The ‘Smart City’ label keeps on gaining in popularity. Municipalities, tech companies, scientists and academia are all engaged in discus-sions on the Smart City concept. However, people who will be the most affected by smart solutions – the residents – have so far been left out from such discussions. But their timely education and active engagement in building smart cities is completely essential to the concept’s success.
The Smart City concept is not a hipsters’ creation. It is a logical re-sult of global development, where nations and businesses world-wide are forced to increase their efficiency. Their activities primarily aim to increase performance, lower costs and their negative effect on the environment by introducing modern technology and auto-mation. Cities in this situation also face having an infrastructure that is over 50 years old and therefore incapable of fulfilling their needs. There are more and more people, city population density is increasing, and they must adjust their growth to demand. To be able to grow, cities must be able to provide efficient, safe, trans-parent and productive services. Lately we‘ve been seeing them try to achieve this by introducing different smart solutions.
Smart technologies are, undoubtedly, on the rise. Nowadays almost everyone knows or has heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), clean energy, automation of logistics and production, robotics and blockchain. All of those topics have their audience: Governments talk of efficiency and security of cities, industries talk of efficient logistics and production, people talk of their own life comfort and the environment. Awareness of this irreversi-ble development is leading government institutions around the world to invest 4 % of the world’s GDP to infrastructure devel-opment. Hundreds of cities and production plants are in need of immediate repair. That is why there is a logical rise seen in macroeconomic forecasts in areas that are related to key factors of smart technologies – the production of sensors, Internet of Things, power industry, logistics and transport development. In a situation like this, it is easy to get fooled into believing that a transformation of towns and cities will happen only with regard to technology. Real life examples clearly show that the success rate of implementation processes will largely depend on how ‘regular people’ take part in them.
Smart City Complexity
The world of technology is currently in a state where it‘s neces-sary to focus on simplicity and flexibility of technology that is to be part of Smart City solutions. Smart technology, as a part of the development of cities and countries, will cover critical areas such as:
- Logistics and transport elements and their efficient control
- Eco-friendly and clean environment – a place you want to raise your children in
- Modern buildings and their positive effect on the quali-ty of residents’ lives
- Renewable sources of energy and replacing conven-tional sources
- Improving efficiency of public services and their auto-mation
- Digitalisation and automation of municipal bureaucracy, availability of schools, universities, cultural and educa-tional platforms
- Production plants and industry automation – increasing the volume of robotics
- Acceleration in science, research, development, production and distribution, extra-fast commercial services and delivery of consumer goods
- Data, technological, intellectual and prognostic plat-forms in all areas, long-term and strategic goals of governments instead of city development
Building a Smart City knowledge base to educate ordinary peo-ple is just as important. If technological solutions make up a half of the necessary investments into Smart City construction, the remaining half is comprised of teaching a large community to understand not only the technology, but also its approach to the environment and its role in creating a Smart City. To put it sim-ply, a Smart City must be built in a way that allows the people to see that they will be using things they already know.
A New Kind of Activism
In a democratic society we have got used to people being politically engaged about once every four years when they have an opportunity to choose a candidate to represent them locally, regionally or nationally. Referendums as known and locally used for example in Switzerland rarely happen here; more often we see different petition movements. In the context of implement-ing Smart City principles, however, we must think of a type of engagement of residents different from the political one. First of all, they must realise that to engage effectively, they first must ‘understand’.
Existing smart cities around the world provide a simple manual that relies on building a physical and virtual space, where people with different knowledge, interests and qualifications have the option to meet. We’re talking about ‘smartivists’, a group of people that will show active interest in either understanding the concept (laymen) or actively and creatively contributing to its creation (professionals and representatives of various social groups). Their engagement is crucial to successfully implement Smart City solutions and to have them accepted by people. As smartivists often come from the ranks of residents, they know their mindset, issues that they want to tackle and thus often come up with creative solutions; within their communities they also become ambassadors of the Smart City idea and spread it.
An alternative to the physical environment for direct discussion and the creation of smartivist working groups is virtual learning platforms that can, through the use of intelligent technologies, ‘teach’ the Smart City issue to virtually anyone, from a child to a potential smart solution provider, or a decision maker who will decide where to allocate the funds for smart city building. Such learning platforms can mediate – on the principle of an intuitive and interactive visual process – how the principles and tools of the intelligent city work in normal life situations. Simula-tions also make it possible to compare the quality of individual solutions with the use of different technologies already available on the market today, and to develop the capacity for logical continuity and causality (when I do this, this will happen). The difficulty of communicated information naturally varies accord-ing to the age of the recipient and the expected level of their active engagement in the smart city design.
Smart City Will Never Be Only About Technology
Technologies will always be an important part of smart city con-cepts, and there can be no doubt about this today. But it would be a mistake to lose sight of the fact that cities have always been, and will continue to be, lived in by people. In order to make them understand the real meaning of what smart city solutions can bring, how they can make their lives easier or better, it is necessary to talk to them and create a space for discussion. It is interesting to see what global successful concepts have arisen from smart city solutions. For example, the establishment of urban herb and vegetable gardens in unused urban areas. Yes, even such completely non-technological solutions can be an integral part of cities that one day will be called ‘smart’.
Author: Laco Vencel, Smart City Enterprise