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The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Citizen Centric Cities

13th February 2013

Tristan Wilkinson continues to explore how to build smart cities by engaging citizens in the debate

We all have our daily routines. Depending on where I am, mine either starts at 6am with a dash to London or at 7am with breakfast and taking the kids to school followed by a day working at home. One is relaxed and almost entirely in my control, the other is frantic, stressful and puts me entirely at the mercy of a succession of organisations and processes I have no control or influence over and that have lost sight of me as an individual.

Not surprisingly my journey into and out of London is one of the most unpredictable parts of my day. Every step of the journey is fraught with potential anguish. Will I be able to park my car at the train station? Is the train on time? Can I find a seat? Will it arrive on time? Are the tubes running normally? Will there be a bike for me to use at the station? Can I dock my bike at my destination? Even when things are ‘normal’ the possibility for disruption is huge: introduce unplanned events to the system and the whole thing can come crashing down.

We now live at a time when almost all of us have in our pockets more compute power and access to information than put man on the moon, but what are we doing with it? Not as much as we could. With more than 50% of the world’s population now living in cities we need a more radical and joined up approach to the way cities are managed and how they support and provide for a sustainable and high quality life for the people who live, work and play in them. Much of the investment currently being made into Smart Cities is focused in the ‘systems’ and to improve efficiency and reduce costs for the service providers, both public and private. Many of these advancements will pass the users by. Where is the engagement and public debate about how we as citizens and taxpayers use and interact with our environment? How do we engage and influence the direction of the investments being made? There are great initiatives such as your square mile or talk about local that focus on some elements of the debate, however these are very local and focus on the very immediate and direct environments we all have, there needs to be broader interaction that joins the thinking together.

When it comes down to it most of us want the same thing; a safe, clean, green environment that provides us with what we need when we need it. Some thinking has started to bring collective intelligence to bear. Institutions such as Imperial College have started to research how the city can perform as a ‘platform’ but the debate is still largely confined to the academic, policy and business worlds. We need broad public engagement with the everyday people whose lives will ultimately be impacted by our changing environment.

One of the more interesting ideas is how social media can be used to start a debate and gather collective intelligence. One of the most thought provoking pieces on this is written by Dan Hill and lays out a manifesto for change, ideas and thinking with which I completely agree. We need to move the agenda beyond one that is dominated by the need to increase efficiency and drive economic growth to one that is transformative and has the potential to radically change the way that people engage with their city and each other.

We need to put people back at the centre of our cities.


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