Smart Cities: Citizens will be at the heart of their success

The summer allowed me, article by article, with texts longer than usual, to expose different aspects of the Smart Energy Cities: the reasons which make them unavoidable, the founding actions of any initiative wishing to be crowned of successes and accompanying actions that no city can dispense with considering.

Is the list of these actions sufficient to successfully build a Smart Energy City? Does the list of ingredients make the recipe?

Taking a step back, the success factors of Smart Energy Cities fall into three areas.

The organizational field

  • Local energy governance often needs to be rethought in order to coordinate all actors in the energy value chain, regardless of the energy (electricity, gas, heat). This often requires working together or changing competing structures, some of which can easily benefit from the energy transition, while others may see their activity reduced or threatened.
  • Cities must decompartmentalize the operations of different public departments to improve their effectiveness on increasingly cross-cutting topics.
  • They must also establish new relationships and forms of public-private collaboration. The mistrust with which they consider themselves, their purely client-supplier relationships whose notions of quality and sustainability are often absent, must make way for stronger and more sustainable partnerships.

The technical domain

Many technologies are now available for cities to progress rapidly towards more intelligence. They must be deployed in the most economical way: developing a strategy and a global vision is a cornerstone of this economic performance. The necessary skills are rare and often remain to be developed with energy.

The local culture

This dimension, rarely discussed, little worked, because the experiences we have are scarcer, is probably the most important, the one that has the greatest impact on the results and success of the Smart Energy City.

  • The environmental awareness of citizens varies greatly from one country to another, from one city to another. The evolution of mobility in the cities, for example, supposes, I have underlined recently, a profound change in our life style. It is illusory to aim for quick results without environmental awareness. Should we therefore patiently develop it to speed up our evolution and changes or take more and more coercive measures to compensate for its absence? Despite the difficulties, the first option seems more promising.
    In the same way, the engagement of the citizens in the energy communities, in energy efficiency is a major objective to ensure the sustainability of the energy performances of the city, rarely considered with success. Commitment and consciousness go together: it’s useless to wait for one to develop the other; cities must gradually develop actions and processes to act on behaviors.
  • But the cultural dimension does not only affect citizens. The energy evolutions we are aiming for will take time, the results will take years, if not decades, to emerge and, for all that, we need proactive plans: these plans must be developed by all the political forces of the city so as not to be called into question, at each change of management team. This requires the development of more consensual modes of decision-making, more based on dialogue, listening and compromise. Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia, to name but a few, are more open to this type of decision process. Municipal authorities in countries where relations are power relations, influenced by frontal oppositions and struggles will find it more difficult to build efficient cities quickly.

With regard to each of these 3 themes, we can share a vision of the challenges of strong evolutions to lead, find that the necessary changes take us far from the current situation and that the political leaders sometimes seem to us to be far from the profiles that we think are necessary.

But do not be fooled! The democratic systems we have built do not encourage political leaders to take the lead on change: apart from a few exceptions that are not intended to be massively copied, they keep pace with public opinion, without necessarily getting ahead of it. By demonstrating pedagogy and transparency, they influence or even accelerate the evolution of requests, but they do not anticipate them.

Therefore, have we to expect from them more than they can do? and above all, should we not take our share of the responsibility for changing? Is it not by being active as a citizen, individually or, better, through collective or associative actions, that we will help push the policies to go faster and further, in terms of Smart Energy Cities?

At the same time, we will redefine the place of every citizen in the governance of a city. The depth and urgency of the changes to be accomplished will indeed result in citizens returning to the heart of city governance.

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