Connected, flexible and meaningful: this is how you design the real smart city

Tonight, during the WOW Dinner Barcelona, the Future City presents the book: “A smart city, this is how you do it – Connected, flexible and meaningful: make the real future city”. Together with 26 partners, the Future City Foundation investigated how we should design the smart city. The network assumes that urban design and the products that result from it are radically changing. Just like it happened with other industries. They want to understand how it happens, what are the opportunities and what are the risks.

The original version of the book is in Dutch, click here to order the original edition. From this book is made an English summary, in which we focus on trends. You can download the English version here.

We want a sustainable and democratic city
The first question we had to ask ourselves is which city do we want. It is precisely when we are in a transition that it is good to determine where the boundaries lie. We put it on two levels. Firstly, we want a city that meets the requirements of sustainable development goal 11: inclusive, safe, healthy and sustainable. But we also want us to be able to live there in freedom. We do not want technology to be at the expense of “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” We took that list from the European Constitution, which never came into existence, but does well represent what we stand for.

In it we design everything as a democratic smart network

Only then did we get started with the question of how digitization and technology affect our regions, cities and villages. We concluded that connectedness is the real game-changer. The fact that we are always connected to everyone and everything around us is so spectacular that we hardly think about it anymore. Everything becomes a smart network. We concluded that therefore, neighbourhoods, cities and regions become smart networks in which all objects are connected and share data, energy and mobility of those objects. Just as a smartphone cannot do without the Internet or a Tesla, a train, a house, a store, a church can no longer function without a smart network. But we want that to happen in a way which the owner and the user of that object are in charge of what he shares. We want a democratic connection.

We design flexibility
We also concluded that, by doing this, we would become very flexible. We can do everything anywhere. We like to do that in the city because we are social beings. At the same time, the city also needs mass to function. To be able to deliver services. It doesn’t matter much to Bird’s scooters where you are in Antwerp or Paris, as long as you are somewhere in that crowd and it can be predicted. The extent to which someone participates is up to him or her. But it is no longer strictly necessary to have a permanent place of residence there.

And we design meaningfully
We saw that within that abundance of choices we were always asking ourselves where we want to be. We seek meaning. Significance. That is a happy message for designers: their profession is more important than ever because even if we can be everywhere, we are still only in one place at the same time. Then for sure, we choose the place where we prefer to be. But how do you design that place? And at the same time: how do we prevent ourselves from being over-stimulated? How do we guarantee peace? And here perhaps lies the core because smart urbanism is not about smart or technology. No industrial revolution is about technology but about the consequences of how society is changing.

What does that mean for the government?

We thought about that too. We saw that we did not only rewrite urban planning, but also the role of the various stakeholders that are part of it. The role that citizens, companies and governments have concerning each other is shifting. We hope it leads to more citizenship. To people having more influence on their living environment. Of course, there are plenty of nuances. You can read it in this book. We are very curious about what you think and if you want to develop a region, city or village with us in the way we describe here: we would love to hear from you. Then we will design the future together.

On behalf of all partners involved,

Jan-Willem Wesselink
Program manager at the Future City Foundation

This is a pre-publication of the book “A smart city, this is how you do it – Connected, flexible and meaningful: make the real future city”. With theory in the form of essays. And few practical examples of how our regions, cities and villages have already changed. Want to read more? Go to this page to order the book for free.