Event highlight

Symposium redefines four essential aspects of a “smart city”

Academics gathered March 23-24 to generate citizen-centric ideas for Berlin’s upcoming smart city strategy.

Over 350 academics and practitioners convened from March 23-24 for an International Symposium on Smart Cities co-hosted by the CityLab Berlin, the Berlin Senate Chancellery, and the Hertie School Centre for Digital Governance. This online event brought together experts in the field of smart cities to provide insight for Berlin’s upcoming Smart City Strategy.  Cities that are “smart,” do more than simply merge technological advances with traditional processes and infrastructure. The symposium highlighted four concrete areas for smart city strategies: citizen centricity, inter-sectoral collaboration, data governance, and administrative capacity.

As Ben Green (University of Michigan) suggested, smart city strategies should focus first on the needs and desires of citizens, only second on leveraging the power of technological solutions. This ensures that smart cities find a balance between relying upon technology and rejecting its use altogether. Such an approach creates a “smart enough” city that prioritises the development of citizen well-being. Keynote speaker Beth Noveck echoed the need to prioritise citizen well being in smart cities. By tapping into the distributed expertise of citizens through co-creation and collaboration, smart cities can leverage the collective intelligence of their population. Noveck explained collective intelligence as how Wikipedia articles are written or TED talks are translated. However, she also noted that the design of the mechanisms for this collaboration requires attention. 

Meaningful citizen engagement and the co-creation of solutions, throughout all stages of a smart city strategy, can ensure the development of public value in smart cities. Multiple panelists underscored the necessity of “public private people partnerships” to share responsibility and increase trust in the final products. Francesc Pardo-Bosch (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya) emphasized that collaborative ecosystems of local businesses can bring efficiency and an agile mindset to projects that administrations cannot provide alone. 

A central tenet of any smart city strategy is an open data strategy, noted speakers on the data governance panel. Opening data is not just a measure taken to increase transparency of government, rather a tool allowing all sectors of the economy to make previously impossible observations and innovations, said Tom Schenk (KPMG Chicago). Panelists also noted the importance of a forward thinking procurement strategy, closely examining which party retains the rights to data created through the implementation of a smart city strategy. 

Finally, the implementation of a smart city strategy requires administrative capacity, as was discussed in the symposium’s fourth panel.  Albert Meijer (Utrecht University) noted that the machine-like quality of the bureaucratic model, the agility of the entrepreneurial model, and internet-driven collaborative models of administration must be harmonized for smart governance success. 

Key insights from the symposium will now be integrated into a policy paper delivered to the Berlin state chancellery for use in their official smart city strategy (further information on the process here). The strategy will be released in 2022. Should further information on this event become available, it will be linked to this article.