The citizens wait for meaningful Smart Cities

Digital projects sometimes raise question to the citizens: the intelligent meters for example. Others are well accepted: the quasi-generalization of the high-speed Internet access. What characteristic differentiates them so that the welcome, which is reserved for them, is so different while the associated objective risks are very close?

In what category can we plan Smart Cities that are complex projects, not easily understandable for the citizens? Controversial projects or accepted projects?

To answer the first question, without having carried out in-depth studies on the subject, I realized clearly about the projects being the object of the deepest criticisms that the citizens did not perceive the meaning for them, whether it was badly clarified, or whether it is absent in the project.

Let us recognize that the meaning, for the citizen, of smart meters is not simple to explain: to save the energy could be an acceptable meaning but make the link between a smart meter and energy savings is not obvious. To be able to follow one’s consumption does not lower it! The meaning cannot be imposed to the citizens, it has to be an evidence.

The meaning of a deployment of smart meters for the Distribution Network Operator, is easily understandable because the achievable productivity are easy to understand.

By experience, again, I would be tempted to extrapolate this observation to all the Smart projects and deployments of digital technologies. In a regularly congested city, the deployment of a “Smart Traffic” system enabling a synchronization of traffic lights on main trunk roads adapted in the conditions of traffic, or providing information and guiding car drivers towards less loaded routes, has an obvious meaning.

An application of Smart Parking allowing to spot more easily the free places lets citizens win a precious time, always welcome.

By reasoning application by application, the notion of meaning is close to the one of benefit or value.

By analogy, an Smart City initiative could not be introduced without a clear meaning. To design a Smart City initiative as a simple technological deployment, as a time-limited initiative or still as a collection of digital projects without cross-functional coherence, has big chances to lead to the failure.

Defining the meaning of a Smart City initiative, leads inevitably to question on the evolution of the lifestyle, of the living space of each, of the infrastructures (transport, health) and associated services that are necessary for the management of an urban population always more important. This search for meaning puts back the citizen in the centre of all concerns.

The meaning will be a very important support to manage the paradox of a Smart City: the deployment of digital technologies includes as well the appearance of e-services, very involving for the citizen, and the deployment of M2M solutions, of automation systems, in particular in the energy domain, reducing the possible impact of the citizen.

A Smart City initiative thus gives an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct the lack of appropriation of the city and its structures by the citizens. If, technically, the first stage is to bring to the foreground this meaning, so important for the continuation, then to go into a phase of vision, planning, structuring, architecture of the project, it is essential to include a representation of the citizens from the beginning.

This representation will reach its goal if it is felt neither as the effect of a fashion nor as a way to gain votes, but as a will deeply anchored of the urban governance.

The future acceptance of Smart City initiatives requires changes and stages, those important points should not be underestimated.

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