DIGIZENS: ENABLING THE SMART CITY. TEMPORARY THOUGHTS OF THE PERMANENT CHANGE.
Regular readers of this blog know about my interpretation of cities as ground zero for social innovation and complex ecosystems prone to exchange knowledge and collective aspirations. I do enjoy spreading the vision about Smart Cities as innovative, sustainable, connected and socially cohesive places that enhance the quality of urban life; plattforms for transformation, innovative thinking and public-private cooperation.
During the last months, we have been insisting in the potential benefits of technology deployment regarding the challenges faced by contemporary cities, acting vertically over urban planning, infrastructures (from urban hardware to municipal laws, financial matters to ICT Plans for cities), but also over leadership, identity and civic engagement. It is not only an intellectual approach but also a practical one, as much of the work developed by our consultancy Eolexcitylab in latter times with public and private SmartCity stakeholders comes again and again over the same topics and needs.
Some of our insights on urban innovation and Smart Cities are to be explained in the next months in different and exciting arenas, as I have been invited to give my speech at some of the most relevant Smart Cities events around the globe. From X Congreso CISC in Bucaramanga (Colombia) to Smart City Exhibition Bologna (Italy), Smart City Expo & World Congress Barcelona or IEEE Smart Grids World Forum in Geneva (Switzerland).
For that reason, during the last weeks I have been doing my homework on Smart Cities, putting together concepts, thoughts and definitions, which I have used to answer the interview questions kindly posed by Vanessa Postacchini (@vapost) from Smart City Exhibition Bologna.
Here is the result;
THE 3/3 SMART CITIES RULE: VISION (33%) + THE INFRASTRUCTURES (33%) + COMMUNICATION PLAN (33%), THREE ELEMENTS WITH THE SAME IMPORTANCE IN THE ROAD TO THE SMART CITY
Planning the SmartCity it’s simple as building the project on three solid pillars: Vision + Project + Communication Campaign. Things need to be explained, and the sophisticated jargon in hands of the SmartCity scholars is often hard and complicated, allowing critics to label the SmartCity projects as arrogant and detached from the community aspirations.
If you are a Mayor in search of new opportunities for your territory and want to plan your road trip to the Smart City, keep your hands firm on the wheel, but start questioning openly about your urban identity, get a proper feedback from your community regarding the city aspirations and its limits and try to maximize the space for civic engagement from the very beginning of the project.
The Smart Cities agenda –often framed by the portfolios of the ICT companies- is increasingly characterized by a sort of blind race to deploy high-tech infrastructures to cope with the current problems of our overcrowded cities, with a myriad of local governments managing growing expectations and limited resources. When the stakes are high and the need of become more efficient and sustainable meets the will of improving the quality of life of urban contexts, there is a risk of being dazzled by the shine of the brand new urban technology, making expensive and wrong investments in infrastructure for your city that could ruin your budget.
That said, we still consider cities as complex ecosystems and sophisticated political arenas, full of educated citizens that interact across the different layers of the urban experience, evaluating the decision-making processes on real time. For that reason, infrastructure (often expensive and disruptive) is crucial in the road to the Smart City, but the top-down tech visions lacking of a project and neglecting vertical consensus about the future of the City are doomed to failure.
For that reason, the 3/3 Rule for Smart Cities is simple: instead of falling into the mistakes of the early days of the ‘smart cities tide’ -meaning a two years ago-, where tactics (the trap of investing in whatever smart infrastructure) were winning over Strategies (the 360 degree and multi-scale vision of the future of the city facing lower expenses while improving the standard of living through technology) it is time for municipalities to design their Smart City project while explaining it properly to the citizens, getting quick wins by engaging urban stakeholders through ‘smart’ communication campaigns.
AN EXPLANATION OF THE SMART CITY VISION BASED IN THE “CITYZENTRISM”, OR THE CITIZEN (DIGIZEN) AS THE BACKBONE OF THE SMART CITY.-
It is capital for city leaders and urban designers to understand the social life behind the public spaces to achieve meaningful things when planning and deciding. In the context of the contemporary multi-layered society, with people exchanging information and sharing feelings across physic and digital arenas, the spaces for civic mobilization and political participation are changing. According to this, the public action in the Smart City cannot rely upon empty calls to civic participation or old top-down schemes, but in new languages and drivers, widening the spectrum of the audience and the goal of the achievements by mixing generations of neighbours, skill sets and backgrounds.
That is the departure point for Cityzentrism, or cityzentric focus associated to my definition of a Smart City. The concept look at contemporary cities as ground zero for digital innovation and vibrant places for the meeting of talent, knowledge exchange and civic engagement, harnessing the links between place, technology, community and identity.
Cityzentrism stresses the need for public and private stakeholders to put the citizen at the heart of any Smart City project, counterbalancing technocratic visions of cold and inhumane cities. But, what is equally important, Cityzentrism is also the qualified condition of citizenry in the Smart City. What do I mean by this? That in a connected Smart City, where we can enjoy full access to ubiquous internet and people moves freely through social networks, the role of citizenry is changing, and becomes richer than ever. Consider connectivity not only as a urban commodity, but as an incredible gift in the hands of individuals and groups that is strengthening their power as agents of change and making them fully aware of the city challenges and collective vehicles for spreading knowledge and innovation.
For that reason, if the Smart Cities are to be constructed around the citizens, the Cityzentric condition for the inhabitants of the intelligent cities is achieved by playing a qualified role in the civic network, characterized by participation, civic engagement, territorial commitment and the will of sharing knowledge of creativity.
Being an smart “digizen”. This is the DNA of the intelligent citizenry; the Cityzentrism.
IN A RECENT POST IN URBAN 360º I HAVE INSISTED IN HOW GAMES CAN BE USED FOR ENGAGING CITIZENS IN URBAN MATTER, ACTIVATING THE HIGHEST RATES OF THE “CITYZENTRISM. NOW IT IS TIME TO EXPLAIN HOW THE ADDITION OF URBAN GAME-LIKE PROPOSALS, CROWD SOURCED INITIATIVES IN REAL/DIGITAL SPACES AND REAL TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE CITY THROUGH TACTICAL URBANISM CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THIS AIM.
I like to think in (smart) cities like reactive spaces opened to innovation and surprise, home to diversity and places for the growth of hybrid ecosystems (digital-real), that encourage the exchange of goods and services of the new urban economy and activate the creativity of people.
Clearly, the real boundaries of cities are fading while a new class of citizens moves freely on digital networks, beyond the territorial space traditionally understood as the city, and, what is cause of a rising concern, far from civic-minded activities. Although cities are under great pressures, struggling with budget cuts and outdated technology, it is crucial for us to engage the future generation of citizens, familiar to technologies and prone to evade from the territorial matters by meeting people in ubiquous and non-placed networks.
In such a context, the addition of technology, platforms and sophisticated services based on ICT must not blur the elemental reality that cities are home to people and rich social life. Who says that Smart Cities must be boring or grey places detached from human aspirations and concerns?
That’s the point for Gamification, – the use of game play mechanics and game-like environments for non-game contexts- a tool in hands of cities for widening the civic engagement of people, specially the younger ones. Let’s try to solve urban problems and to emphasize public calls by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming, promoting collective challenges in urban contexts and transforming routine tasks in cities into an engaging, social and fun recreational activity.
Creating game-like contexts and mixing it with social challenges and real urban space and infrastructures through digital tools, smart cities become huge and complex playgrounds, moving people towards specific commitments and civic campaigns, with high rates of success.The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, distant or unchallenging, by playing diverse roles in competition and collaboration with others, in search of a reward.
In addition to the mobilization of traditional classes in the cities, as games are becoming a natural part of the life of younger generations, in Eolexcitylab we are exploring the use of game-like policies (and rewards), played in urban contexts for civic purposes and public engagement. Add then the crowd sourcing focus and the temporary (pop-up) urbanism to the recipe and the smart city will become something thrilling and vibrant.
The aim is to foster public engagement for that kind of young ‘digizens’, deeply habituated to locate themselves in urban spaces, and map their activities while sharing with others location, emotions and real time information. In fact, one of my latest posts in Urban 360º explores the benefits of gamification in urban contexts, posing several examples of the use of game-like contexts to enhance public realms.
