In News, Smart Cities

Cogility consultant, Graham Dickens attended the Smart Cities Summit in Melbourne last week.  Spending the day with the panel of Australian and International speakers and attendees has prompted this thought provoking article on the definition of Smart Cities, and whether it is the city, or perhaps actually the ‘citizen’ we should be thinking about.

When thinking about cities of the future, we’ve seen a wide range of titles around the different ways in which cities are responding to change in demands and behaviours. From Sustainable Cities, focused around how to respond to demands on our natural environment, Resilient Cities, delivering the capabilities cities need to mitigate and respond to emerging crises, and now the Smart City, seen as the response to the age of connectivity. Although each of these titles are looking to provide answers to challenges, they still only focus on what the city is doing, not what the citizen is doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Smart City movement, coupled with resilience and sustainability, I just think that we need to look at this from a different point of view. Cities have become the centre of things and will increasingly grab our attention as their populations increase and challenges arise. When we see the Earth, at night, from the International Space Station, it is not countries we see, but the bright stars of cities and the interconnected webs that bring them together. Those webs and those stars are formed by lights, lights which are switched on by us or for us, the Citizen, the Resident. So how about we look at the Smart world from that perspective, the Smart Citizen?

Let’s think about what that means. I, as a resident in a city, have many expectations of the place I live:

  • I expect that the city is kept safe for me to be able to raise my family and enjoy an ever increasing quality of life in a community I enjoy.
  • It should enable businesses to thrive, providing me work, as well as giving me facilities to enjoy in my life.
  • The utilities I have come to expect, should be easily accessible and available to me.

Not only that, but I want to be informed of things happening in the city that I am interested in, things that affect me directly or indirectly, as well be able to get issues resolved quickly and simply.

It’s a tall order and getting more complex every day as cities continue to grow – we are now an urban society, no longer a rural one – but it is what the day to day business of a city is about.

The other thing is, we now expect that all of these things are available and accessible via our connected devices, the things we see as smart or digital. So as a Smart Citizen I want to access services provided to me by the city through my choice of digital channel and through the device of my choosing. Yet I may still want the human touch, being able to talk to some one, face to face, who can help me resolve my questions and I want the digital channels and the human ones to be integrated.

A city is made up of many different pieces, from roads to lamp posts, buildings and parks, to rivers and trees. All of these can now have a level of connectedness and provide data, which is what we are calling a Smart City. This proliferation of “things” being connected in a city, called the “Internet of Things” (IoT), adds the ability for the Smart Citizen to interact with these things and with the city as a whole to gain better understanding of its ecosystem.

The IoT also provides capabilities to support the Resilient City and the Sustainable City, by providing data that can be used in predictive modelling to help shape the responses by the Local Governments that manage our cities. However, the Smart Citizen can also provide support, by using the services available to them in recording incidents or identifying issues.

This means that when we think of designing our Smart Cities, that we must take into account Resilience and Sustainability, but we should also take into account Citizen Centred Design, to create the Smart Citizen and enable people to truly be part of this new ecosystem of things. By integrating the information coming from the things and the management of my requests as well as the presentation of the services I want to access via the channels I want to use, we start to build an extremely intelligent, adaptable, platform that we can deliver digital services to me, the Smart Citizen.

An account by Graham Dickens.