Making smart cities more engaging and responsive
In this article by Colin O’Donnell of Techcrunch.com reflects on why and how smart cities can become more engaging, responsive and relevant to citizen needs. In order to evolve into a city that fully realizes the potential of the internet, delivering real, tangible benefits to its inhabitants, cities will go through three phases: 1) They first need to collect data about their
environment, 2) They need to process that data, and finally, 3) They need to take corresponding real-time action.
The Responsive City
Now, this is where things get interesting, when things start to actually happen, and where people will notice and feel the difference. It’s the stage with the most opportunity for development and new products. The Responsive City is one that, as the name suggests, responds to the needs, wants, and desires of its citizens; whether they’re workers, residents, or visitors. All this is done in real time, and it’s active and rich with applications.
Building upon the data generated in the Instrumented City and the insights developed in the Smart City, The Responsive City is like an app layer on top of hardware, data, and base services.
In cities, these apps will be focused on manipulating infrastructure or influencing behavior to dynamically optimize the city for any number of outcomes; safety, convenience, efficiency – but also discovery, joy, community. All of this helps support what makes cities great in the first place – engaged citizens of diverse backgrounds sharing a common space in time.
This all relies on digital, controllable, infrastructure, and that’s coming quickly. Uber and Lyft are examples of connected cars that preposition themselves based on anticipated transportation needs.
Digital screens and dynamic street furniture are early examples of responsive infrastructure as well – with the potential to act like an Augmented Reality layer for the city, these products superimpose real-time information over the streetscape to inform or influence the population, and to help them in any number of ways; citizens can better move through the city, explore all that the city has to offer, and be alerted to emergencies in real time, to take just a few examples.
Cities are ready for this transformation. With digital infrastructure, automation, and machine learning comes the ability to predictively respond to demands and optimize outcomes for millions of people at once.
To pave the way for effective responsive cities, cities need to:
Partner on Resources, Access, and Outcomes
We need to toss out our preconceived notions of what’s possible in cities and start with the desired outcomes. City managers need to identify untapped resources or infrastructure in need of reinvention and then make it easy to partner and collaborate with the private sector. Public-private partnerships ought to be aligned on mutually beneficial outcomes, like universal access to resources for people of all abilities, and not fixate on a particular solution, or prescribed procurements.
Understand Groups of People and Influencing Their Behaviors
A responsive city is reflective of the humans in it. The internet has shown us a glimpse of what’s possible with personalization – recommending videos or products or friends to you. A single person. But city experiences are inherently one-to-many. 50 people look up at a sign, and they experience it together, with 50 different backgrounds and maybe as many individual objectives. This opens up an interesting field of study: understanding groups of people and how they respond to real-time changes in their environment.
Whether it’s something like dynamic road closures for on-demand pedestrian plazas, or directing people with different mobility needs to the fastest route for an event, or helping them discover a new business that just opened; balancing people’s needs with the city’s -in real time- will be an exciting new area for exploration, blending Urban Planning with User Experience Design and Behavioral Science.
Make it Real-Time
Becoming a responsive city isn’t a static objective, it’s a constantly moving target. We need to think past fixed, single-purpose infrastructure and focus on dynamic, real-time digital infrastructure that can change as people and cities change. The focus should be not only staying relevant over years as cities change on the macro scale, but staying relevant from moment to moment, from the morning commute to lunch.
As the internet makes its way into cities, we have an opportunity to make the internet more human, and cities more dynamic. We can build true community experiences where people of different cultures and backgrounds and abilities share digital interactions with one another as well as their city. We have the ability to shape our environment and share information in real time to better connect people with each other, and with resources. We have an opportunity to build an inclusive digital urban experience, and that starts with a responsive city.
Read the original article by Colin O’Donnell of Techcrunch.com here.