The city of the future must better reflect the habits and needs of its citizens. It must become a more deeply interactive and collaborative place, says Stéphane Cagnot.

Stéphane Cagnot is founder and CEO of Dédale, a research and production agency dedicated to culture, new technologies and social innovation in Europe. The agency was among the innovative enterprises taking part in the two-day Demain dans ma vie (Tomorrow in My Life) event run last week by the Paris city authorities and we caught up with him there.  

L'Atelier: So what will the city of the future look like?

Stéphane Cagnot: I would say that one of the main challenges is to invent and deliver services that will really change our cities. That’s going to represent a major part of the work of all economic players, social organs and local bodies. Today we have the internet and mobile technologies and content, which work quite well, and the networks are pretty fast as well.  But the important thing is not to be able to find out that there are two pizzerias down the road and a supermarket around the corner but to come up with collaborative services which will bring together groups of people according to their various interests. We need to come up with new ways of getting people to relate to each other city-wide.

However, when it comes to conception and design, we’re still in the Stone Age. Very few people have so far managed to come up with any suitable services to match the new ways of doing things, although the process is well under way. There are still very few new service offers, as opposed to the market-based services that are being created, and what is on offer is rather basic when you consider the resources being mobilised.

So in future will the city be more geared to the human side or to technology?

On the technology side, the question is how to get technology to contribute to the process of re-forging social links in the city of tomorrow. In recent times, technology has had the effect of breaking social links and has served to homogenise urban spaces. The next wave will be all about creating a much more heterogeneous ecosystem, with a diversity which we don’t see today. Citizens will need to seize on the networks and the tools available in order to re-forge social links and engender a more congenial city life.

On the human side, we still need to create a socially richer urban life. City life needs to be more interactive, more cooperative. To achieve that we will have to organise around collaborative projects, innovative services. Last but not least, we have to rediscover the right balance between market service provision and people’s habits.  Nowadays services are shoved at us in a rather insensitive manner and often don’t meet the real need or correspond to people’s ways of living.  What we ought to do is go back to basics, start out from people’s actual habits and requirements and come up with new types of services from there.

Who ought to be driving this transformation process, then?

It will be a dynamic process which will be driven by users and citizens themselves. Now that the tools are widely available, digital technologies offer new opportunities in terms of social links and collaborative projects.  People can set their own projects in motion and so take an active part in what happens to their city. We’re moving from an industrial economic model – with supply and demand based on the notion of mass-produced goods – towards the emergence of an ecosystem characterised by individualised segments. Businesspeople can relate directly to their customers without having to go through a long production and distribution chain. This approach is set to shape the economy of tomorrow.

Most of the startups showcased at the Demain dans ma vie (Tomorrow in My Life) event organised by the Paris City Hall were initiatives by users who had found themselves faced with a personal issue or experience and decided to create a social project or a new product or service to meet the need.