So what exactly is a ‘smart city’?

Well that one is just way too small: a smart cities expo in India. Image: Getty.

The terms ‘smart city,’ ‘intelligent community’ and ‘smart community,’ have been around and broadly used since the turn of the century. All have had plenty of different definitions over the years.

The outcomes of these smart city initiatives have been equally diverse: a mixed record of success can be associated thus far with the term ‘smart city,’ with as many good as not-so-good practices to learn from. And, while many smart community initiatives have resulted in a deluge of lessons indeed, some of the biggest digital bangs have come without warning or plan, yet have affected communities more profoundly than many planned initiatives.

The notion of the ‘Smart City’ has always been a vague one. Both words represent a problem: ‘smart’ remains hard to define, and objections to the term tend to grow if one is to contemplate what exactly constitutes the opposite of being ‘smart’. It is nearly impossible to tie the term to KPIs and measurable goals, while any attempt to frame the term will be eroded quickly over time: what is considered ‘smart’ today may not be that smart any longer tomorrow.

The second word, ´city´, limits the scope substantially. There is no reason why a digitalisation strategy that typically may apply to a city would not apply to a smaller town, a region, a campus or, in fact, and entire country. A large city may have different needs from a smaller town, perhaps – but a smaller town will certainly have its own requirements and benefits associated with a tailored digitalisation strategy. To disregard the latter, to frame community digitalisation as applying merely to cities, means to condone and aggregate modern digital divides.

At the heart of many definitions and endeavours has always been a technology proposition, for better or for worse. In the early 2000s, discussions, projects, pilots and thought-leadership focused on infrastructure: broadband, high end connectivity and how that would impact (and change) the way we think of healthcare, mobility, retail or education. The second chapter was led by large technology companies and focused on solutions and solutions architectures, some of them closed and proprietary. The third chapter has focused on data: big data, analytics, viewing the future of smart cities as a market of city data.


But no matter how important these technology propositions have been – and they do represent the engine of the smart city effort – a successful community digitalisation strategy is rarely helped by having technology at the beginning and the end of an equation, typically with a societal challenge thrown in the middle of it.

A true ‘smart’ community is a community that commences with its citizens – the community´s actual needs, challenges and comparative advantages – and that is able to address these by means of comprehensive innovation and digitalisation strategies, harvesting the full promise of what digitalisation affords.

But do note: the prerequisite to that turning into a reality is a proper understanding of what digitalisation constitutes. Digitalisation is not restricted to a mere application of digital technologies. It encompasses the tools, technologies, and organisational, cultural and economic paradigms that come on the back of digital technologies – think platform economics as an economic example. Or take transparency and collaboration as important components to a culture of digitalisation. A true smart community embraces such notions at its core.

Last, a smart community is keenly aware of the fact that digitalisation produces its own negatives. The loss of jobs due to automation, fresh digital divides or society-wide concerns over privacy lost: they are mere examples of the issues born out of digitalisation. A true ‘smart community’ is a community that can address and mitigate such negatives effectively. Because, in the end, how smart should we appraise a community to be if it has thousands of angry and unemployed people marching its streets, protesting against the fundamentals that was to earn the community the label ‘smart’ in the first place?

In my book, A New Digital Deal, a framework of 20 building blocks has been proposed that helps communities arrive at a ‘smart’ digitalisation strategy effectively. The book also provides a definition of what constitutes a “smart community”, because without an up to date definition, strategies may prove pointless. Here it is:

A smart community is a community that leverages digital organisational principles, tools and innovations to help the community evolve to become more sustainable, inclusive, successful and creative, and to ultimately benefit the individual citizen.

A smart community leverages digitalisation to positively amplify and augment the existing social dynamism of the community in question.

A smart community is able to positively address societal divides by digital means, and is able to mitigate the divisive impact digital change may impose on a community.

A smart community is a community in which digitalisation is not limited to facilitating a series of – often very impactful – efficiencies. Instead, a smart community leverages such technologies in constructs that represent value to humanity and to human beings individually.

