Are citizen-led projects the way forward for smart cities?

Involving citizens in public data collection and decision-making processes is helping cities across Europe narrow in on the projects and areas that really need shaping. Cities like Oradea in Romania have connected its public institutions to a single platform, making everything from tax paying to medical appointments easily accessible for citizens. Citizen science and sensors in Amsterdam, meanwhile, have helped monitor the city’s air quality. Now city councils in places like Barcelona are looking to work together with tech companies (instead of being pushed by them) to experiment with citizen-led IoT and sharing economy pilots. Let’s see what this new type of technology entails and if citizen-centric projects may be the way forward in terms of crafting a smart city structure. — Philippe Leonard


Creating a sharing economy platform

 In order to make cities smarter, it’s only natural to turn to technology. Unfortunately, many cities in their quest to quickly ramp up their smart solutions focus first on installing technology infrastructure and second on addressing the city—and citizens’—needs. In a recent Alphr article, Francesca Bria, Barcelona's digital chief, is quoted saying:

“Smart cities were mainly implemented through technology-led logic, very much influenced by big technology providers. This meant going with the technological infrastructure first—[installing] sensor networks, data-gathering devices and connectivity, and only then starting to think, 'What are the real problems and needs that we are addressing?' This led to city administrations solving technology's problems, not the citizen needs that you need to address as a key issue in government." 

So how does a city regain control of its infrastructure and provide solutions that not only propel its technology forward but also provide a real service to its citizens? The solution: Create a sharing economy that puts the power of open data in the hands of the people, allowing them to decide what information they want to share—and with whom. The result is the birth of a European Commission-funded consortium called Decode that “could end up stimulating genuinely grassroots rivals to Silicon Valley's ‘sharing economy’ platforms,” according to Alphr. Kicking off this year in Barcelona and Amsterdam, the pilot projects will focus on “creating local open and decentralised data platforms, where people can use data to guide meaningful decisions and actions.”

By creating a collaborative economy platform, citizens will have the right to decide whether they want their private data to be public knowledge and allow the city to use this information to benefit the community. City councils can then use a citizen-led IoT to solve problems that are most crucial, looking to the appropriate smart city solutions and working together with technology companies to install infrastructure that is most beneficial to everyone involved.