The huge Smart Cities New York 2018 conference started today. It is billed as:
“North America’s leading global conference to address and highlight critical solution-based issues that cities are facing as we move into the 21st century. … SCNY brings together top thought leaders and senior members of the private and public sector to discuss investments in physical and digital infrastructure, health, education, sustainability, security, mobility, workforce development, to ensure there is an increased quality of life for all citizens as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
A few hours ago, I helped run an Intelligent Community Forum Workshop on “Future-Proofing Beyond Tech: Community-Based Solutions”. I also spoke there about “Technology That Matters”, which this post will quickly review.
As with so much of ICF’s work, the key question for this part of the workshop was: Once you’ve laid down the basic technology of broadband and your residents are connected, what are the next steps to make a difference in residents’ lives?
I have previously focused on the need for cities to encourage their residents to take advantage of the global opportunities in business, education, health, etc. that becomes possible when you are connected to the whole world.
Instead in this session, I discussed six steps that are more local.
1. Apps For Urban Life
This is the simplest first step and many cities have encouraged local or not-so-local entrepreneurs to create apps for their residents.
But many cities that are not as large as New York are still waiting for those apps. I gave the example of Buenos Aires as a city that didn’t wait and built more than a dozen of its own apps.
I also reminded attendees that there are many potential, useful apps for their residents which cannot justify enough profit to be of interest to the private sector, so the government will have to create these apps on their own.
2. Community Generation Of Urban Data
While some cities have posted their open data, there is much data about urban life that the residents can collect. The most popular example is the community generation of environmental data, with such products like the Egg, the Smart Citizen Kit for Urban Sensing, the Sensor Umbrella and even more sophisticated tools like Placemeter.
But the data doesn’t just have to be about the physical environment. The US National Archives has been quite successful in getting citizen volunteers to generate data – and meta-data – about the documents in its custody.
The attitude which urban leaders need is best summarized by Professor Michael Batty of the University College London:
“Thinking of cities not as smart but as a key information processor is a good analogy and worth exploiting a lot, thus reflecting the great transition we are living through from a world built around energy to one built around information.”
3. The Community Helps Make Sense Of The Data
Once the data has been collected, someone needs to help make sense of it. This effort too can draw upon the diverse skills in the city. Platforms like Zooniverse, with more than a million volunteers, are good examples of what is called citizen science. For the last few years, there has been OpenData Day around the world, in which cities make available their data for analysis and use by techies. But I would go further and describe this effort as “popular analytics” – the virtual collaboration of both government specialists and residents to better understand the problems and patterns of their city.
4. Co-Creating Policy
Once the problems and opportunities are better understood, it is time to create urban policies in response. With the foundation of good connectivity, it becomes possible for citizens to conveniently participate in the co-creation of policy. I highlighted examples from the citizen consultations in Lambeth, England to those in Taiwan, as well as the even more ambitious CrowdLaw project that is housed not far from the Smart Cities conference location.
5. Co-Production Of Services
Then next is the execution of policy. As I’ve written before, public services do not necessarily always have to be delivered by paid civil servants (or even better paid companies with government contracts). The residents of a city can help be co-producers of services, as exemplified in Scotland and New Zealand.
6. Co-Creation Of The City Itself
Obviously, the people who build buildings or even tend to gardens in cities have always had a role in defining the physical nature of a city. What’s different in a city that has good connectivity is the explosion of possible ways that people can modify and enhance that traditional physical environment. Beyond even augmented reality, new spaces that blend the physical and digital can be created anywhere – on sidewalks, walls, even in water spray. And the residents can interact and modify these spaces. In that way, the residents are constantly co-creating and recreating the urban environment.
The hope of ICF is that the attendees at Smart Cities New York start moving beyond the base notion of a smart city to the more impactful idea of an intelligent city that uses all the new technologies to enhance the quality of life and engagement of its residents.
© 2018 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved