ZOOMING THE SMART CITIES MICRO-UNIVERSE: SOME AFTERTHOUGHTS ON URBAN LEADERSHIP AND WISER CITIES

An article by Pablo Sánchez Chillón,  Lawyer, International Speaker, Strategy and Public Affairs Advisor and Urban Advocate. Pablo is Co-founder of Eolexcitylab, Sánchez Chillón, Urban Innovation Advocates, Consultants & Lawyers (Spain). Pablo is the Director of Foro Global Territorio & GlobalGOV  and Chief Editor of  Urban 360º. This article is published with the support of GlobalGOV & Foro Global Territorio | Thanks for supporting us.
If you want to contact Pablo, use the link.

lisboa2When you are gifted with audacity, you can cope with any single challenge with success   beyond your own fears and limits,  leaving behind pursuers and defeatist people. As Portugal did.

Despite of the economical strains (fortunately already overcome) and the unavoidable geographical fate of being cornered in the south west of the continent, Portugal hosts one of the more thrilling and motivated community of Urban Innovators in Europe, ready to shake and shape the agenda of Smart and Global Cities. Beyond the Powerpoint Army of urban innovators, the Portuguese Digizens are thinking by doing

Following the invitation of my fellow and restless friend Vitor Pereira (the pioneer behind the Smart Travel Event, the first international forum on Smart Cities, Governance and ICT in Portugal, held in the Northeastern City of Bragança) and his brilliant team of committed s, I traveled last june 2017 to Lisboa, to join the excellent panel of speakers of the Zoom Smart Cities event, the meeting for those who think of cities, for whom they plan cities, for those who live and share cities.

Zoom Smart Cities (organised by four entities: Smart Cities Portugal Magazine, Communication and Creative agency CONTEUDO CHAVE, BAC Consultancy and NOVA IMS (Nova University) involves researchers, academics, managers, public decision-makers, entrepreneurs, creative and even mere dreamers. All together share ideas, experiences and projects, with a single purpose: to make cities spaces smarter. These Portuguese guys led by Victor are definitely rising the standard by gathering clever, original and committed people and projects showcasing the human and scalable focus of the Smart Cities paradigm.

It was great to catch up in Lisbon with old smart friends as Rob Adams, Pedro Fontinha or Irene Compte and to being inspired by the interventions of Jason Roberts, Rui Franco, Frans Anton Vermast among others. With this initiative, the organization reached the goal of joining knowledge, experiences, and smart solutions, on a global scale, by confronting excellent testimonials of renowned global panelists and smart capitals with the tough reality of small and medium territories, moving along the topics of innovation, urban planning and development, resilience, entrepreneurial spirit, communications and PR and the entrepreneurial approach to our hyper-connected cities.

After visiting Portugal on three occasions as an Smart City speaker, (Bragança’s meeting by opening and closing the sessions with two speeches about “Innovative Destinations, Smart Cities & Digizens” and “Global Cities, and the New Urban Diplomacy”) and the Lisbon one in june 2017, the journalists of the Magazine Smart Cities PT launched me a challenging Q & A, in which i tried to summarize my vision about the state of the art of the Smart Cities’ universe and to express my (hope that temporary) desdain regarding some biased tales around what an Smart City is and will be.

From Smart Urban Diplomacy to ‘Pixel-like citizens’ to the big mistakes in terms of Communications the Smart City paradigm, and the new commandments in terms of Leadership that we can learn from Smart Cities and Clever Mayors, my conversation with Filipa Cardoso, the talented journalist of the Magazine Smart Cities PT, brought out this challengind Q&A about the effects of a purely technological vision in cities, the ‘emptiness’ of the standardized top-down references to the role of citizens in the process and the faith on the smart intelligence around urban and open communities.

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Learning from the experience of some leading cities as Amsterdam, Barcelona Copenhagen or Medellin and their committed and strategic focus on internationalization as tool for global relevance and influence, we can understand how the use of Political Leadership, Storytelling techniques, Transmedia Languages and Collective Civic efforts are helping the cleverest cities on Earth to broaden their global reputation and influence as innovative, green or friendly cities, gaining weight and competitiveness.

For me it is quite clear that Cities and the fellowship of Smart Leaders are now more willing than ever to shape the global agendas of governance.

We can see how in a world more open, noisy and connected than ever, (wise) cities, traditionally set aside of the hot centers of decision and policy making, are pushing the global agenda of governance by taking on a dynamic role in terms of influence, lobby and ‘Soft Diplomacy’, more aligned with their interests, worries and expectations. Against the solemn, secret and elite-reserved performance of classical Diplomacy skills, some Cities and Star Mayors (take, for instance, Anne Hidalgo and Shadiq Khan dynamic alliance after the Brexit shock for Paris and London) are getting on very well in developing the charms of soft and subtle Diplomacy in international arenas, by adding to the battery of tactics and strategies deployed in global centers of decision a brand new (and diffuse) strong commitment of a network of urban stakeholders and digital activists willing to tell, sell and defend the city abroad.

Furthermore, cities, regardless of their size are working alone or joining new collaborative platforms of influence with their counterparts, linking the domestic agendas of governance with the universal challenges of massive urbanization, resilience, sustainability, economic growth and security, by adding colorful layers to their global tale based on the new urban ‘currencies’ as innovation, good reputation, livability, creativity and other valuable intangible assets.

In my successful Urban Diplomacy Series I tried to focus on the content, extent and insights of the global performance of a true Urban Diplomacy by Cities, explaining how the mix of influence, reputation and collective efforts of mayors, advisors, private companies and engaged individuals is contributing to the opening of an international Urban Agenda and a new framework for global governance, in which Cities and urban issues are performing a principal role.

The current scenario of more than 100 American rebel cities and Mayors contesting the Trump Govt’ decission of withdrawing the United Sates of the Paris Climate agreements or the ‘Sanctuary City’ Mayors vowing to defy the Trump’s Immigration Order are showing us how a motivated and organised community of Urban Leaders with a cause can make noise, get attention and make things happen.

Like in the old Simple Minds’ song, (Smart) Cities are alive and kicking.

You can find the original interview in Smart Cities PT Magazinehere.


 

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[An expert in Urban Affairs, Law and Diplomacy regarding cities, Pablo S. Chillón closed last year’s Smart Travel event, in Bragança. From “dashboard cities” to ‘Instagrammed Urban Planning,’ the Spaniard has warned not only of the negative effects of a purely technological vision in cities, but also of the dangers of the “empty reference” to the role of citizens]
 

We are witnessing a huge buzz surrounding the concept of smart cities. What sort of cities are we building?

With regard to innovation and technology, etc., the cities I like are those based on several contributions. We are relying on citizens, companies, stakeholders and institutions, both public and private, to outline a project where everyone is somehow involved. Indeed, I don’t believe in purely technological smart-city projects.

Can too much technology threaten to prevent the concept from working?

Technology can be a narrow view of a “smart city,” as it can provide a very small and limited view of the city and of the smart city, as well. It will clash with the concept of complexity, because, if we are in a city controlled from a dashboard [control panel], where any kind of response to an event can be predicted, there is no room for public decision, and democracy is based on possibilities.

How can we escape these “dashboard cities?”

By including a broader view of the city, where the opinion of other suppliers and other non-technological solutions are taken into account. Major technology-supplying companies are currently calling the shots regarding smart cities. If we can somehow recover the traditions, the visions, the authenticity, the history, the community, and ask for intelligence, by providing solutions and decisions based on the collective contribution, made possible by technology, we could obtain a bigger picture of the whole thing.

Do citizens have a decisive role in this?

Yes. Whenever an expert says that citizens are at the heart of smart cities, a tree is felled and dies. There are many commonplaces and understandings regarding the role of citizens. Now, everyone points out the role of citizens within the smart city project, but the way I see it, that’s an empty reference.

What’s missing?

The overview would involve not only formally activating participation, doing this and explaining it, but also opening the processes as they are developed throughout. If we ask people to become involved only when the project is already designed, that contribution won’t mean a thing. And while citizens are vital, they aren’t pixels. Many narrow views of the smart city are regarding citizens as mere pixels that move in the city, on a dashboard.

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Could social media be a good instrument for finding out what people want?

Yes, this could be a good starting point. There is a lot of information coming from social media, but only concerning people who are active on social media, and cities are also made up of many people who are not in contact with these. Let’s look at digizens: these people are part of two worlds. A youth who interacts with friends and acquaintances through social media and on the Internet, but who returns home for supper with his/her parents and makes this connection with them, explains things to them and expands their visions… That contribution is crucial. We will have to provide [the emergence of] projects where citizens use this technological capability, people whose lives comprise a human part that combines with any access to technology as an experiment. This will be great and very interesting.

How do those in responsibility in cities reach people without including the technological aspect?

First, perhaps by having a vision or a greater understanding of what a smart city is, and what is at issue, the kind of instruments that are available for somehow controlling processes. This is not solely about buying or about money, but about urban planning, services, communities, neighborhoods and all of a city’s capital. As I’ve mentioned, while technology is an enabling element, citizens, communities and companies are key throughout the entire process. In short, relying on the community. Secondly, in my view, starting off by explaining everything to citizens from the very outset, in order to make things very readily understandable by them. I say this because, in Spain, we have worked with cities and mayors who, at the final stage of the process, regret not having involved people from the beginning, which is vital to make things easier.

The event Smart Travel was devoted to small and medium-sized cities. Do you feel that implementing a smart strategy in a that sort of tiny cities is a bigger challenge than doing so in a large city?

This is a classic question and, in my opinion, in this regard, size doesn’t matter. Interesting things can be done by enlivening the community, investing in the vision, in projects, while organizing events such as Smart Travel, which are somehow stirring things up and providing an image and perception of the city as a modern city committed to innovation. I have worked with small and medium-sized cities that have undertaken very interesting projects that the communities are very close to. When talking about a large city, we can predict that there will be a large swath of the community that will never know this project exists. In such a case, there is greater proximity, as all the tools are available for conducting a proper presentation, explaining [the process] and involving people. And, naturally, as concerns authenticity and the perception of who they are, small and medium-sized cities are greatly linked to their identity, and this is something that somehow gets lost in large cities.

Is identity important for a city?

Yes, identity as well as authenticity. I have spoken of the concept of “Instagram urban planning,” where cities with filters and false perspectives are capturing the imagination of cities all over the world… and that’s not my city. I ask: “dude, where’s my city?”


By Pablo Sánchez Chillón. Lawyer. Urban Affairs Specialist and Director of  GlobalGOV.  Editor of Urban 360º

This article is published with the support of GlobalGOV & Foro Global Territorio.

If you want to contact Pablo, use the link.

More resources about Cities, Government and Urban Politics to be found here: Urban 360º

 

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