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Citizen-Led Design for Future-Ready Cities

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What will future cities look and feel like? As we move from offering convenience to value, engagement of empowered citizens will play a major role in leading the transformation of smarter cities of tomorrow.

By 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be residing in cities. World Bank predicts this pace will lead to the cities contributing to an astounding 80 percent of total global GDP. That is, if our cities are resilient enough to grow despite the challenges of burgeoning demand from its dwellers. As the life in the city has become faster and complex with its rapid growth, it is grappled with numerous challenges- traffic congestion, outdated infrastructure, energy consumption and more, including the shortage of time to focus on these complexities.


To optimize the available resources, make lives simpler again and to enhance the experiences of its residents, smarter cities offer a viable solution. Leveraging emerging technologies like IoT and AI can be great enablers in driving the collective benefit of the city ecosystem.  For example, access to digital apps promoting the carpool business offers more convenience to the public as well as an alternative source of revenue to the service providers. It also reduces the congestion in the roads in the process. Besides, it also connects people from various background and promotes interactions.


Technology as a Means to an End


Technology is a catalyst to enable a citizen-centric model that simultaneously empowers its city employees and optimize city operations. Connected systems, data, and departments can make information more easily accessible and services more affordable with its help. Cities like Dubai and Singapore have invested heavily in technology to facilitate them to become smarter. While Singapore has successfully reduced the number of on-road accidents and traffic congestion by tapping into analytics with its program called intelligent transport system (ITS), Dubai has integrated automation in its public service and has piloted ‘robocop’ to help reduce the crime rate in the city. Most cities are chasing ambitious targets to lead the smart city of future with cutting-edge technology to manage air quality, energy usage optimization, integrated public transport and healthcare and more. Some are also tapping the power of predictive recommendations to further enhance the overall experience. For example: travel recommendations based on your previous bookings.


But, single minded focus on technology alone for a smarter city is futile. Many early adopters of smart city top-down approach realize that deep understanding of the aspirations and motivations of its residents is also very important. The challenges that the South Korean smart city ‘Songdo’ faced best exemplifies the caveats of planning that doesn’t account for context, culture and experience of its residents. Despite an awesome infrastructure and the dexterous planning, the city fails to allure its local population to stay there. 


The design thinking approach where user outcome is the topmost priority offers a promising scope to balance the top down and bottom up approach for the benefit of all. Integrating technology adoption with a collective experience of citizens ensures a more participative and comprehensive solution to iron out any bottleneck in the smart city adoption.


Co – Creating Smart Cities for a Great User Experience


A great user experience requires rich systems of intelligence that aren’t simply about technology. These systems of intelligence represent a combination of technology, people and process that enable feedback loops, and define a city’s prosperity, sustainability, and economic competitiveness. Virtual Singapore is a brilliant case in point showcasing the possibilities of co- creation for a great user experience. The live replica of the actual city in digital format allows various entities- citizens, organizations, planners, government and more- to collaborate and simulate. Any planning decision can be easily shared with the citizens, visually, to gain their perspective while also being able to gauge the effect of such an implementation. 


Although what Singapore is doing can’t be easily replicated everywhere, it shows the importance of having citizens participate throughout the process from planning to deployment in city re-design. This ‘glocal’ approach ensures engagement at the root level, active feedback and agile issue resolving. It also allows for better integration of new technology and processes with what’s already existing and working well. As people are more involved, they are open to change that is needed to take the city to the next level. 


Bracing for the Future:


The potential to design new services that encourage citizen participation, personalize services at scale and benefits all will be a distinguishing factor for cities that are future ready. With technology allowing for easier access to shared knowledge and experiences, smart city efforts can be accelerated manifold by crowdsourcing. Cities like Manchester in the UK have successfully leveraged the insights from contests like smart city challenge or hackathons to improve the livability of its citizens- be it shopping, parking, environment, traffic, security, ultimately making it a more attractive place to live and helping with the re-generation of the city. 


Collaborating to ensure collective value within an ecosystem is another stepping stone to move towards future-smart cities. The success of Cambridge Life Sciences cluster comprising businesses, sectors and universities to achieve ground-breaking health innovation points to the possibility that awaits to be explored. Also, the transformation of Shenzen city from a rural village to a sustainable city was only possible due to an open exchange of ideas, collaboration across borders and its public-private partnerships. The State of Nevada is collectively working towards defining data governance and shared platform initiatives.


To ensure that cities continue to be a powerhouse of talent and innovation, they need to maintain their USP’s of being safe, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable. A 360-view of the city based on data intelligence and better engagement of all stakeholders involved would be the way ahead. HARMAN strongly believes in the power of connectivity, collaboration and personalizing the cities of future. It’s expertise in IoT, cloud, big data and AI and rich-partnerships can help catapult your journey towards building citizen-led future ready cities.


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