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The role of citizens in smart cities technology

Isaac Sutton/Viewpoint/Dubai
Filed on June 30, 2021

Governments around the world have recognised and acknowledge that smart city technologies have to be people-centric


Since 1950, the world’s urban population rose almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. Projections from the United Nations indicate that by 2050 the population in urban areas could increase by 2.5 billion people.

What does this mean for cities that are and will continue to be occupied by people putting pressure on their natural resources and infrastructure? People move to cities for a better quality of life. How can that be ensured without depleting the very essence of urban living?

“As rapid urbanisation continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organisations around the world,” observes Iman Ghosh, author, Visual Capitalist.

'The smart city is an umbrella for cities that use information technology to improve services and provide a better quality of life for their citizens' states Berntzen, Lasse & Johannessen, Marius in The Role of Citizens in Smart Cities.

Governments around the world have recognised and acknowledge that smart city technologies have to be people-centric. It cannot function simply as a set of technology-based conveniences offered to city-dwellers. It has to be developed and function as a holistic and two-way system.

Let’s take a look at some cities where the governing bodies have systematically launched smart, sustainable, and innovative initiatives to introduce measures for better living or improve the well-being and welfare of its residents.

Quito, Ecuador had a pressing issue to tackle, sexual harassment of women on its public transport system. Quito had to resolve the issue of women being harassed and bring about a shift that would nip the very bud of a septic sexist and patriarchal culture that persisted in Ecuador.

The Mayor’s office implemented Bájale al Acoso (Turn Down Harassment) programme. It launched a platform through which women, adolescents, and younger girls can send a text message with the word harassment to 6367, and report if they are experiencing an episode of sexual violence in public transport.

Within two years of implementation, 2,800 cases of sexual harassment were reported, and 73 perpetrators were prosecuted after legal suits. The strategy has raised broader public awareness of gender violence and the need to create a safer environment for women.

McKinsey Global Institute’s Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Livable Future compellingly shares that, ‘smart cities add digital intelligence to the urban world and use it to solve public problems and achieve a higher quality of life'.

Berlin realised that it had a noise pollution issue that was affecting 12 per cent of its population. The Berlin Noise Action plan was launched to address this issue. The public participation campaign involved reducing noise through new mobility concepts, sound-absorbing road surfaces, the speed limit at 30km/h and/or the installation of soundproof windows, etc. and protecting urban quiet areas to identify the small and large places where Berliners can relax through data collected using the HushCity App.

Berlin operated this initiative by understanding noise and quietness are perceived differently.

There is a growing unanimity in acknowledging that smart cities work best when local municipalities and policymakers can put what citizens what at the forefront. Technology for the sake of appearing futuristic is of no real value to a city if it does not directly contribute to the convenience and wellbeing of its residents.

According to Dubai’s Happiness Agenda, it had the vision of becoming the happiest city on Earth. How does one find out if a place is the happiest one on the planet? By asking its people of course.

The Smart Dubai Happiness Meter was launched to measure happiness among city experiences across thousands of touchpoints. Technology was deployed on a citywide scale, and design was intentionally kept simple to ensure happiness measurements from different sectors, including public services, mobility, energy, environment, and social services. It captures customer happiness information at the city level in a consolidated dashboard. More than 22 million ‘Happiness votes’ from 4,400 touchpoints over 172 entities were collected in two and a half years.

To make a smart city impactful, public-private partnerships have to be in place and governing authorities have to operate with citizens at the core of it. Examples from around the world reveal that operating with citizen participation is the way to making a smart city successful.

Isaac Sutton is CEO of Valo Smart City. He has more than 40 years of successful entrepreneurial experience, especially in emerging markets where he has founded and ran several companies. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.





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