Posted on 08-02-2019
The smart city meter is first and foremost an explorative exercise to the concept of smart cities and how this is experienced by citizens. It is exploratory because the concept has not been clearly defined so far and is not very tangible for the citizen. The playing field of smart cities is usually located at different levels within the city system and citizens are usually only fragmentarily confronted with this. Nevertheless, there are also a number of central components that form the basis of the smart city: the increasing use of technology, the increased use and exchange of (personal) data and the cooperation between various stakeholders in the so-called quadruple helix. The full report of iMec can be read here (in Dutch, contact us for a translation.)
iMec did a research for the second year now on how people in Flanders experience the concept of a smart city and the technologies behind it. It can be concluded that citizens are convinced of smart cities or at least in their potential. It is something in which the cities and municipalities have to invest. It is important to indicate that the smart city is no longer just synonymous with technology but rather with the idea of a utopian city. A city that is smarter and more efficient and that offers solutions for various urban problems. The question is whether the concept is able to meet those expectations.
By now, the 'smart city' concept already has the benefit of the doubt. It is also the belief in the smart city and the potential of technology as part of the solutions that currently gives a lot of credit to the various innovations and services that are set up in this context. However the smart city is already a connected city where data exchange is central, there is a great willingness to participate and data sharing, citizens only accept this if there is a clear added value and direct impact for the user. After all, people still remain worried about their privacy and are especially prepared to share 'impersonal' data (or at least the perception of this). This information exchange can go quite far, such as connecting the car, but also serves in two directions to happen. Citizens also expect access to this information. The smart city is clearly not limited to the (large) cities. The research shows that there are hardly any differences between big cities, (center) cities and municipalities. Themes such as safety, mobility and logistics are generally supported. The smart city must therefore focus on these themes, according to the citizens. The degree of acceptance for specific technologies is already considerably big.
More than half (51%) of the respondents think digital technology is a big help. This partly explains the strong belief in the concept of the smart city and the fact that this is considered a positive evolution. Where a small part (11%) indicates that it can not all be technological or digital enough, the majority is rather nuanced. The balance that exists today is more than enough. It does not need more or less. For some it may even be slightly less. 13.5% feel pressured to be technological, while 4.9% indicate that they feel increasingly more excluded. It is not remarkable that the latter two are mainly the older generation (65+). Citizens see the smart city as a positive evolution and also want to actively participate. However, this participation is provisionally limited in terms of engagement and may not require too much effort from the citizen. This explains why the willingness to automatic data sharing is quite high. However, when assessing personal details, the chances are that citizens will drop out. The smart city must also try to consolidate as much as possible with the existing instruments. The smartphone has already taken a central place in this. The interaction with the smart city, whether it is about consulting information, identification or transactions, is done via the mobile platform.
There is a strong belief in the concept of smart cities to address urban challenges. Evolution is seen as something positive, something that underlines the role of the smart city as a solution for everyday (urban) problems. Also although it is not entirely clear what the concept entails, it is certain that technology can play a central role in this. The affinity with and confidence in that technology is already great, as well as the willingness in the story of the smart city participate. However, the human aspect and responsibility that a city must take into account has. Despite the positive attitude towards ICT, about 1/5 (18.4%) of the respondents felt extra under pressure set by technological evolutions or even (more) excluded. This therefore argues for a (digital) inclusive approach or policy when working out solutions or services. Technology always remains a means that is not always central or allowed stand in the interaction with the user.
The role of the government in the smart city story is double. On the one hand, the government must play a pioneering role. Especially on those domains where there is still an insufficient or quality offer. For those domains from the business world already good products and / or services are offered (eg navigation) the role of the government is more limited. On the other hand, and in this connection, the government must fulfill a facilitator function. She should not only develop new ones make services and innovations possible, but they also need to determine the focus for which challenges these technologies will be deployed. The government is seen as a neutral and reliable partner in this game. It then serves in further development also to watch over the rights and freedoms of the citizen. The willingness to re-use data provided by the citizen is in those circumstances the greatest.
Another important element that emerges from the survey seems to be that citizens mainly want solutions that are direct impact on the problems it faces every day. If citizens see the result, their willingness to contribute actively (by sharing data among other things) is rather high. The acceptance level for the use of, for example, cameras to increase safety in the city or municipality seems to be considerably big.
The evolution towards the smart city is clearly seen as a positive trend. This is mainly due to the potential of the technology - or at least the belief in it - to offer a solution to various (urban) challenges. The acceptance level to use various digital technologies for this is (still) great. The expectation pattern is that these solutions also generate an effective result and preferably one of which the impact is immediately noticeable. Especially when offering all kinds of services or applications, the citizen expects such a direct effect. These should contribute to a more efficient and liveable city. The citizen is willing to play a part in this. But, as already mentioned above, the willingness is limited or at least subject to specific conditions. The high willingness to exchange information is limited to impersonal, factual information. Privacy remains a sensitive issue. When the balance between privacy and usability is not clear, the citizen will tend to stop. The government plays a major role in the smart city. Especially in data exchange she is considered an important partner. Citizens also see a role for the government to fill gaps in the supply. However, where there is an adequate commercial range of services, this role is less significant. This offers opportunities for various cooperation models and career opportunities, where the government can be an important initiator.