Using media and communication for building sustainable smart cities

It was 8000 years ago. Streets of major cities like Harappa and Mohenjo Daro from the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation were laid out in perfect grid patterns comparable to the present day New York!

Housing over five million people living with their own scriptures, barter systems, baths and culture, there was enough evidence of a sophisticated urban culture. However, centuries of human, societal evolution has now changed things. With wireless networks, influx of digital applications and sensors, Smart Cities have arrived.

A city that promises to give ‘more for less’ by harnessing technology for local area development, the success of a Smart City however, rests on citizen engagement and experience. Simply creating tall structures and working out optimised traffic patterns, efficient lighting, and public work improvements is not the only way forward. It is here that media and communication can play a pivotal role and act as a binding force between people and technology through:

Citizen Ownership

Often the citizen groups know the needs of their community. A robust technology framework, a receptive institution (civil society/municipal body) can encourage citizens to come forward and give ‘solutions with a difference.’ Their participation can even be incentivised and media propagation of local/city wide success stories can be shared/adapted among others for a more collaborative living. This can help build faith in a democratic process and ensure that the economically, socially or physically disadvantaged are heard leading to an inclusive and knowledge–based development.

Information Access

People power is powerful. Digital media, city-wide apps or social media pages of local bodies can provide regular news feeds/updates and foster connectedness across entities. These can facilitate collective brainstorming and innovation to achieve development objectives which can lead to an investment of ‘social capital’ into urban development.

Effective use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

ICTs provide eco‐friendly and economically viable solutions for cities leading to improved quality of living for citizens. With near real time access to information, cities can gain insights into the issues on hand, prioritise and provide the necessary remedial measures before the problem compounds. ICTs help manage information more efficiently so that the cities can improve their preparedness and response capability. It helps to create a sense of belonging among people so that the focus is not just about the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines, but the enhancement of services and experience.

Collaborative Connectedness

The Smart Cities Mission is ushering an urban renaissance the world over. The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the heart of this renaissance. Gartner Inc. forecasts that nearly 20 billion connected things will be in use by 2020! It will thus become more urgent and imperative to connect people, neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Vienna, one of the world’s leading smart cities, leads by an example. Since 2012, 6,000 of its 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. Such has been the collective power of community and citizen engagement!

No doubt, big data is important. But, with 65% more people expected to live in cities by 2040, listening will become even tougher. A research in the US indicated that nearly two-thirds of citizens did not feel their voices were listened to by the governments who took decisions about their local and national societies. And, when citizens don’t feel heard, they disengage – and cities lose an important resource for positive social impact.

Therefore, it is important to tune in to people’s frequency for building engaged communities and sustainable cities. The need of the hour is a community-driven, bottom-up approach where citizens are an integral part of designing and developing smart cities, and not a top-down policy with city leaders focusing on technology platforms alone. And, it is here that media and communication have the potential to redefine people experience and create more safe and tolerant spaces. This will help build not just smart but smart sustainable cities that holistically look towards improving quality of life, efficiency of urban operations as demands on resources becomes more stretched and, thrive to meet people’s need with respect to their economic, social, environmental and cultural development.

The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.

Shilpi Jain
Communications Specialist at IPE Global
With over 18 years of work experience in Communications and Content Development, Shilpi has worked across varied sectors - the Corporate, International Aid Agencies and the Government of India. She has successfully leveraged on her technical skills for maximum impact through strategic communication over the years.

With a journalism background, Shilpi has co-authored a book titled Reflections on Managing WATER: Earth’s Greatest Natural Resource launched at the Club of Rome in October 2014.

Presently working as a Communication Specialist, Shilpi continues to focus on how to create a niche for her organisation and enhance customer satisfaction along with increasing self-motivation.

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