NY High Line - Sept 2011 - 09

Cities aren’t smart, people are.

I think this is a simple point, but important to remember amidst all the Smart City hype.

Smart cities are cities where people produce and use information to make cities more livable, economically successful, socially equitable, sustainable and fun.

And, who are these people producing and using information?

This is key: they are both the traditional city leaders and everyone else.

Today, city administrations have unprecedented access to data that enables them to both improve city services and make them more efficient. An often overlooked source of this data are city residents and visitors. Many cities do not use modern IT tools to collect, analyze and use input from the public. This is a shame because people could provide very high quality information for improving the way cities operate.

In some cases city administrations are not interested in public opinion, but in many cases good IT tools to help the public communicate information to cities and for cities to automatically analyze this information have not been developed. Often cities cannot even imagine that public involvement could be done more efficiently using new media and information technology tools.

What are these tools? One important set of tools are educational media since city planning and administration are complicated. Cities can get better information and ideas if the public knows something about how the city works before providing input. (This is the main idea behind my GreenCityStreets project: teach people about public transport with the BusMeister game and provide a social network for them to submit ideas to the city government.)

Another set of tools are programs to analyze and organize the data that comes in to cities through new media channels. This means designing the public input channels so that the information can be easily summarized and described. These tools could also help improve the existing public input process (e.g. public transport complaint telephone operators). The growing use of on-line 311 systems in the USA is a good example.

No doubt there are great challenges ahead as city governments involve the public more fully in the city planning and administrative process, but change is coming. New mobile communications and information technologies are making it just a question of time. Truly smart cities will embrace this change and develop the tools needed to fully engage the public in making their cities better.

What do you think?