A headline in the UK Guardian slams "stupid mayors" for wrong-headed approaches to smart cities. It quotes Barcelona Deputy Mayor Antoni Vives:
"There is nothing more dangerous than an eager architect dressed in black and a stupid mayor, because then you get strange things put in the middle of a city," he said. "We have the same thing with smart cities – a stupid mayor and an eager company putting strange stupidities into the heart of the city. We are trying to put citizenship at the beginning of the definition of the project."
And essentially, Vives nailed it. You can't build smarter cities without putting citizens front and center when the conversation begins. A thoughtful post on the Pieria website by Frances Coppola suggests why:
"When we live in a technologically-defined world, we become dependent on the design of that technology. If we have no say in how it is designed, we are effectively disenfranchised. We may have the illusion of control, but in reality our lives are subtly controlled by the makers of the technology - unseen, unelected and largely unaccountable…"
The Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide describes people as the "secret sauce" that turn a smart city into reality. In fact, the Smart People chapter advocates best practices for getting citizens onboard the smart cities bandwagon. Here's a brief excerpt:
Anyone who has run for public office understands that you don’t win if you don’t get enough people to support you. The same formula applies to a smart cities campaign. Your best chance for success is to win the support of the people who live and work in your city. Citizens are the priority stakeholder in a smart city and so much of a smart city is achievable only when citizens have bought into the vision actively and willingly. Here are two ways to make that happen.
1. Continuously pursue two-way communication with citizens on strategies for and benefits of information and communications technologies (ICT) before and during their deployment. To develop a smart city that captures the interest and enthusiasm of the people who live in it, encourage them to help create the vision. Hold public meetings, organize neighborhood brainstorming sessions, try crowdsourcing, solicit ideas via social media or mobile apps – and take every opportunity along the way to inform and educate them on the exciting ways ICT will transform their city and their lives for the better. Maintaining this ongoing, two-way dialog between your city and its citizens will only improve the outcome. For example, citizens who are educated about smart water and energy meters are more likely to use them correctly. Citizens who are aware of mobile apps for reporting a pothole or ordering a city service are more apt to take advantage of them.
2. Offer an integrated, personalized citizen portal for services. We’ve talked about howimportant it is for citizens to be involved in thepursuit and realization of a smart city. That’swhy it’s crucial that cities create an integrated,comprehensive online portal for people toaccess their smart city services. Today websites and mobile applications canrecognize individual citizens and deliver personallytailored information to them. Such digitalinteractions with citizens allow smart cities toenhance their efficiency and effectiveness atthe same time they heighten citizensatisfaction.
The Smart Cities Readiness Guide provides a number of case studies detailing how pioneering cities have engaged citizens in their smart city initiatives using the practices described above. And if this is the first you've heard of it, you should know that the Guide is a comprehensive manual for city leaders that addresses all of a city's major responsibility areas – the built environment, energy, water and wastewater, transportation, public safety, telecommunications, payments and health and human services among them.
It is available at no charge for members of the Smart Cities Council. To become a member and download your copy, simply complete a one-time registration.