Building smart cities with Churchill

 

Barcelona

 VP of the Australian Smart Cities Association, Brook Dixon travelled the world as a Churchill Fellow last year, studying the drivers of digital transformation in leading global cities. In this extract of his report, which he has curated and prepared for Datacom, he looks at the principles, which need to be applied to be considered a smart city:

The digital revolution is ablaze in cities around the world.  The fires of big data, open government, smart city, digital innovation, cities 4.0, and the internet of things, burn bright.

But what is the object?  How can cities most effectively engage with digital?  And what lessons from international experience are there for Australasian cities?

These questions I explored last year as a Sir Winston Churchill Fellow, visiting eleven leading smart cities – Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Seoul, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm, New York, Raleigh, Lima, San Francisco and San Jose.

This study trip was a remarkable journey of digital city exploration and discovery.  From the evolution of civic democracy in Seoul, to partnerships in New York transforming 7,500 old pay phones into new digital hubs (unlocking billions of dollars in new value), to portable digital labs made from shipping containers for schools in Lima.

However, the key lessons relate less to such wonderful digital projects, which are specific to each city, but to the principles of purpose, planning and process, which can be applied in any city.

Principles such as – be a digital democracy.  Easy to say.  Much harder to do.  But in Seoul, they are making real progress with initiatives such as mVoting.  This digital platform (smart-phone app and website) allows rapid polling of citizen opinion through votes on policy and municipal matters.  Polls can be targeted by various demographic factors and citizens can set preferences for areas of voting interest.  mVoting has been used for hundreds of polls with direct influence on city policy, and enshrines Seoul’s philosophy of participatory democracy and ‘the citizen as Mayor’.

A second principle, and oh so important!  Get a smart city plan!  The digital cosmos is vast, its philosophy and technology concerns every part of the city – people, processes, services, administration, economy, and places.  It covers infrastructure, networks, data collection and analysis.  It can be applied to health, education, municipal services, utilities, justice, transport, the environment, and more.

Facing such breadth of scope, and depth of opportunity, without the focus and direction of a digital plan, digital actions will easily be fragmented. To plan is to examine the particular circumstances of each city, and to concentrate attention where digital transformation can make the most difference.

Beyond planning is dynamic reality, and the principle of innovation – being open to change, redesign, new ideas, doing things differently, and connecting things in fresh ways.  So to be a digital city is to embrace innovation, and to be innovative embraces digital.  This symbiosis is well understood by leading smart cities.  And their efforts to encourage, promote and support innovation are a pillar of smart city plans the world over.

Barcelona has a beautifully expressed innovation goal of “creating a dialogue and experimentation agora” where anyone can progress smart city innovation and research.

This goal is epitomised by the Barcelona Urban Lab, which facilitates use of public space to trial innovative products and technology to support commercialisation and improve municipal services for the community.  Pilot projects to date have included traffic lights adapted for the blind, remote utility meter readings, and smart street lights fitted with presence, vibration, temperature, humidity, sound and pollution sensors, GSM aerials, Wi-Fi Mesh access point and webcam for video surveillance functions.

Another principle, oh so important, but too dry for much attention here, is establishing strong leadership and governance.  Leading cities universally attested the value of this principle; and where it lacked, it was lamented, and where it was sound, it was lauded.

Now a final principle for those with smart city aspirations, and much more exciting than governance: to leverage new business models.  Think beyond the old paradigm of government spending and taxation, to new models of asset regeneration and shared value.

In San Jose for example, the Council recently partnered with Philips Corporation to upgrade 800 street-lights to modern LED luminaires, with big energy, financial and CO2 savings, and zero cost to Council.  How?  Because Philips installed micro cell equipment on 50 poles, and sold this data capability to the telcos.  And so we see improvements to lighting amenity, public assets, energy efficiency, commercial opportunity, mobile connectivity, and budget sustainability.  New value, created, captured and shared by leveraging a new business model and partnership.

Now that is a smart city!

Photo / View over the Passeig de Gràcia Avenue, Barcelona By Ralf Roletschek – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44339377

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