If local people are to play their part in creating smart cities, priority must be given to information and collaboration spaces.
What we nowadays tend to call ‘smart’ technologies can certainly help to improve the management of people-flow, transport and communications in the urban environment. However, Michel Sudarskis, Secretary-General of the Paris-based International Urban Development Association (INTA), who attended the 5 Plus City Forum conference taking place on 20-21 March at Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris, insists that “the city of the future cannot only depend on algorithms.” He believes that while the ‘smart city’ will be sustainable and well-balanced, it has to mean more than that. First and foremost a smart city will be a place where inhabitants and decision-makers use advanced technology with specific needs in mind. “The digital revolution is in fact a revolution in society,” he argues. It therefore obviously has a social aspect, i.e. users will take centre stage; an economic component, which is all about structure and logistics; and lastly an environmental component, using smart technology to help reduce energy consumption and harmful emissions.
Creating spaces where planners and inhabitants can collaborate
In a nutshell, Michel Sudarskis’ message is: “Houses make up a town, but it’s the inhabitants that make a city.” Accordingly, an increasing number of cities are now experimenting with collaboration between those who make the decisions about how a city will develop and the people who live there. For example, the La Défense business park in Paris has installed a number of collaborative spaces to encourage ideas exchange around transformation and creation. People can try out new technologies and also make suggestions to the researchers and planners. Urban ecology specialist Carmen Santana, who also attended the 5 Plus City Forum, says that “given that cities have always existed, technology is only a means to an end; it’s up to the inhabitants to transform their city.” The solution is to carry out a joint search for ways to improve infrastructure, public spaces and shared private spaces. Among other technology, augmented reality tools – which enable people to visualise future changes and can make discussions much more concrete – should make such collaboration much easier.
Citizens keen to get involved, but need to learn the basics first
Arthur Serra, Research Director at Citilab, a centre for social and digital innovation based in the outskirts of Barcelona, says that “people want to learn, and they also want to learn to innovate.” It was with this concept in mind that he set up Citilab, which brings together local people interested in innovation into a community. The aim is to “open up the black box of technology”, to explain recent innovations to city inhabitants and provide a space, open to all, for people to find out all about the digital revolution. People need to learn to use all the new technologies that are set to become part of their everyday lives and once the locals have been taught the basics, the city of the future will be able to use its human capital to better effect, he argues. We have previously reported on our conversation with Marius Preda, Associate Professor at the Telecom Business School and Chairman of the MPEG 3D Graphics Group, about how citizens are looking to get involved in these processes. He believes that local people are now really keen to help shape the future of their cities and are no longer prepared to be subservient to those pesky algorithms.