with Balaji Raghavan, Erika Maddox, Manan Thadeshwar, Nabeel Adeni, Natasha Vujcic, Shiv Kant Kumar and Yogendra Kalavalapalli — students in Markus Giesler’s MBA course Customer Experience Design at the Schulich School of Business.
The buzz about smart cities is everywhere. Every local government around the world, from Auckland to Toronto and even to Ajmer, a small holy town in India, is latching on to this trend. As smart cities become the new normal, how can city governments step up their game and go full-throttle towards realizing this dream? By redesigning the customer, or rather the citizen experience and positioning themselves as ‘lovemarks’. Lovemark brands create intimate connections with their customers, and invoke deep loyalty as they deliver beyond customers’ expectations.
Evolution of City Planning
Historically, the development of cities was spearheaded by kings but in contemporary times, cities are actively shaped by five types of socio-political actors: Agenda-setters (city councils/governments), Experts (urban planners), Sponsors (investors), Developers (contractors) and … Citizens (residents, public-interest groups, industry influencers, academia leaders, visitors)! However, much of the research and planning around smart cities is driven by technology rather than by the needs of the citizens. The citizen experience is often overlooked! To redesign this experience citizens need to have a seat at the table.
Smart cities can empower their citizens to design and shape their future. Toronto, for example, has been leveraging its “creative class” of financiers, healthcare researchers, artists, corporate strategists, lawyers, and social work pioneers to shape the future of the city the way citizens want.
Your City Could Create a Better Citizen-Centric Experience!
Citizen participation is an area where smart city pilots around the world have tended to perform the least well on. They don’t often realize the power of citizen participation in producing innovative solutions that can transform the way society functions. Take Uber or Airbnb for example. Both these platforms were created by citizens to offer unique experiences for citizens — visitors and residents, within a city. Citizen participation disrupted existing markets and led to regulatory changes as these models challenged city governments to adopt to a new era of “sharing economies”.
A remarkable example where citizen engagement has improved the city is in Vienna, one of the world’s leading smart cities. Since 2012, 6,000 Viennese citizens have invested in community-funded solar and wind power plants that have produced about 25 million kWh of renewable energy, powering almost 15,000 households. The power of community and citizen engagement created here is truly electric (pun intended)!
How might other city governments engage their citizens to build and deploy smart cities?
Building Blocks of Citizen-Driven Smart Cities: Connectivity, Commute. Convenience
Through our primary research, we determined that a smart citizen has three quintessential needs: higher levels of connectivity, greater convenience, and better modes of daily commute.
In terms of connectivity, citizens want a single stream of information that brings together all city services and vital news on a single platform. The City of Columbus, Ohio has launched an app, “MYCOLUMBUS” that tries to do it all! It allows for citizen engagement in reporting problems like potholes and abandoned vehicles, includes a local news feed, links to the city’s social media presence and resources for mayoral initiatives. These include My Neighborhood (that lists bus schedules, project information, events, health inspections of various restaurants), and Get Active, which includes parks and recreational activity feeds.
Smart transportation technologies can rapidly change everyday life. For example, in some parts of China the elderly do not own cars. Smart urban design makes everything available within walking distance. Self-driving cars are already being envisioned as a mobility service for those who can no longer drive and are not served by public transport.
Companies like Uber, Lyft and Slide are continuing to pop up around the world with the focus of making commute simple and hassle-free while also focusing on carpooling benefits. An increase in ride-sharing translates into better utilization of cars, and more importantly, into an enhanced citizen and tourist experience. They can enjoy less time spent commuting, less gridlock, lower carbon emissions, fewer green spaces being turned into parking lots, and cleaner air in the city. UberPOOL and Lyft Line both offer carpooling services and claim to have removed close to 8 million car-miles off the roads of Los Angeles, reducing, in turn, 1,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air.
Municipal governments should encourage carpooling among cab companies, online aggregators such as Uber and Lyft, and even among citizens. Active government intervention through carpooling can prevent pollution as cities become more crowded because of urbanization.
Tel Aviv and Seoul are world-renowned for their convenience – they have Wi-Fi networks throughout the city, which not only connects citizens but also provides a fundamental platform for emergency response and public safety. Simplify, a company in Malaysia, exemplifies another great example of shared networks. Think of it as Airbnb but for mobile data! Rather than renting out a spare room, this app lets people buy spare data from others around them, which as you can imagine has proven to be especially convenient for tourists.
Another key to convenience is Glue Home’s encrypted digital key. This company out of Stockholm has revolutionized home delivery, repair and cleaning services by allowing citizens to safely grant temporary access to their homes.
However, can a senior navigate the smartphone-driven, app-fueled world of a smart city with the same ease as a millennial? Consider a road crossing, which typically takes seniors longer to cross. While some mobile applications let the elderly take control of the pedestrian signals each time they cross, it is a steep learning curve for them to use a smartphone, as makers of Crosswalk, a Dutch-made app discovered. Instead, smart cities can leverage the power of facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence to automatize the process. A smart camera (powered by image recognition software) at a pedestrian crossing can detect an elderly person, child, or even someone on crutches, and adjusts the crossing time accordingly.
Similarly, smart companies like Deep Glint use 3D imaging to track citizen behavior, especially in large crowds. These cameras instantly spot and alert authorities if a fight breaks out, if someone gets injured, or if there is questionable lingering in an area. Technologies have the power to make smart cities truly inclusive, and much safer!
Rome wasn’t built in a day. A smart Rome wouldn’t be built in a day either. Through constant engagement with the city’s biggest customers — the citizens — and acting on their feedback, smart urban planners can design a city that truly reflects public needs. Before you know it, planners will not only create a lovemark city brand but also a truly unique citizen experience.
Stepping out of a free Wi-Fi zone now, catch you at the next one!
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