EngagingCities is supported by Living Labs Global and CityMart.com, which helps cities to articulate challenges, and matching those with technologies and solutions around the world that can rapidly improve lives of millions of citizens.
Looking around on articles on the world’s smartest cities, we tend to celebrate the high-tech pioneers implementing large infrastructure or data projects. Why not take a moment to look at the less obviously spectacular, but rather more meaningful cases in cities in crisis-ridden European regions that weather the storm well.
Smaller cities can play an important role in driving innovation in or near metropolitan areas of a major cities and creating new markets. Sant Cugat (population 80,000, near Barcelona) and Eindhoven (population 213,000, near Amsterdam) are good examples.
What makes these two cities successful not just by our standards, but the strings of international awards they received for innovation, public management and leadership, appears to be their blend of moderate technology venturing (in terms of scale), the readiness to look abroad for inspiration and solutions, and their deep engagement with their citizens throughout the process.
In Sant Cugat the process started early in the 2000’s when a new mayor took over a city that was technically bankrupt. An overhaul of the financial, economic, administration and political model structured around the ideas of transparency, accountability and measurable priorities brought a turnaround that within only the first elected period reduced debt by 30% whilst improving public services.
Once a degree of stability was brought to the economics, the transformation of the management systems were linked to activities that involved citizens and made government more open. Already in 2005, Sant Cugat ran a service called “Ulls de la Ciutat”, a service that before the days of SeeClickFix.com engaged citizens in reporting broken urban furniture, potholes and the like. This was a priority, as the low density of the city made it costly to control it using inspectors.
Services were prioritised in reference to bi-annual surveys of citizen satisfaction about public services and other aspects of their lives. Readily available low-cost technologies, in particular SMS, provided an easy way to engage citizens and provide them more up-to-speed information. For example, reminders for tax dates, sign-up deadlines for schools and kindergartens found very high uptakes.
In 2008, the city embarked on a programme to develop their local innovation plan not just by using smart consultants, but by engaging citizens in a series of workshops and activities to again prioritize the limited available resources on areas that mattered. The resulting “Eco-City of Knowledge” tagline was underpinned by buy-in from political leaders, businesses, citizens and public employees.
Sant Cugat presented this Local Innovation Plan to the first edition of the Living Labs Global Award (LLGA) in 2009, winning the call for solutions for citizen participation by the city of Eindhoven, whose Mayor called it a ‘participative process that inspired us to engage our citizens in planning our strategic investments into the future”.
Eindhoven, like Sant Cugat, is a city that cannot afford to stay complacent. Both cities share a demanding population of comparatively high levels of educational attainment expecting to live in well-managed sustainable communities. Eindhoven had already committed to becoming a zero-emission community by 2035, but the Local Innovation Plan allowed the city to secure buy-in by more stakeholders along the way.
At our Eindhoven Summit on Service Innovation in Cities, Mary-Ann Schreurs the Deputy Mayor of Eindhoven took this a step further by announcing that “…the citizens, the people are in charge of our cities. We live in a period of immense opportunity that can make everyone’s lives better.” What might appear as a generic political statement is in fact becoming more real by the day in both Eindhoven and Sant Cugat.
Technology and innovation used to be the domains of experts, engineers and planners. Yet, both cities rigorously use technologies to empower citizens, engage them, and extend this to the local business community as a whole. In their categories for LLGA2012, both cities seek out technologies and applications that provide citizens and the business community a greater share in designing and operating services in their cities – to fight obesity with Open Data (Eindhoven) or Open Government (Sant Cugat).
Both cities have also actively subscribed to the method of piloting urban solutions to better understand the impact of technologies and involve stakeholders not just in the delivery, but also evaluation of solutions. Eindhoven’s “City of Light” programme, dedicating a whole inner city district to experimentation on what urban lighting can mean in a digital age and Sant Cugat’s “Intelligent Street” pilots of the winning LLGA2010 & 2011 entries, show that smaller communities can deliver real technological advancements without sinking their limited budgets in flagship projects that deliver little relevance to citizens.
Lastly, Sant Cugat is a case in point as to how smaller cities can act as laboratories for larger ones. For years, there has been a close interaction between Barcelona’s 22@ Urban Lab and Sant Cugat’s technology and innovation team both contributing to what we are now developing as the Agile Cities open standard for managing the pre-procurement phase of cities from articulating challenges to market intelligence, piloting and evaluation in partnership with Metropolis, Citymart.com and The Climate Group. Furthermore, many of the innovations in managing Sant Cugat efficiently and preparing it for economic upheavals are being implemented in the city of Barcelona.
In short, it may be very good business to partner with the right kind of smaller cities to not just sell products, but create new markets.