We understand that in the fast moving consumer goods environment that the monetisation of this data is of paramount importance. However, it is not that clear in a civic context.
In a lot of the technology company literature on smart cities, City inhabitants are “mainly addressed as consumers rather than as citizens”. Yes, the city is collecting all this data and they are building services on top of that and some of those services may be handy – but what if you want to do something else, something that’s not provided by the government themselves? If a group of citizens, for example, want to use that data to organise an action group against environmental pollution in their city the answer you get is not quite clear. In Cape Town there was a recent example of a woman who asked for data from a CCTV camera about an accident and was refused. At the moment it seems that the data platform is a closed platform and will be used for government or businesses to build services on top of them.”
Anthony Townsend, director of the Institute of the Future and author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia has said that "Some people want to fine tune a city like you do a race car but they are leaving citizens out of the process”.
This is an age in which very big things can come from massively co-ordinated human activity that doesn’t necessarily get planned from the top down. We need to stop thinking about building smart cities like a mainframe – which is this industry vision – and think about it more like we built the web, as loosely intercoupling networks.
What’s clear from the institutional point of view is that the Government now has competition in terms of organising and deciding – citizens can now do an awful lot themselves using new tools which they just couldn’t do before effectively. These are powerful platforms – citizens have toppled governments with these tools (like we have seen in Egypt and the occupy movements). They have real power.
And that is the issue - these are two different approaches to building smart cities and they’re playing out in this much bigger struggle over control between people and government/ corporates.
The reality is that a bit of both is needed. Some of the big infrastructural or planning decisions still need to be done in the traditional institutional approach, while a lot of other things can be done in a more bottom up or outside in view. We need to have a strategy that has both active government, as well as active citizens. However, this needs quite a radical rethink of the way we operate. Who has access to what, when and how? Who owns the data, how is it managed? How can we share some another’s information? How can privacy and security be maintained? Etc.
These are the strategic issues that cities need to be thinking about. And they should be thinking about this together with their citizens.