Justin Bean

The Psychology of the Smart City: Designing Our Cities for Human Needs

Blog Post created by Justin Bean Employee on Jul 8, 2016

Psychology and Society

The ancient Greek Philosopher Democritus was the first to coin the notion that the individual can be considered the “social atom” of a society. Just like an individual, a society has myriad internal influences and diverse factors that make up its personality. Because these influences and factors are based on people, they heavily reflect the psychology of the people that reside there.


The Personal Needs Hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is perhaps the most commonly used framework for understanding human psychology. It divides our needs into five levels:Maslow Needs.png

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety and security
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Self-esteem
  5. Self-actualization


These needs are sometimes grouped into two types: hygiene and motivator factors.  Hygiene needs are often unnoticed when they are met, but cause dissatisfaction and suffering when they are absent. Motivator needs, however, elicit positive feelings and energize people the more they are present.


Psychology and Cities

Because cities and communities are made up of people, the social psychology of them can be understood in much the same way. People rarely notice that they have running water, sewage systems, and peaceful streets. But when these are missing, social unrest grows and society even destabilizes if they are missing for long enough. Governments are expected to provide for these hygiene needs at a bare minimum. Fulfilling motivator needs is what makes cities great. Think of the exciting nightlife of New York, the creative entrepreneurship of San Francisco, or the artistry of Paris – these cities have built strong communities that help people thrive.


From Technology to Meeting Human Needs

Cities should take a human-centered design approach to becoming smarter, and use new technologies in the service of meeting these psychological needs. Human needs vary by city, neighborhood, and individual, but by implementing targeted, locally relevant initiatives in the communities where the needs exist, cities can provide the conditions that help people reach their potential.


  • What human or psychological needs is your city hoping to address with its smart city initiatives?
  • What additional initiatives could address unmet needs?
  • Do you agree with the city-adapted hierarchy of needs below? What would you add, take out, or move?


Designing Your City for Impact


As we set out to design cities to be the places people want to live, work, and enjoy with their friends and families, we should start with asking how we can meet these human needs. In order for people to have their basic needs met, first and foremost, they must feel that their society is  stable, safe and predictable. Civilization by nature has these attributes – when humans first planted seeds and developed agriculture, the availability of a secure food source created the stability they needed to stay in one place and allowed them to cease existing as a nomadic society. Making cities smart is a continuation of this need for stability, safety, and above all, predictability in the service of enabling people and societies to reach higher levels of satisfaction and happiness.


Safety and Security:

Safety and security is the foundation of a stable, thriving society, and some cities have larger challenges on this front than others. Hitachi is helping cities become safer with public safety solutions like Hitachi Visualization Predictive Crime Analytics, enabling predictive policing that helps officers predict when and where crimes are likely to happen, so they can be there to prevent the crime in the first place, or quickly apprehend the perpetrators to keep them from striking again. Public safety officers can even look back at video of a crime scene or pull up other crime data in the area to formulate effective strategies to fight crime and make communities safer.


Preventing people from becoming criminals in the first place is a much more complex undertaking, but over the long term cities must make economic growth inclusive, and help to build strong, supportive communities. An important part of the solution is laying the foundation for communities with investments in effective public safety, transportation, and city services. However, cities also need to make efforts to engage communities in-person and online to help build cities based on the self-determination of the communities that make them up.


Self Esteem: Enabling Self-Determination Through Effective Transit and City Services:

In order for people to build strong relationships, do great work, and feel empowered, they need to be able to rely on city infrastructure to get them where they need to go, keep their air and drinking water clean, and make it easy to connect with others. Cities can provide for these needs by first having an accurate view of how the city is operating, and second by being able to manage infrastructure operations and maintenance in an efficiently and effectively. Collecting and analyzing data from roads, transit, water pipes, and air quality sensors enables cities to get a clear picture of what’s working well and what needs attention, before problems arise. Hitachi is working with cities like Moreno Valley, CA to help them coordinate traffic systems to and ensure efficient pathways for emergency vehicles.


Self Actualization: Unleashing Inclusive Innovation:

Cities make a huge impact on people’s lives, and connected technologies enabled by The Internet of Things provide an opportunity to expand this impact and make it more positive. Cities can catalyze innovation in their communities to help people build stronger relationships, solve problems locally and technologically, and create new, more convenient ways of going about daily life (think of the Ubers and AirBNBs that have yet to be created). Hitachi is working with The City of Copenhagen to build a City Data Exchange that will unleash local data to developers who wish to create applications that make the city a better place to live. By creating a common platform for the data of the city, as well as that of local businesses, organizations, and individuals, Copenhagen is taking a democratized, people-centric approach to making itself smarter. The platform becomes a place where developers can access comprehensive datasets that allow them to solve the problems that are important to them in creative, inclusive ways. By enabling local stakeholders to create innovation in their communities, cities can help people and societies advance to become more connected, fulfilling, and to truly thrive.

Maslow Cities.png

The Internet of Things – The Bricks That Make Up the Pyramid

The foundation of all of these solutions, and the material that makes up the proverbial pyramid is The Internet of Things, and the data that these things produce. The Internet of Things is providing the first step of giving us information about our world. Applying analytics to that data provides insights, enabling cities to take more informed actions that lead to better outcomes– whether that’s a proactive response from officers to prevent a crime, intelligent traffic lights that coordinate based on traffic flow, or helping someone turn an idea for a solution into a real solution. As the Internet of Things grows, so does our potential to make ourselves and our world smarter.


Hitachi Insight Group is bringing IoT to cities for insights and human outcomes that make our cities safer, smarter, and more vibrant.