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In January, city representatives and experts gathered to discuss how to build smarter cities that work for all their residents at the ‘Imagine the Urban Future’ conference co-organised by the Green Digital Charter (GDC) and the EUROCITIES Knowledge Society Forum (KSF).
This was the first gathering of a series of ‘Imagine the Urban Future’ events, launched by EUROCITIES for 2018, an occasion to take an in-depth look at EUROCITIES’ vision, priorities and actions.
At the conference, participants brought their local experiences in working for a better urban future through the use of ICT and digital technologies, in particular related to environmental challenges and the future of work.
Speakers, workshops’ moderators and city representatives share their views in a series of individual interviews available on our YouTube channel : http://bit.ly/2tTGUUG.
This video gives a summary of the main topics treated at the ‘Imagine the Urban Future’ conference:
Are the cities of the future to be a series of opal blue utopias, or streets of bent necked citizens crouching over screens?
At ‘Imagine the Urban Future’, the Green Digital Charter (GDC) and Knowledge Society Forum (KSF) joint conference held on 23 January, cities and experts gathered to discuss how they could build smarter cities that work for all their residents. How can leaders best mediate the dual tasks of moving their cities forward while ensuring that they are travelling in the right direction?
— ENoLL (@openlivinglabs) January 23, 2018
Putting the you in utopia
In her welcome speech, Eindhoven’s vice-mayor for innovation and KSF chair, Mary-Ann Schreurs stressed that tech innovation should never be for its own sake, but rather be centred around the citizen, “Let’s put the good life first, let’s put society first, let’s put technology in service of that.”
Anna-Lisa Boni, secretary general of EUROCITIES, suggested that we need open dialogue about the kinds of algorithms our technology will employ, so that citizens can have access to these otherwise opaque systems.
When used right, technology can be a major aid to democratic governance. Daniela Patti, managing director at Eutropian, pointed to the capacity of e-governance systems to increase the diversity of the people that governments connect to. As in Madrid’s Participa LAB, techniques like participatory budgeting and crowdsourcing regulation can put citizens in the driver seat of their cities. Indeed, as Peter Baeck, head of collaborative economy research at Nesta, pointed out, crowdfunding now accounts for 60% of the funding for start ups in the UK. If similar mechanisms can be set up at government level, high uptake can be expected.
Highlights from @GDCharter @EUROCITIEStweet #KSFcities event in #Brussels: thoughtful, productive and informed discussions. Feeling hopeful for the future of European cities… pic.twitter.com/sHx6i60VPI
— Jessica Symons (@Jessicasymons) January 24, 2018
Tech must work for people
Nevertheless, Mr Baeck also warned that cities risk not preparing their residents sufficiently for the technological tidal wave that may be swelling before us. How can cities help the potentially huge numbers of people whose jobs are soon to be automated? Local governments must provide training for people that enables them to switch professions.
Claire Courteille, director of the International Labour Organisation Brussels office, confirmed that the upskilling battle must be fought on two fronts. On one hand, people need to be retrained into careers that require soft skills, creativity, teamwork and collaboration. On the other hand, 40% of the EU workforce has little or no digital literacy – a stark figure. It is essential the training is provided for people so that they can engage in the digital world.
Ms Courteille declared that, “we must reject the idea of techno-predestination. We have to take control, upskill and prepare for rapid change. Life long learning will have to become a reality.”
Giving the example of the guifi.net mesh network, Mr Baeck concluded that people and groups have the potential to act in extremely innovative ways, but they must first be empowered to do so.
— Martin Brynskov (@brynskov) January 23, 2018
The future is in our cities
“Cities,” claimed Ms Schreurs, “are the foremost at creating solutions.” It is cities who are focussing on the interoperability of tech on a European level, and working together to create generic technology that delivers local solutions.
However, Ms Schreurs also warned that cities must take control, “You need a concept of what you want your city to be. If you don’t structure the cooperation and organise the governance, it won’t fly.” Markus Bylund, director of IT and digitalisation strategy for the city of Uppsala, emphasised that “If we continue as we are today, we will fail. In the key to the digital future, technology is just 10%, the rest is changing the way we do things.”
@danielapatti questions the impact of giants from the #sharingeconomy on our cities. Genoa tries to do something about it, will other cities follow? #KSFcities @EUROCITIEStweet @Eutropian pic.twitter.com/rzZ9ihpnQe
— GreenDigitalCharter (@GDCharter) January 23, 2018
Taking on the titans
While cities like Amsterdam are bringing giant companies like Airbnb to the negotiating table and bargaining for better solutions, many cities still don’t feel empowered to shape globalisation to their own terms.
“This,” Ms Boni confirmed, “is the time for cities. It is important for cities to join forces by being part of a group that can really change things in policy making, through more funding and attention to cities, but one that also allows cities to work together to pool their insights and to innovate. The best way to predict the future is to create it”.
The series, ‘Imagine the Urban Future’, will continue throughout 2018, with events being organised in each EUROCITIES forum. Through this series of events, and high-impact campaigns such as Cities4Europe, EUROCITIES is taking its own advice by actively shaping the debate around the future that cities want to see within Europe and beyond.