Today, a smart city mostly means infrastructure — better roads, more efficient energy use and a higher quality of life for citizens as a result of all these new, connected data points. But the next step for smart cities may look a lot less like public resource management and a lot more like marketing.
The next step of smart city management may map citizen journeys, the same way marketers now track and cajole buyers along a customer journey to get a desired outcome. For enterprises, the goal is usually repeat sales, but for cities, it could be items like boosting public transportation use or determining where the next downtown marketplace should exist.
We’ve seen cities attempt to crowdsource citizen data before, like by creating pothole registries. But this method wouldn’t require engagement on the front end. It would use available data sets blended together to get a cohesive picture of all citizens — not just ones already engaged enough to fill out a form.
And if cities take this passive monitoring approach, they can track behavior not only of citizens, but of visitors as well. Then locations like college campuses, which have a weekly influx of thousands of people on football Saturdays, can guide tourists to use available public services and also stand up additional services on these days that cater to natural traffic flow evident from this data set.
Transportation is a key area citizen engagement initiatives could tackle. With un-siloed data, cities could take particular interest in multimodal transportation — connecting how its citizens use its trains, buses, taxis, ride-hailing services and so forth. Governments could put together apps that show its citizens what the fastest way to get to a certain location is during rush hour, or which option to get them to work is cheapest.
Of course, through all this, there is a privacy angle that cities must tackle. The point is not to literally track every single citizen by name and mobile phone. The point is to make citizen data pseudonymized — not anonymized — so each person becomes represented in trend data. When data is anonymous, it’s not rich enough to provide context clues to base analysis on. But pseudonymized data allows cities to track an entity that represents an individual or group of individuals. For instance, cities could come up with some type of citizen classification, kind of like how businesses come up with buyer personas — there is the doctor, the teacher, the underserved citizen, the government worker. Then a city could provide individuals fitting each of those groups with targeted engagement opportunities based on these categories.
As cities grow, they must be smart enough to know they need digitally connected citizen information, like the beacon in everyone’s smartphone, but also savvy enough to not impede on cultural norms and personal freedoms. The point is to make cities better, not to know what each citizen’s social life looks like. And this kind of common dataset availability can only be made really powerful at the government level. Instead of the end goal being a product or a sale, it can be engaging underserved neighborhoods or citizens with access to the resources they need to thrive in their everyday lives. From thousand-year-old cities in Europe to newer municipalities stateside, citizen engagement initiatives will allow cities to take their smart city planning to the next level.
When cities apply internet of things technology to a problem and integrate it with real-time data on citizen behavior, cities can provide better emergency care, on-time transit options and access to government facilities in a way that caters to the public. Instead of being an internet of things, the cities of the future will more likely look like an internet of us.