Smart cities: “Not just liveable, but more loveable”

Smart cities: “Not just liveable, but more loveable”

An efficient city does not, however, necessarily spark joy. It is liveable, yet a step short of being loveable. Live updates of bus and train arrivals, a technology available in many developed cities around the world, are crucial to the functioning of the city, yet it does little to differentiate city from city or to build up a unique identity of a place.
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From New York to London, Ho Chi Minh City to Beijing, cities around the world now face similar issues. The number of people that flock to cities is so overwhelming and rapid that most urban systems and infrastructures find themselves lagging in their provision for urban inhabitants. Many cities are ridden with pollution of all forms and sorts – overcrowded roads, underperforming public transportation, crime, vandalism, just to name a few. The sheer concentration of people in the city causes its inefficiencies and failures.

With the advancement of technology, many cities have found smart solutions to alleviate these age-old issues. Urban systems have become exponentially more efficient in the monitoring and detection of problems, and the use of data analytics and automation have allowed for both swift and innovative resolutions of these issues. Singapore and Surat are just two of the hundreds of cities that have installed camera networks in their cities to reduce crime rate; the city of Santander has installed 12000 sensors to measure traffic, weather, air pollution. By leveraging technology, cities become more productive, more efficient, and more responsive to daily needs of citizens. This is a crucial point of development, and a quick look at the smart cities of the world reveals that they have all adopted similar technologies to increase the efficiency of their systems and structures.

An efficient city does not, however, necessarily spark joy. It is liveable, yet a step short of being loveable. Live updates of bus and train arrivals, a technology available in many developed cities around the world, are crucial to the functioning of the city, yet it does little to differentiate city from city or to build up a unique identity of a place.

More than being just a well-oiled machine, we should raise the bar of smart cities and say that a functioning city is only necessary and not sufficient. For a city to be endearing, for it to have an identity, that should be the ends through which technology is the means. In addition to resolving structural issues, smart solutions should make the city:

– More relatable: does the city evoke a sense of connection?

– More memorable: does it leave an impression on its people?

– More legible: is the city comprehensible? Can one draw a mental image of it?

A smart city becomes more relatable, more memorable, and more legible for those living in it when it leverages technology to involve and empower its people to create and define the city. Smart governance occurs when urban leaders use technology to bridge the gap between government and its people, allowing for the city to become a product of effective co-creation.

‘Melba’ by Kyle Mantesso and Hong Yew, Melbourne’s smart assistant for people with disabilities. (Source: Participate Melbourne)

There are many great examples of how technology has been employed by governments to reach out to its people. Jaipur conducted two rounds of e-consultations that reached 1.6 million residents, asking for citizen inputs and suggestions on the development of the city heritage in alignment with its smart city vision. This allows citizens to voice out their desires, contribute to the future of their cities and co-create a Jaipur that they can identify with. Melbourne launched the Open Accessibility Programme in collaboration with the City’s Disability Advisory Committee to understand how blind and deaf people navigate the city, and potential ideas for more inclusive navigation includes integrating the city’s open data with smart assistants to provide more diverse support for those who are differently-abled.

The OneService app in Singapore (Source: Chiez How)

Similarly, many cities around the world not only employ sensors, but empower citizens with these technologies so that they can step up and be a part of the city’s solution. To reduce noise pollution in particular areas of the city, Barcelona installed noise sensors in people’s homes, and allowed them to make formal reports when the noise sensor passes a certain threshold. Singapore has launched OneService, an application that enables citizens to snap images of items that require maintenance in the city and send it to a central database for the city to process.

Environmental sensor kit in Barcelona (Source: BBC)

At the end of the day, smart governance uses its tools and gears to humanize governments, while activating citizens. Smart technology can work in the background to improve the efficiency of the city, and yet it can also work in the foreground to enhance interactions between various actors in the city, between people and their surroundings. By forging and reinforcing these relationships, smart cities become not just liveable, but more loveable.

A core principle of our work at enCity is to spark joy by embedding elements of delight into the design and planning of cities. The thoughtful deployment of technology can be greatly beneficial to this end – by simply adding a QR code to provide more information at tourist attractions, or motion-sensored light fixtures on the facades of heritage buildings. Lately, Sasaki and enCity developed a website for planning information and citizen engagement tool in the decision-making process for the Thu Duc City Master Plan. These are just a few amongst the many ideas we will be exploring in our various projects. Stay tuned!

Hoa Nguyen (Senior Associate, Policy + Planning, enCity Singapore)

Hoa Nguyen is an urban planner and researcher with a particular interest in community engagement, participatory planning, and citizen empowerment. Hoa’s experience spans a variety of fields, from research to strategy consulting to community and urban design. Hoa has led countless interviews, focus groups, workshops, and engagement activities with a range of stakeholders, from older adults, students, to community groups, nonprofits, businesses.  

 

 

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At the end of the day, smart governance uses its tools and gears to humanize governments, while activating citizens. Smart technology can work in the background to improve the efficiency of the city, and yet it can also work in the foreground to enhance interactions between various actors in the city, between people and their surroundings. By forging and reinforcing these relationships, smart cities become not just liveable, but more loveable.

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