The digital revolution has pushed the limits of our technology to new heights and it has had a deep impact into almost every aspect of human life. Amongst these is the way in which we manage the up-keeping and growth of our cities, where data is playing an ever increasing role. Many models have been imagined, and some of them tried, that leverage data to create what has been broadly termed as smart cities. In the article from The Economist, Mining the urban data, they give a good view of some of the most innovative cities worldwide, which range from Masdar in Abu Dhabi (a start-from-scratch project developing a new city which is planned to be completely powered by renewable energy), to the integration of data into cities like Singapore, which is at the forefront of this wave. The article argues that most smart cities will be built from the bottom up (as opposed to projects like Masdar), and those that do join will reap the benefits of higher productivity.
As we take a closer look at ourselves, what have we done to become a smart city? And what can we do better?
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OurMobilePlanet.com (research commissioned by Google) has Spain ranking among the highest countries in terms of smartphone penetration (earlier research suggested it might have been even higher on the list only two years ago). Cities can and should leverage the widespread of smartphones to create better platforms of communication for their citizens. For example let’s take a look at what a suburban village of Chicago is doing. The Village of Gurnee has partnered with Nextdoor, an app that specializes in offering social networks for neighbourhoods, to offer a free app aimed at improving the communication among its residents.
If we take the cue from Gurnee and expand on it, the potential that this lends to cities is amazing. Apps could play a key role at creating/enhancing a sense of community, think about simple things like letting your building neighbours know that you will have some repairs done. It can also be a new and effective way to communicate to citizens, for example by letting a particular block know that their power will be shut off for system maintenance. It can also become a central repository for citizens to communicate with their government, by allowing them to log incidents and such. Of course all of this would also provide a host of very valuable data that could be leveraged to better improve the quality of life for the people living in these cities.
If smartphone penetration in Spain is any indication of Barcelona’s reality, then we cannot let this opportunity go unused (lest we forget that Barcelona is also the host to the most important mobile congress in the world). There are plenty of cities already taking advantage of all the opportunities that technology brings. What should we be doing?
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