Last year, I touched upon a report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology that highlighted the lack of understanding and appreciation the general public had for the benefits of smart city technology.
The report reveals a surprisingly low level of interest in the kind of technologies that we ordinarily associate with smart cities. For instance, just 8% of respondents believed being able to order a driverless vehicle via your phone was useful.
The authors believe this is largely because those responsible for the roll-out of smart city type technologies seldom involve the public in their decision-making processes. This contributes to a distinct lack of buy-in by the public in the technology. What’s more, this is despite the early successes of platforms such as Airbnb and Uber.
Smart Cities, Smarter Citizens
Global software company PTC have attempted to bridge this understanding gap with the release of a new e-book compiled from a recent O’Reilly report.
It explains that many smart cities projects are dominated by technology, but if they are really to transform the way we go about our lives, they need to go far beyond that, with citizens themselves playing a huge role in making cities smart.
With UN estimates suggesting that 2/3 of people will live in mega-cities (10 million inhabitants and above) by 2050, there are a lot of potential minds to tap into, and they will be crucial in helping to deliver more with fewer resources.
“When people talk about smart cities, they’re really talking about smart energy, smart transportation, smart healthcare, smart education,” says Samta Bansal, marketing and strategy leader for GE’s Intelligent Cities initiative. “They’re talking about many separate verticals. But what’s more important is the convergence of those verticals into a comprehensive system with citizens at the center.”
It’s an approach that makes sense, as citizens will not only generate an awful lot of the data upon which smart cities thrive, but they should also be at the heart of the decision-making process that results from analyzing their data.
It also underlines the need to move away from previous mental models that would see things like power supply or transportation in isolation, and move towards a world where systems converge and are looked at as a whole. Such thinking is converging around the concept of city labs, where integration is experimented with and a culture of perpetual innovation and experimentation emerges.
“Local is the perfect scale for smart-technology innovation,” writes Anthony M. Townsend, author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers and the Quest for a New Utopia. In a city, it’s easier to identify problems, engage interested groups of citizens, and see the impact of new solutions than in a sprawling suburb or rural landscape. “Each of these civic laboratories is an opportunity to invent,” he writes.
To achieve this, it will require a smart city platform to emerge with common standards that will facilitate the plug-and-play deployment of smart city services. This would allow cities to pay as they go, whilst also tapping into a global marketplace of smart city applications and services.
We’re at a fascinating point in the development of smart cities, and this paper provides a valuable addition to the debate around that development. You can download it via the link here.