There was a time when bells in town squares warned citizens of impending danger. Today, the bells ring again in the form of studies and media reports with warnings about urban problems that plague modern cities and resist solutions. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people move to cities in pursuit of a higher quality of life. This is the story of cities: Citizens with big expectations versus the endurance of big city problems. It is a still-unfolding story with numerous villains: social inequality, traffic congestion, pollution, crime, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, aging infrastructure, public service shortfalls.
What does it take to turn a national bureaucracy into a smart government? It’s not too often a country is given a clean slate from which to start. But for Estonia, a small nation on the Baltic Sea, that is exactly what happened.
A combination of pragmatism and instinct led Estonia to develop an e-government in the 1990s, soon after the country regained its independence from the Soviet Union. The Estonians didn’t pursue a digital future because they thought it would be cool or trendy. They followed their common sense, which told them it would be better to expend their limited resources on servers and networks, rather than on grand buildings and government palaces.
Over the past seven years, the smart city approach has changed fundamentally in terms of the strategies that cities and communities have chosen as a pathway for transformation. Driven by technology providers in the early years, governments as leaders of the smart city movement have later understood that technology is “only” the enabler for reaching governmental, economic and societal goals.
Today, smart city strategies still consider technology as an enabler, but governments have learned that top-down initiatives are not a prerequisite for success. Drivers for success are collaborative and participative human-centric approaches. If a city or community wants to become smarter, it should take the needs and problems of its customers – most of all their citizens – into account.
As expressed by a number of urban strategists in the past two years, we have witnessed a gradual shift towards citizen-centric smart city strategies. In an interesting article titled "Making cities smarter: How citizens' collective intelligence can guide better decision making" published by Deloitte University Press, the importance of citizen-centricity is presented clearly.
At bee smart city we completely agree with the authors and are convinced that collective intelligence is the key success factor for smart cities. Why? Because the acceptance and use of smart city solutions call for a user-centric approach that takes the needs and problems of citizens into account.
Over the past years, the smart city concept has reached a state of mainstream acknowledgment throughout the world. However, several important aspects are subject to constant debate:
- What is the best or a suitable definition?
- Does the concept apply to cities only or does it include rural or smaller communities?
- Is the concept technology- or human-centric?
- What are the key success factors?
- What are the strategic governance approaches?
- What can be derived from best practice?
In our review on becoming a smart city, we will cover all of these topics that relate to the smart city evolution from a practical perspective.
Over the past seven years, the smart city concept has changed fundamentally in terms of the approaches that cities or communities have chosen for urban transformation. Driven by technology providers in the early years, governments as leaders of the smart city movement have later understood that technology is “only” the enabler for reaching governmental, economic and societal goals. Today, smart city strategies still consider technology as an enabler, but governments have learned that top-down initiatives or a “master planned” approach are not the determinants of success. Drivers for success are collaborative and participative citizen-/human-centric approaches. If a city or community wants to become smarter, it should take the needs and problems of its customers – citizens, businesses, workforce/commuters, entrepreneurs, academia and non-profit organizations – into account.
Driven by urban strategists, scholars, companies and other institutions, we witness a constant debate on what a smart city is. There are so many existing definitions and synonyms such as "connected city", "resilient city", "senseable city", "intelligent community", "digital city", "digital community" or even "smart village". This debate poses the question on what exactly smart cities stand for.
Creating a unique identity and vision
While it is generally accepted that there are different generations of smart cities (as discussed in "TOWARDS A NEW PARADIGM OF THE SMART CITY"), we believe it is important for each city or community to create a unique identity of their smart city or smart community vision.