Hi, wanna buy a smart city?

Back from Barcelona Smart Cities Expo & World Congress, I’m thinking about what makes cities smart. The sales pitches of companies operating in the field seem to fall into roughly two categories; you can either attach a sensor to everything and thus monitor it all, or then you can install an operating system to the city and then monitor it all.

Preferably, you do the monitoring of the city from an underground Control Centre.

I do have issues with this thinking, especially in the the context of the cities of the developing countries. They are being sold the same gadgets as to the western cities, packed together with to proprietary business models and long-term service contracts.

But what is the most valuable ingredient of a city? it’s people. Cities consist of people. Either they behave smart, or they don’t. Either they participate in making the city better, or they don’t.  Citizens are an untapped resource for the cities. If the cities really want to become smart, they must activate them to work with the city administration in service provision. Smart cities need smart citizens.

Proprietary, vertical silos and City Control Centres are a poor match with the citizen-driven distributed city. Mayors, please, take note: cities are too complex to be solved. Respect the complexity and don’t underestimate the city. If we want to “solve” the city, we need much more resources than just the taxpayers´ money. We need the taxpayers themselves.

The World Bank seems to get this better than most smart city service providers. The World Bank Institute supports collaborative models, empowering the people to harvest data, by opening service interfaces and processes. The CitiSense event brought together global cities, developers and open data advocates to discuss and learn. Let’s hope they can make an impact within the bank as well, as funds should not be wasted in closed systems – especially not in the developing countries.


Clora of @LabPLC speaking about making a difference in Mexico City. Pic by Pablo Collada.

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