A Smart City 1.0 is a municipality that is maximizing the use of advanced technology as a lever for viability, sustainability, and control. These cities are often criticized because of their technology push and the influential role of large corporates, like IBM and CISCO. The predicate Smart City 2.0 is appropriate if technological tools explicitly are designed to cope with problems like pollution, sanitation, health and traffic in consultation with their citizens. Unfortunately, participation of citizens in formal decision-making structures and meetings is flawed and appeals to a small minority only. Meanwhile, a much larger number of citizens is involved in activities like gardening, food processing, improving the attractively of streets and even energy production. These activities, often referred to as commoning or place-making are deploying high-, low- or no-tech solutions. They connect every day collaborative acts with broader goals like social inclusion, democracy, enterprise creation and building social capital. Here, the predicate Smart City 3.0 is in order. This post is about Smart Cities 3.0.
By Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.
At first, no city in the world can justify to be a Smart City 2.0 or 3.0. A limited number of cities might claim the predicate Smart City 1.0. The newly build suburb of Seoul, Songdo, probably is one of them. Amsterdam and Rotterdam are on their way towards Smart City 2.0. and possibly also towards Smart City 3.0. In both cities a number of collaborative projects are running. The Community Lovers Guide offers well illustrated examples from these and other towns. Some of them are mentioned in this post. According to Tessy Britton, one of the authors, many of these projects operate in isolation, lack support and as a consequence their continuity depends on limited number of forerunners.
The benefits of a platform approach
In theory, a platform approach is a useful tool to initiate, support and link projects, create the roots of a participatory culture and coordinate contacts with external parties. The municipal authorities of West Norwood (South London) were willing to support the exploration of the the feasibility of an approach like this. The platform – named The Open Works – became visible when its ‘headquarter’ was opened in an empty shop. Citizens were informed during informal and social meetings and any interested person was welcomed for a cup of tea in the headquarter. Within one year 20 projects have been initiated by groups of citizens and nearly 1000 people have participated more or less frequently. A very readable and well-illustrated report is disclosing the results.
The key findings below refer at the outcomes of the pilot project, but they are supported by experiences in other cases.
1. Building a dense and inclusive participatory ecology is feasible
Many citizens appear to be eager to participate in collaborative initiatives, provided these are activity-based. Inclusiveness is within easy reach if initial projects are chosen properly. For instance, multi-cultural cooking during information markets and festivals.
Nice New West (Amsterdam)
2. The number of activities has to pass a certain threshold to ignite a participatory culture
Adequate scaling-up of the number and the variety of activities is necessary to prevent isolation of single projects and to fuel the development of a particpatory culture. This threshold is is pretty high: ten percent of the citizens will have to meet three times a week on average. Besides, within a walking distance of fifteen minutes at least five alternative projects have to be found.
3. The desirability of different types of participation
A first type are collaborative activities, focussing at daily needs. The second type are community ventures that might develop into social enterprises. Here a small group of people is offering services for the larger community. A well-known example is The Library of Things, based at sharing of utensils and equipment. In time these activities might create economic value and jobs.
Pendrecht University (Rotterdam)
4. Projects emerge from needs of citizens
Projects are organized ‘on the flow’. Written plans nor formal approval are necessary and some seed capital is available. Support of the platform (‘the headquarter’) appears of critical value. However the participants stay responsible and do the work, finding supplementary funding included.
5. Revival of community services is within reach
A participatory culture might successfully contribute to the reanimation of dilapidated services, like local stores, a minibus connection with major subway stations, refurbishment of abandoned parcels, crime preventing surveillance and reopening of closed amenities like a former community swimming pool . All based on voluntary work and supported by municipal authorities.
Men’s sheds (in many cities)
6. Care-taking of vulnerable citizens
Participation of vulnerable citizens in community activities sometimes prevent them becoming homeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted or criminal. Recent research, summarized in the above-mentioned Open Works final report, is confirming Putnam’s conclusion that community activities increase a society’s social capital and contribute to the physical and mental health of the citizens involved.
7. The platform approach has proved to be valuable
The three parttime staff members ignited projects, brought people together, organized meetings, took care of administrative burdens, intermediated with external parties and were able to pay small sums to deal with project expenses. The municipal investment in the platform was €10 per local resident.
The Wadebridge Energy Company. An energy company founded and managed by citizens. It is delivering energy to ten percent of the population of Wadebridge
8. Municipal administration has to adapt
Cooperation between the city administration and the citizens wil be boosted if the municipality is willing to adapt its involvement to citizen’s activities instead of pulling citizen’s activities into the structures of the municipality. Here too platforms are indispensable intermediaries between the administration and the citizens.
At first continuation of the Norwood pilot for an additional period of two years was foreseen in view of scaling-up towards a territory of 50.000 inhabitants. Still, this is a small part of the London population. Therefore a new project – Participatory City North London – has been developed that will serve at least 200.000 citizens. Its start is foreseen at the end of 2017 and it will take five years. Look below for an inventory of targets. In case of success, this municipality might be the first city in the world to claim the predicate Smart City 3.0.
Targets of the new Participatory City project
Meanwhile other cities are at the same track, to mention only Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We can only hope that these cities learn from the West Norwood pilot and become tough opponents of Participatory City London North.
Illustration from The Compendium for the Civic Economy
*) Image above: skys the limit2 (cc)
**) This article was brought to you by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.