Covid-19 and unpredictability speed up change
As most of us are mentally longing for a return to ‘normal’, meaning being able to socially meet and mingle, there is also an underlying recognition that some things should and will change. And they are. Our cities and public spaces that were outpaced by economic growth and social developments, fell quiet for a while, and things we subconsciously knew became both obvious and visible.
Our public spaces and transport systems have a hard time dealing with unpredictability. Our incident response systems are more critical than we ever imagined. Many of our cultural treasures are in lock down and have to find new and digital ways to attract and engage with visitors. As travel patterns became more unpredictable and declined in volume, transport companies realise they have become very dependent on data to develop smart insights for planning and optimisation.
In the new Smart City Survey by O-City, we see many examples of cities deploying sensors to gage traffic intensity, commuting patterns across motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and more. Apps that guide us from trains onto e-bikes, spot open parking spaces and switch the lights on for women as they park in obscure areas. We see the same data centric activity on public transport, where volumes dropped dramatically forcing providers to look for ways to optimise ‘the wheels on the rails’, cutting costs whilst keeping transport flowing. Travelers cancelling automatic renewals if their travel cards, showed us for example that direct debits might not be the best payment method to give customers a sense of control. Many request to pay schemes have been brought forward to counteract this. On a macro and a micro level, we see cities, their governors and their suppliers work together to offer more flexible and sustainable solutions.
Obviously, every city deals with public matters in their own way. Culture, politics and human behavior have a profound impact on how far, deep and wide they can gather data to improve the experience for their citizens. Artificial intelligence, IoT devices and sensors give endless opportunities in this sense. Connectivity between transport systems, but also between experiences like moving from transport to a museum, to (physical) marketplaces and ecosystems are a viable reality today. Much has been said and much more will be debated around privacy and the type of society we want to live in as citizens. As such ethics, will as much as technology play a major role going forward.
A key area to imminently address is around payment type agnostic systems that travel across ‘junctions’ the same way trains do. A second is around identity. In order to make public life both secure and easy to navigate, identity is the first issue to address for all citizens delivered a channel and means of their choice, easily and safely granting them access to vital daily life functions.
What we probably learned most of all is that agility beats long term strategic planning, speedy response on important touch points beats keeping your users ‘waiting’ for a full end to end chain and execution beats superior innovation. Governments must be guided and offer guidance on clear choices towards a smart future, rather than paint ‘pies in the sky’. Strategic choices that people can vote on and that can be implemented within an acceptable timeframe so as to meet expectations step by step. Taking hurdles down one by one. Accessible, for all.
The smartest cities are the ones bridging real life experiences to digital delivery. Not the other way around. Let it sink in and enjoy the read of our Smart City Survey 2021 with strategic outlooks, city samples and practical insights. And let’s join hands to create practical benefits towards a sustainable future. In a city that generates energy for its citizens rather than consuming it.