22nd century citizens – changing cities around them

Posted on: December 10, 2013 by Albert Seubers

How cities can enable today’s connected citizens and remain both competitive and relevant

As technology gets ever closer to the person, citizens are becoming more inherently ‘networked’. This single force is dramatically changing the way we behave, communicate, work, play and interact with objects around us; it is shaping how we behave within the urban infrastructure and how we access services. In the age of the citizens, cities must ‘tap into’ this change to become more competitive and citizen-centric; while we talk a great deal about the ‘connected city’ perhaps it is more useful to see ‘connected citizens’ as the fulcrum of change in today’s urban communities.

Atos - 22nd Century Citizens - changing cities around them

What do we mean by the networked – or connected – citizen? Today’s urban dweller is more and more bound up with technology. They are readily connected to the web and to a multitude of social networks via their chosen personal devices. Their network has enlarged from a social perspective, but alongside this shift we also see citizens increasingly connect with the objects around them, their cars, their homes, and the wider infrastructure. As a natural result, citizens are increasingly using only connected services and infrastructure to do almost everything that’s important to them and which – to perform physically – would be inconvenient and time-consuming.

Enabling citizens to exist in this networked and connected mode is increasingly imperative for leading cities – to the extent that announcing a connected cities agenda is important for overall competitiveness. To succeed, cities must put in place the deep connectivity foundations –robust, flexible networks and data centers, access to free wireless networks, strengthening the link between central and local government, and finally easy access to municipal services via mobile, that enable today’s citizens to

  • Be safe – mobile alerts to failing street lights, crime incidents, traffic violations
  • Work – easier remote working through high-bandwidth internet, easier communication with business and talent
  • Learn – with online courses and tutorials
  • Socialize – enabling easier social network access and sharing
  • Pay and transact – creating easy, secure payments processes for tax, etc.
  • Sustain – enabling access to recycling services, locations
  • Access care – by linking personal records with medical and social services, enabling contactless prescriptions
  • Move – as people connect their own preferred model of private and public transport according to their individual needs
  • Decide and govern – enabling mobile, connected access to citizen services and to feedback to government, and even affect policy or decide elections

These separate advanced services are only the start. To deliver value and to enable the connected citizen, they must be linked together. It is this ability to cross-link services, to see the connected citizen as a single individual with a different persona, which will enable the connected city to get to the next level - efficiently. This must be inbuilt into urban transformation plans.

What is this ‘next level’? Well, in a sense it will deepen and enable greater personalization of connected services, so that they become more rapid and customized, and as a result, more efficient. However, as these ‘plug in’ to the personalized technology we are using more and more (glasses, watches, our cars, our houses), the nature of our interaction with the city may alter. For instance, we may be able to play a much more direct role in government. This may lead to a situation where we elect service delivery experts, not governments as a whole.

However, in the longer term, higher levels of connection and sharing of information and services may change the nature of the city as a whole until we have a ‘city-wide platform’ where sensors and data feed inform citizens, who make decisions together. Are we ready for a future of crowd-sourced urban planning, as has been mooted in Moscow with the What Moscow Wants concept??

In complex times, this may be a simple route to success.

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About Albert Seubers
Director Global Strategy IT in Cities and member of the Scientific Community
Albert H Seubers (1959) graduated at Agricultural University Wageningen in 1985. Ever since he worked in IT consultancy focused on governmental topics. He worked for Dutch Telecom implementing the first fiber networks in Netherlands, for CMG as director in the Public Sector Service group, for HP as Public Sector executive before he joined Atos. Since 2011 he is Director Global Strategy IT in Cities for Atos. The Atos MyCity program focusses on the virtuous circle of managing a city on all aspects as safety, citizen services, employment, education, social and health care, transport and traffic, sustainability and governance and economics. Engaging citizens and business communities to create and maintain a sustainable, safe and prosperous city is the key message in Atos MyCity. In his role he works with cities all over the world to help them define their strategy often referred to as a Smart City Strategy or find solutions to support their strategy. Albert is a strong believer in the fact that data is enabler for successfully creating the city of the future.

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