As we’ve entered the age in which the majority of people live in cities, we are as a result also faced with our generation’s biggest challenges. Challenges that impact the livability and resilience of our cities and have raised the urgency of cities to become Smart Cities. New innovations and technologies are continuously explored to find breakthroughs in areas such as mobility, energy, health, education and social cohesion. Municipalities work together with academia, (creative) industry and sme’s to shape the landscape of the future city.

Many traditional systems have broken down the last 5 years and new ones have emerged. We have moved to the era of open data, crowd-funding, sharing economies, quantified self and personal fabrication. The time of the Smart Citizen is upon us: people self-organize, create new services and products (online) and find new ways of distribution and sharing information. They are certainly not just consumers. One of the essential ingredients of Smart Cities is civic participation. Nowadays citizens are often excluded from the decision making process. They often feel unheard, not even facilitated to contribute. When asked to share their opinion, they tend to answer that their contribution will not have any impact anyway.

Never forget: citizens are professionals, intrinsically motivated to help their city and need to adopt new solutions in the end anyway. To come to successful smart solutions, cities need to harness the creative power of their people.

“We, citizens of all cities, take the fate of the places we live in into our own hands. We care about the buildings and the parks, the shops, the schools, the roads and the trees. But above all, we care about the quality of the life we live in our cities. Quality that arises from the casual interactions, uncalled for encounters, the craze and the booze and the loves we lost and found. We know that our lives are interconnected, and what we do here will impact the outcomes over there. While we can never predict the eventual effect of our actions, we take full responsibility to make this world a better place.

Therefore, we refuse to be consumers, client and informants only, and reclaim agency towards the processes, algorithms and systems that shape our world. We need to know how decisions are made, we need to have the information that is at hand; we need to have direct access to the people in power, and be involved in the crafting of laws and procedures that we grapple with every day.

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“Instead of the smart city, perhaps we should be more preoccupied with smart citizens. The smart city vision tends to focus on infrastructure, buildings, vehicles, looking for a client amidst the city governments that procure or plan such things. But the city is something else.

The city is its people. 

We don’t make cities in order to make buildings and infrastructure. We make cities in order to come together, to create wealth, culture, more people. As social animals, we create the city to be with other people, to work, live, play. Buildings, vehicles and infrastructure are mere enablers, not drivers. They are a side-effect, a by-product, of people and culture. Of choosing the city.

The smart city vision, however, is focused on these second order outcomes, and often with one overriding motivation: efficiency. Yet the city’s primary raison d’être is to be found amidst its citizens. If we look there, we find that there is more, much more, to urban life than efficiency. In fact, many of those primary drivers are intrinsically inefficient, or at least at a tangent to the entire idea of efficiency. Can a city be “smart” and inefficient at the same time? Perhaps this is a fundamental question, un-voiced by smart city advocates.

We might argue that smartening the infrastructure enables citizens to make informed decisions, and this is certainly true. But the infrastructure’s output is hugely limited—it might speak to patterns of resource use, but gives us little detail or colour in terms of those original starting points for the city, which tend to be qualitative rather than quantitative, slippery, elusive, transient, subjective.

So to see the city as a complex system to be optimised, made efficient, is to read the city along only one axis, and hardly a primary one at that.”

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“Some of the greatest impacts of network culture are at city scale. The opening up of public data sets and the roll out of a grid of high bandwidth connectivity can transform the public realm and the way we live and interact in urban areas. We are increasingly able to digitally search and interrogate the city. Social tools can be layered over the city, giving us real time access to information about the things and people that surround us, helping us to connect in new ways. Much of the data that relates to people’s everyday lives – transport, housing, pollution – is held by city government and agencies. The notion of the Smart Citizen is an important contribution to an urgent debate on the future of cities. An industry is growing up around a vision of the ‘Smart City’, predicted to be worth more than $20 billion in annual market value by 2020.1 But a growing number of voices now argue this vision is flawed and will not deliver the civic or economic benefits it claims. ” Click to view PDF