Smart Cities — A Mystery to City Dwellers


Smart Cities — A Mystery to City Dwellers

Every time we turn around we in the biz are bombarded by the term “Smart City.” I discussed it in an earlier post. Clearly its not a difficult concept to grasp — Using technology, cities will provide their populations with better life through upgraded delivery of services including water, electricity, garbage collection, crime prevention, and yes, parking. Many of our ‘start up’ companies are high tech — Smarking, SpotHero, Inrex, Paybyphone, Passport, Parkwhiz, Parkonect, MobileNow, and the rest see their future in the Smart City Genre.

But according to an article in the UK’s electronic Weekly –see trending   – only about a fifth of the population could describe what a “Smart City” was or how it was something they could or should embrace. Many thought it was a city that had a university.

What is happening here?  Are our “betters” developing things that will affect our lives, but not really keeping us in the loop. It seems like this is happening more and more around the world. If the street department in Los Angeles can’t keep one neighborhood updated on when the streets will be torn up, when parking enforcement will be lessened, or when the street will be resurfaced, how can something as far reaching as “Smart City” be communicated to the great unwashed.

Or for that matter, should it.

Well, I for one think it should. If a city wants a program as comlex and expensive as “Smart Cities” to be a success, the population needs to be kept up to speed on what is happening. Planning such a program behind closed doors (or at a community meeting held at 2 PM on Thursday attended by policy wonks and no one else) is fraught with disaster.

Some say that this is too complex for the average citizen. This is an average citizen who uses technology daily simply to survive (pump gas, send letters, read books, watch TV, do their banking, keep their house warm or cool, go shopping, drive their cars, and the rest). I don’t think that exposing the average Joe or Josephine to an interconnected city is beyond their reach (Can you  say ‘internet’)

The question is how to do it. Maybe I’m a tad backward, but I didn’t know that they were putting in an on line device when they replaced my water meter the other day that would keep central informed of my water usage. That’s part of “Smart City” folks. And its in my front yard.

Remember “SFPark” = Its was a “Smart City” program for on and off street parking in San Francisco. You can argue about how successful the program was, but you can’t argue about the success of the public relations program that promoted it.  I would be surprised if there was anyone in Baghdad by the Bay that hadn’t heard of SF Park and knew a little about what it was doing.

It would seem to me that the first step in moving down a Smart City path would be to involve the citizenry in the process.  Reach out to the local communities, attend Farmer’s Markets, go to PTA and Rotary meetings. Tell the world what is going on. Ask for input.

William F. Buckley once said that he would rather be governed by the first 500 people in the Boston phone directory than by the elected officials in Washington DC. Not to stress his point too much, but perhaps input from the average citizen would be helpful.

Who knows?



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John Van Horn

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