The notion of smart cities has been changing from a top-down and mostly technological-driven approach, towards a bottom-up system that facilitates participation and collaboration among city members.
Fortunately, the European Union has changed its approach and now citizen engagement is very present in European projects.
If citizen engagement becomes a key element at smart cities, information and communication technologies (ICTs) would also have great potential for facilitating public participation.
But, what happen when most of the community you are addressing are not made up by such digital literate individuals? Still, heavy social media users are just a tiny fraction of the population.
As Pablo Sanchez Chillón, lawyer, urban planner and innovation researcher, says:
The Smart City Plan needs to be built on three solid pillars: Vision + Project + Communication Campaign. Things need to be explained, and the sophisticated jargon in hands of the Smart City scholars is often hard and complicated, allowing critics to label the Smart City projects as arrogant and detached from the community aspirations”.
Citizens need to be informed (the International Association for Public Participation identifies five forms of engagement, which are, inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower) on what the city is doing in order to improve their livelihood, as well as give feedback for the city to improve on their current initiatives.
Vitoria-Gasteiz SmartEnCity Project, an exhibition for the citizens
Exhibitions are still a useful tool where people could view proposed designs or plans, especially when the proposal is complex and involves a change in people´s lives.
H-Enea Living Lab and ACEDE, in collaboration with the Vitoria-Gasteiz Municipality and Visesa (Public Housing Agency), in order to inform the citizens of Coronación district, designed and produced the first exhibition that could have been visited in September (from 12th to 24th) in the local cultural centre Aldabe. The first part of the show and activities included the proposals and consultation regarding Coronación district renovation.
Afterwards, another exhibition displayed six typologies of house refurbishing depending on the house initial conditions (both exhibitions were held at the civic center Aldabe in October).
The exhibit consisted of two areas. One area functioned as a receiving zone; equipped with tables and seats, it was a space for participants, a space where visitors could give their views and comments, such as complaints, proposals, improvements, alternative solutions…
H-Enea Living Lab designed data sheet to collect written visitor´s opinions and informative panels. A guide or adviser was available to explain the exhibition´s content for those people interested in getting more information.
The exhibition panels themselves featured the global plan for the district renovation, the district lighting plan, and seven urbanization proposals for the areas that will we rehabilitated. The panels included the planned budget and illustrations of the current situation of each area, and the changed that will be made.
Also, visitors could inform themselves of the impact that the district renovation will have in terms of urban mobility, local commercial sector, social meeting places, urban landscape and environment.
Maps and plans for each area were displayed and passer-bys could also request help and explanations from a guide, who was there to give the visitors a more detailed information.
We hope that this exhibit, together with all the actions already done and those still to be completed, would help Coronación citizens to clarify and have a better understanding of the challenges of their district.
The future of smart cities lies in the hands of not only city councils and urban planners, but also of the citizens. In fact, as Hungarian geographer György Enyedi said:
planners (experts) have a limited knowledge of local problems. Statistical data on noise pollution or on crime rate cannot express exactly how local people feel about these conflicts or how the suggested solutions fit into their cultural traditions”.
Achieve successful citizen engagement can be difficult. Communicating complexity, providing information, creating spaces for deliberation and feedback are serious challenges for any project. In H-Enea Living Lab and ACEDE we are committed to help both city policymakers and planners, and citizens, of course,
in order to improve the quality of life of all citizens and contribute to sustainable cities and a liveable environment” (Manifesto on citizen engagement).