In other words, a smart community aims to leverage digitalisation to propel individual growth and collective well-being.  

Bas Boorsma is author of, “A New Digital Deal – Beyond Smart Cities. How to Best Leverage Digitalisation for the Benefit of our Communities”. The book is now out and available on Amazon.

 
 
 
 

“Ministers are ignoring the people who’ll deal with the fallout from Brexit”: The case for a second referendum

Everything is fine: Prime minister Theresa May and Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson. Image: Getty.

We’ve come a long way from the days when Brexiteers promised a free trade utopia and an £350m a week to spend on our NHS. Now we have David Davis reduced to warning there will be no Mad Max-style scenario when we leave the European Union.

Anyway, how do we know? The Brexit Secretary refuses to publish his economic risk analysis so we can have an informed discussion about the effects on cities like mine. What evidence has trickled out of his department shows that the UK economy will take a hit – and the further you are away from Greater London, the harder that punch will feel.

At best, with retained access to the single market, we will take a 2 per cent hit to GDP over the next 15 years. At worst, with a so-called ‘Hard Brexit’, this increases to 8 per cent.

That’s hundreds of thousands of jobs taken out of the economy. Moreover, we know the impact will be felt unevenly. The further away you are from London and the South East, the deeper the effects.

This week, leaders of some of our major Core Cities met Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, to explain our worries. Our cities are potential engines of growth and vital players as we insulate the country from Brexit-related shocks. We are trying to play a constructive role – whether or not we agree with Brexit – because we are on the ground and left dealing with the fallout.

So far, ministers have refused to meet us. We are apparently frozen out of the conversation because our reality-based concerns do not fit with the government’s celestial belief that things will be all right on the night.

As a local government leader, I deal in pragmatic solutions. (Having lost two-thirds of our Government funding since 2010, I have no choice.) But ministers need to come out of their bunker and talk to us about the support we need and the part we can play in preventing a recession when we leave the EU.


There is only one way to interpret their reluctance to do so. They know that we are on course to take an economic shellacking, and are preparing to leave us to it. They have done nothing to reassure us that a dystopian nightmare does not await – with Britain reduced a low-tax, low regulation fiefdom, with neo-liberal hardliners taking a red pen to the social and environmental protections currently guaranteed by EU law.

This is not acceptable. It is a total betrayal of those parts of the country already struggling with a decade of austerity and all the uncertainty generated by the Brexit process. But ministers should care because if we suffer, then Brexit will have demonstrably failed.

It will come as little surprise to Scousers. Liverpool voted 58 per cent to Remain back in June 2016. That’s because we felt the practical benefits of being in the EU. Europe was there for us – especially in the 1980s – when our own government wasn’t.

Objective One and other regional funding streams helped bring Liverpool back from the dark days when ministers in the Thatcher Government were seriously contemplating writing us off entirely. ‘Managed decline’ they called it. We were to be left to fend for ourselves.

But Europe allowed us to begin a ‘managed renaissance,’ becoming the modern, optimistic and dynamic city we are today. EU funding helped us to bounce back and catalysed many of the dramatic changes we’ve seen over the past few years.

If leaving the EU now results in a harsh economic winter, then the pendulum of public opinion will swing back the other way. So it’s actually in the interests of Brexiteers to have a second vote on the terms of our departure.  Asking the public if they approve of the deal ministers will have negotiated, is entirely justified. Call it a confirmatory ballot, or a cooling-off vote.

This is not about keeping asking the same question until the political elite get the answer they want. It is about giving the British people sign-off on how the country will be governed after 2019 and the effects that will have on their lives.

It’s ridiculous that we have more opportunity when it comes to cancelling our car insurance than have when it comes to reflecting on the biggest change to Britain’s economic and political fortunes in any of our lifetimes.

If – after knowing the full facts of what we face on the outside – the British public still voted to leave, then I would accept their decision with no further protest – and so should everyone else.

But it is right to ask them.

What is not acceptable – or credible – is to ignore reality and refuse to deal with the very people who will be left to pick up the pieces.

Joe Anderson is the Labour mayor of Liverpool.