Innovative Urban Development needs public engagement

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I strongly relate to Smart Cities or Smart Infrastructure as the grouping area within businesses, focusing on the Edge, delivering energy transmission to the final delivery point for residential, mobility or commercial needs.

There is so much potential in technology currently being invested in our cities and their infrastructures. There are many estimates of this investment, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, they estimated that cities around the world would need to double current infrastructure investments from $10 to $20 trillion annually, to build the necessary physical infrastructure to support growing populations and needs[1].

So often, the focus tends to be on physical or urban infrastructure, but the importance of social support needs equal attention.

To deliver the promise of digitally “smart” infrastructure does need the combination of physical and social infrastructure combining, to leverage all that can be made possible in innovative urban development, as this achieves the outcome of building a city open, inclusive, and delivering solutions to realize societal benefits.

The critical issue is achieving community engagement.

If we do not recognize the equal importance of social infrastructure, then we can face a potentially divided and polarised environment in which no amount of technology on its own can resolve. To make it inclusive, we need awareness and understanding.

This engagement needs to embrace all those that live in our smart cities of the future; the old, disabled, disenfranchised, homeless, vulnerable, marginalized, those rich or poor, all need to be broken down of the many “enclaves” we see today.

For a city’s citizens to value technology, they must relate to it, to appreciate it is contributing to their lives. Often this is referred to as a “quality of life” need.

The solutions for any contemporary urban city need to be engaging for all.

They need to unite communities; they need to provide a sense of identity where “advantage and benefit” are widely shared and seen but still value diversities that often make cities vibrant and attractive places to be living in.

The end solutions in cities should not only be “smart” but be intelligently applied

Citizen engagement is not just an end solution; it is an inclusive one from the very first moment any planning for change takes place. Cities will not engage communities if citizens feel you are disrupting, even destroying, long-standing relationships, and community spaces. Citizens need to relate and will ask: “what are the cost and disruptions, and will these be outweighed by the (eventual) benefits?”

City planners cannot make the mistake of offering binary choices of “accept or refuse,” they need to continually engage and communicate the value to the city, the cost to the citizen in “concrete” ways.

It is the partnership from inception that can bring citizen engagement and growing recognition that the changes, disruptive as they are initially, will bring economic and social benefits to their lives. It is articulating the case and giving it meaning and value.

Today we are providing outcomes of smart city investment.

The emphasis may be on City Smart solutions for infrastructure and systems, but increasingly citizen-centric smart solutions are as important; these give a greater connection and engagement. The provision of apps covering civic-engagement, digitalization of citizen services, bike and car sharing, smart parking, digital payments on public transport, private e-hailing, the arrival time of public transportation, and many others show tangible outcomes.

These solutions outlined above directly benefit the citizen; they can begin to appreciate the value of the investments made as ‘it’ relates to them. The more a citizen ‘sees,’ they will relate.

Smart city solutions are delivering real-time public transit info, road navigations apps, food ordering options, volunteering opportunities. Then as technology takes hold, we have the potential for the exceptional ability to share understanding, in health applications, water consumption, and electricity usage can be real-time in personal monitoring and control.

We can have greater control over home energy as the solutions connect into the utility providers and e-payment options. The end-user becomes a more active participant and influencer, getting more actively engaged in their consumption management.

The more significant benefits of the smart city are economical and social

For example, as cities improve their transport infrastructure, the critical aims are lowering congestion and pollution through more optimal use of technology. It is the ability to co-ordinate faster actions at times of emergency or in public safety threats through real-time analysis of sensor and surveillance cameras, better diagnostics, using artificial intelligence, and databases have high societal value for feeling safe and secure.

The ability to embed sensors and devices into the very fabric of commercial buildings, transport, homes, and factories, allows for putting a “smartness” through the data collected, monitored, and then analyzed to optimize those assets in there efficiency and effectiveness to more significant benefit.

Another level of engagement for citizens comes from a smart connected environment where they can search and find more dynamic groups of likeminded citizens to work together on collective interests. Citizens that they can help shape and form through a growing co-creation of decision making, digital democracy, and increase exchanges in a more participatory form of city governance.

As knowledge understanding forms the backbone of these engagements, the real potential of relating to data and information comes from the focused interventions that allow citizens to be more participatory in measuring the evidence of effectiveness, that openness will give all a growing sense of shared identity.

To deliver on this transformation to a “Smart City,” the promises need to provide tangible benefits or differences. Technology alone can make things better, but it is the combination with people that delivers the Smart payback. It is the marrying of both physical and social infrastructure into Smart Infrastructure as the central key, to engage communities, and connect citizens into any disruptive urban change.

Citizen engagement is essential to realize in our Smart Cities. A citizen who feels empowered determines so much of where their Smart City is going and what it means to them.

[1] Dobbs, Richard, et al., Urban World: Cities and the Rise of the Consuming Class, Report, McKinsey Global Institute, June


Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, and digitalization for the energy and IIoT systems

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