Lots of cities around the world, including our very own Wellington, want to be a Smart City.
Most of them describe what they mean by a Smart City in terms of delivering better services, reducing costs, and better asset management. Sounds good except that most of them have poor to zero public engagement.
This gap between pouring in resources into being a Smart City and what people perceive to be the actual benefits they’ve experienced can largely be put down to a failure of good engagement with their city residents and businesses.
Good engagement starts with answering the “What’s in it for me?” question. After all, local bodies are spending their residents’ (and businesses’) money. Local bodies therefore should be able to take their rate payers with them, building genuine support for being a Smart City in terms of benefits and opportunities.
The case of Barcelona
Barcelona is a poster child for Smart Cities. Here’s an excerpt from a ReadWrite article that raises the question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ is what citizens want elected leaders to answer:
Since launching its smart city push three years ago, Barcelona has instituted smart parking, smart streetlights, smartphone tourism apps and sensors monitoring air quality and noise along its major streets…
Yet some industry experts have questioned whether Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau is fully committed to continuing the smart city strategy, with many city residents now publically challenging the projects’ tangible value. These technology analysts say that Barcelona is an example of a broader concern about leaders of the world’s biggest cities who are not answering citizens’ questions about the relevance and value of these IoT projects to their lives. (emphasis added)
“They asked, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” said Bettina Tratz-Ryan, an analyst with Gartner analyst. “We have a lot of smart city tech pushed by vendors everywhere, but cities are asking for citizen engagement [along with smart city projects] and want to avoid test beds where they won’t see any benefit.”
While such concerns about IoT are not limited to Smart Cities, local bodies need to better engage with residents and businesses to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”. Otherwise, Smart Cities will only serve to increase disconnect, apathy and a sense of dis-empowerment.