The many players in the Smart City ecosystem who congregated at the recent DigiWorld Summit seemed pretty unanimous on one point: the Smart City approach needs calm, careful consideration. So will longer-term thinking now start to prevail when it comes to applying the new Information and Communication Technologies at city level?

Smart City: Longer-Term Thinking Gaining Ground

Critical voices have been warning for some time that the new ICTs are being introduced too hastily. Now it seems that many Digital decision-makers have decided to take more time over applying these technologies. During the IDATE Digiworld Summit which took place on 18-20 November in Montpellier, most speakers concurred that mature reflection is needed before putting Smart City innovations in place. Rushing into things is frowned on. “You can’t implement a technology without first working out all the ins and outs,” Hélène Roussel, head of economic development for the Montpellier conurbation in southern France, told the audience. The Paris authorities are now placing the emphasis on creating “a sustainable city, where it’s easier and nicer to live,” as Jean-Philippe Clément, head of the Smart City project at the Paris Town Hall, put it. Shenja Van der Graaf, a researcher at the London School of Economics, insisted that the authorities ought to think through again in great detail how to use the masses of city data available. Time should be taken to sort and classify data before making it widely available, ensuring that Open Data is actually used to meet residents’ real needs, she stressed.

Time to look further into the future

There is now a growing trend for Digital/Smart City players to favour long term projects, not on a 5-10 year view of the needs but looking to further horizons – perhaps 20-30 years. The plans to create a ‘Greater Paris’ are one example. The planners want for instance to install fibre optic cable along the rails of the new metro lines in order to meet citizens’ needs for data traffic capacity in the long term. They have also provided spaces in which data centres can be set up should the need arise. On a less positive note, scientific adviser Carlos Moreno warned that people are becoming increasingly worried that connected cities could prove highly vulnerable, with such occurrences as power blackouts calling into question the viability of existing infrastructure. Policymakers therefore need to undertake this kind of long-term planning. There is also a growing realisation that they must engage with and involve local residents in the entire process.

Time needed for citizen-involvement

“You can’t introduce technological innovation at city level without including all citizens,” argued Carlos Moreno. A common theme of the Smart City projects presented at the Digiworld Summit was the vital need to bring citizens into the decision-making process well upstream of any implementation. The Paris authorities, for example, have offered residents the opportunity to vote on how part of the Digital investment budget should be spent. In addition, a range of participatory platforms which canvass people’s opinions, and apps that enable residents to flag up any problems in the city are now appearing and most people in the ecosystem regard them as essential tools for Smart City development. Once the main urban flows have been managed, we need to “get back to more local aspects of the Smart City, stressed Jean-Philippe Clément. “The idea of an all-knowing city hall having a perfect grasp of everything that happens in the Smart City is now simply out-of-date,” Eric Legale, Managing Director of Issy Media, an ICT company based at Issy-les-Moulineaux in southwest Paris, told the conference. So it seems that while transportation is tending to get faster, the city of tomorrow will require a great deal of mature reflection and shared thinking, with a view to putting the human dimension back at the centre of things.

By Guillaume Scifo