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25 July 2016

Where’s the smart thinking for making future cities relevant?

Written by: Jermaine Dallas, Writer at Edelman

Innovation, Technology, Trust

When our cities can finally profess to being ‘smart’, they’ll be able to do some really cool stuff. With everything connected, public services, traffic, parking and lighting will all be brought right into the 21st century. It’ll mean easy control and updates on the move, and things generally running more smoothly and efficiently.

For someone like me who works with technology brands every day, it’s a very exciting concept. But not everyone thinks the same and therein lies the problem for the companies rolling out smart city technology. The longer the innovations remain a whizzy plaything for geeks and not a mass market proposition, the more firms will struggle to gain traction. Currently, almost a quarter of people are unclear of any one main benefit of smart cities, according to YouGov and Arquiva research.

There are a number of moving parts in play here, particularly securing funding to get smart city projects off the ground. But at its heart, gaining the support from the public is also a key piece of the puzzle needed to justify the investment.

For me, it all boils down to this paradox. With smart cities, the cities themselves have the task of gaining the buy-in from the public for something they don’t directly pay for. Although citizens buy those services via their taxes, that’s a different kind of transaction to buying an app of our choosing. And so even though we will use the services, we don’t have an immediate connection to the technology powering them. It’s a chicken and egg situation for the forward-thinking cities with the vision to become smart.

There’s a pressing need to prepare for the future by reducing pollution and congestion and improving public services. Smart technology can help address these concerns, and they will become more pressing in years to come. As urban populations balloon, it’s necessary to connect our cities in order to allow citizens to co-exist. According to one report from LSE, Shanghai is growing at a rate of 53 people every hour. Meanwhile, London will grow by another million people by 2030.

Part of the challenge of getting citizens on side is getting them more acquainted with those initiating and rolling out the solutions. Many citizens see government and local authorities as the initiators of smart city projects. However, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, only 41% of the general population trust government to keep pace with changing times. Whereas the figure for trust in business to keep pace with changing times is 61%.

There’s a golden opportunity for businesses to take advantage of the smart city phenomenon. The private sector, as the specialists in technology, can become the active party that will lead the charge in smart city implementation. Rather than putting technology implementation first, if they can create a dialogue with citizens allowing them to shape city services around their needs, they will help smart cities become a reality.

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