[City Innovate Summit] Providing an environment conducive to innovation, forging links with residents and adapting to local requirements: these are three key challenges for local authorities in the era of the Smart City.

Listening, Sharing, Tailoring Services: the Role of Local Authorities in the Smart City

The City Innovate Summit in San Francisco on 17-18 June brought together a variety of players from both the public and private sectors to address issues relating to the city of tomorrow. In particular, the role of city authorities was a much-debated subject. One of the topics on which there was general agreement was the need for city government to provide an environment that fosters well-being and encourages creativity and innovation – in technology, but in other areas as well. ‟Our city is well-known for attracting creative people, artists and musicians,” Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California, told the audience, pointing out: “We also have a large community built around Burning Man [a week-long event described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression and self-reliance]; this is an important factor in the dynamism and attractiveness of our area.”  This view is shared by Michael Vole, a native of Tel Aviv who is the founder and director of the Young Adults Unit there and works to develop a favourable ecosystem for them. ‟We don’t think it’s possible to have entrepreneurs where there are no artistic people, or nightlife, or good restaurants. It’s also vital that people keep an open mind, towards the existence of a gay community, for instance,” he argued, adding: ‟It’s important to understand that the younger generation have new needs which the city authorities ought to be making an effort to meet. For example, young people often lack places to study. They live in small apartments and go to libraries a lot less than their parents did. That leaves cafés, which are often noisy and where they have to pay (…) To remedy this situation we’ve opened large buildings where they can come and work free of charge.”


An environment where it is nice to live also tends to foster innovation.

Strengthening ties between citizens and local authorities

Another major point voiced by several speakers at the event, is that listening to residents’ needs also helps the city authorities to strengthen ties with the citizens. Ken Singer, Managing Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that city authorities should take the time to educate their citizens, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of innovations: ‟If you don’t take the time to explain, you’ll be faced with strong opposition, even if the change is positive, because people won’t understand it”. Libby Schaaf sounded the same note: ‟If you want to maintain a healthy democracy, citizens need to feel that their government is listening to their needs and can be trusted. In Oakland, we set up a partnership with Code for America to build a totally transparent app, where the public can see all the requests that people have made to the city authorities and the responses made. We’ve realised that this app actually saves our administration a lot of time and increases our efficiency”. This desire to increase transparency and foster communication between citizens and government has spawned a lot of similar initiatives. NextRequest, a startup on which L’Atelier reported recently, was founded on exactly the same principle.

Smart city issues vary from one country to another


Each city has its own specific challenges

Lastly, the various debates at the City Innovate Summit also highlighted how issues vary according to a city’s geography, demographics and history. Soichiro Takashima, mayor of the city of Fukuoka in Japan, underlined how its aging population – one inhabitant in four will be over 65 in 2025 – was impacting the city’s policies: It’s impossible for us to become number 1 in terms of population or the economy. So we’re focussing our efforts on making Fukuoka a pioneer city for sustainable development, so as to enable our population to live longer in a good environment.” He also stressed the need to create infrastructure to allow older people to enjoy sports activities and so maintain good health into old age. Soren Kvist, a member of Copenhagen Solutions Lab, the city of Copenhagen’s incubator for Smart City initiatives, explained that the city’s key challenge is to reduce the city’s carbon footprint despite a growing population. Herbert Bautista, mayor of Quezon City in the Philippines, revealed that his city authority is looking to use the new information and communication technologies as a means of improving garbage collection and supplying electricity to all residents. 


By Guillaume Renouard