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Citizen Journalism: How to build a city that moves in time with its own beat

Sam Morrey

A smart city knows what I want before I do. A smart city can tell me what to do next. A smart city can help with the crisis in homelessness.

In the age of lab-grown meat, driverless cars and big data what makes Manchester truly a smart city?

Manchester can boast its achievements in many fields. Industrious first and always, the first computer was built here, northern soul lives here and most recently we were awarded UNESCO’s city of literature. We all really should stand up and brush off our shoulders on that one.

The 2014 EU report, Mapping Smart Cities in the EU, gave Manchester a performance-weighted rank of 8th amongst 240 EU Smart Cities.

In just over six months we’ll also have something new to boast of, as the completion of the two-year CityVerve project will show how we can make Manchester an even smarter city. But, still, in the age of machine-based learning, what does a city being smart really mean?

Cisco defines smart cities as those that adopt “scalable solutions that take advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and enhance quality of life.”

The Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA), defines a smart city in terms of ‘smart citizens’ – citizens who have all the information they need to make informed choices about their lifestyle, work and travel options.

My response is a little different. It’s that a smart city is one that behaves like a band member in an Afro-Cuban percussion group. Other than just trying to be contrary and the group probably having awesome hair (I’d better own up to once learning to play with one such group), a fundamental skill needed above all else is the ability to listen and respond appropriately to what the other instruments and musicians are playing.

Similarly, for a city to be smart it needs to be listening to everything else going on within the city.

Health-wise, for example, other things currently going on in Manchester include Community Explorers, a link between local clinical commissioning groups and voluntary sector organisations. This organisation is building an asset map for diverse and disadvantaged communities. How could – or would – CityVerve data be used to support these Community Explorers?

Another area in which Manchester thrives is entertainment. We are a city of festivals: Jazz, Literature, Science and International. How would or could CityVerve link the needs for knowledge and entertainment to health and/or employment?

My Afro-Cuban percussion group analogy of a smart city links to 3 principles guiding the smart city agenda.

  1. Smart initiatives should integrate with existing economic development and public service delivery plans and have identified how new technologies can help achieve existing goals. (Listen to the rest of the group and respond appropriately)
  2. Smart cities must have pragmatic focus with the bulk of investment going on projects that are practical, achievable and financially viable. (Make sure the various sets during gigs actually work)
  3. Smart cities must encourage participation of community representatives, local businesses and residents to ensure projects are relevant to the city’s opportunities and challenges. (Make sure the audience enjoys and participates)

CityVerve aims to stimulate solutions for better health outcomes and more, but in doing this how well does it integrate with the manoeuvres other groups in the city are already taking towards these goals? What more could it do?

Because if CityVerve can respond to better integration, longer term, then perhaps it can become more than a demonstrator. It will become integral for long-term growth and achievement and a required response for any city looking to become a smart city.

But that’s just my definition of a smart city – what’s yours?

Image via Sam Morrey – another of our Citizen Journalists; check out more of his photos here.

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Note from Mark Duncan, Manchester City Council:

Reina raises some really interesting points here and it’s great to hear from citizens directly about where they next want the project to go. Integration with the many amazing things happening in our city is crucial for CityVerve’s impact and legacy. The links between Smart Cities, city entertainment and culture that Reina mentions, for example, have been the source of some of the most surprising and impactful ideas that CityVerve has explored.

With regards to better integration, this is a key component of the project. CityVerve is taking steps to enable the sharing of data across various groups and parts of the project, such as with the PlaceCal app and by working with Triangulum and the Mobike initiative. We’re also integrating with public events, such as the AR app being developed for Manchester’s Christmas markets. But we know that this is just the start and we’re continually looking for new ways to integrate better, as Reina says.

We welcome perspectives from citizens like Reina on how a smart city should develop to work for, and with, its people – if you have thoughts you’d like to share, do visit our Get Involved page to find out about events we host where you can share your thoughts.

December 04, 2017 in Citizen Journalism



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