For example, some weeks ago I came across a German demo in which traffic lights were used as a medium to play a very elementary match of ping-pong by pedestrians waiting for the green light. Apart from the anecdotic side of the experience, what is interesting is that besides reducing the number of pedestrians involved in traffic incidents, a group of completely strangers temporary engaged in a funny and collaborative game played in the urban context, empowering the human side of life in cities.
So, if we simply cannot afford that a significant part of these digizens becomes an army of zombie geeks, absent from urban and civic matters, the languages, social proceedings and aspirations that conform our high connected cities must be adaptable to that generation, averting the transformation of urban contexts in EGO-systems of digital bubbles absolutely disconnected from the immediate space and unaware of city challenges. Let’s increase the number of players engaged in civic games and the smart city would become an open platform for innovation and a testing lab for civic engagement.
Add that in recent years, a wide range of urban interventions of a quick and temporary purpose that aim to make some parts of the cities more lively or alive, either private or collectively committed have grown in popularity, creating a replicable catalogue of actions and initiatives across cities that have been called Tactical Urbanism, DIY urbanism or Adaptive Urbanism.
The attraction and growing popularity of the Temporary/DIY or tactical urbanism relies on the fact that such projects and interventions can be done outside the bounds of government participation. That perception may be not much accurate (is more about political tolerance and soft control than total lack of awareness) but people often are happy thinking that the interventions on public realm under the DIY philosophy brings them to a state of freedom in the city equal to that enjoyed in social networks.
On the other hand, Public Authorities, that are meant to give a boost of energy to neighborhoods or stake out new public space without breaking the bank, by recognizing the increasing limitations and current budget constraints for action in cities, open the door to the contemporary and creative ways to interact with citizens and stakeholders that have the commitment, the skills and resources to transform urban spaces (although in a temporary way) and can make things happen in cities. Tactical/Temporary Urbanism is intended to introduce more people to the concept that small-scale, community-driven activities can have a long-term positive impact on a neighborhood implementing low-cost, short-term actions and pilot projects to test new ideas for the built environment. From distant thinkers to civic doers, taking advantadge of the context of public tollerance and receiving resources from private stakeholders.
Nowadays, much cities are over-crowded and have a lack of safe, outdoor space for locals to relax and socialize in. Some of efforts to generate practical, achievable ideas for improving the health and well-being of people living in cities come from projects like the Philips Livable Cities Award, in which the company (assisted by the creative class ‘Bishop’ Richard Florida) stimulates ideas to improve city and urban life, some of them characterized by their temporary and DIY approach, like the Argentinean project Plaza Móvil, that makes mobile street furniture as well as play and game equipment for kids that pops up on streets at hours with low traffic.
But aside from enjoying collective and thriving experiences, I like to stress that when we talk about DIY/Temporary Urbanism, the focus is always put on the creation of community spaces, brand new shared places blossoming in public spaces to be enjoyed and performed. But when the commitment is needed to take care of that places when the lights go down, the collective interest tend to fade away. I mean, we love to party with a bunch of community-minded neighbours in designing and building new and temporary places but the will to hide between the bushes when it is time to take care and improve the product of temporary initiatives is high, and several projects collapse because of the lack of volunteers and committed ‘curators’, committed digizens active in both layers, physical and digital.
The road to the Smart City just needs imagination, creativity and innovation-minded attitude. Being smart people at intelligent places.
See you in #SCE 2012 Bologna!
For further info:
The author’s Interview with Smart City Exhibition Bologna (English) http://www.smartcityexhibition.it/i-protagonisti/pablo-sanchez-chillon-cittadino-e-spina-dorsale-della-smart-city-2/?lang=en#/questions
Pablo Sánchez Chillón Interview with Smart City Exhibition Bologna (Italian) http://www.smartcityexhibition.it/i-protagonisti/pablo-sanchez-chillon-cittadino-e-spina-dorsale-della-smart-city-2/?lang=en#/questions
Link to the pannel of speakers X Congreso CISC in Bucaramanga (Colombia) http://www.congresocisc.org/11-conferencistas/73-pablo-sanches-españa
IEEE Smart Grids World Forum – Geneva (dec 2012) http://www.ieee-smartgridworld.org/index.html