through the heart of northern Manhattan, a place of lush foliage and flowers, running streams, sculptures and playgrounds, full of joggers, sunbathers, picnicking families and city residents walking their dogs and babies.