Citizens should be the focus of any plan of cities “smartification”. But they should not be seen solely as end users. They have to be coached into becoming crucial players in the city “smartification”. And this happens through a process of increased awareness, awareness on what their city is, what it could become and their role in this transformation.
The first step of awareness goes through the access to data describing the “here and now” of the city. In these last fifty years the number of data has skyrocketed and in the last fifteen they have become more and more accessible. Because of the time gap between data creation and data accessibility to the public, via the Web, we are now in a situation where there are many data bases, owned by different constituencies, with different structures and different ontologies (structural meaning of data). In turns this makes the extraction of valuable information pretty difficult since that in most cases is the result of the correlation of different data streams.
The general call is to move towards an Open Data Framework, ODF, and indeed many cities have started this process.
The ODF can be a commitment for the future of data storage and aggregation and it has to be complemented by a plan to make existing data bases become part of the ODF. This requires effort and time.
Access to data is actually just the first step. Citizens look for information and not for data. Services are needed to mine data, correlate them and transform the result into understandable information (notice that data are, in a way, neutral, information on the other hand is related to the user, it has to make sense to the user), this is the second step, and then the visual rendering is crucial, and that is the third step. Information has to be presented in such a way to generate understanding at first glance and steer towards a decision (what transportation to choose, where to go, how to save money…).
We have better and better technology for transforming city data into people information, and new technologies for mining data like those I recently posted: Deep learning and Data smashing. First we know better and better a person need and interest and we have ways of shaping the information to meet her eye (and brain).
We can get the mood of people by tracking tweets, monitoring movements, learning from searches and interactions… And of course this brings up the issue of privacy, but that’s for another post.
We can visualize information in ways that are easy to grasp, see the work being done in Senseable Cities by Carlo Ratti at MIT (he is an architect, not a software guy and that might explain why he is so successful). My take is that we need to involve citizens and the creation of information and its presentation in easily graspable way is the best investment we can make. Technology let us create a soft infrastructure, consisting of information and that can weave citizens into the fabric of the city, making it smart by leveraging the smartness of its citizens.