Amos Meiri 15 February 2019

Making a ‘smart city’ even smarter

With so much of a focus on Brexit, it is easy to forget that many local areas will be going to the polls in just a matter of months. To be precise, elections will take place in May for 261 local authority areas in England, six directly elected mayors and all 11 local councils in Northern Ireland.

Naturally, each locality has its specific issues. The solutions to these issues will of course lie at the heart of the election campaigns as they unfold. More and more though, these solutions include increasingly relevant technology for local populations - technology which continues to evolve at an incredible pace.

It is one of the reasons why the term ‘smart city’ has become so fashionable. Too fashionable perhaps. ‘Smart city’ can appear to be something of a worn phrase. It has become an all-encompassing expression, invariably including any city which deploys information or communication technology, in order to enhance the life of residents. In fact, a ‘smart city’ appears to now be regarded as any metropolis which utilizes sensors, apps or technology to coordinate activity.

As such, the clamour for ‘smart city’ solutions is relentless. So much so, it is predicted that the smart city industry will be worth $400bn globally by 2020. However, it is well worth asking, what exactly do most of these solutions constitute? Usually, they refer to an albeit impressive use of technology to tackle just a single problem. For example, Barcelona uses sensors to help monitor and manage traffic. Copenhagen’s smart water meters and intelligent valves are helping better manage water leaks. And Singapore has utilized digital service platforms and remote monitoring devices to improve health provision.

Yet, effective as these technological solutions might be, they are restricted to solving just single, isolated issues. And often at great expense. It doesn’t sound like a particularly smart strategy for a ‘smart city.’ Especially given that the challenges for cities and local areas are constantly evolving. Therefore, the solutions must be both nimble and long-lasting. What is required is the genuinely smart solution of a technological ecosystem that can endure and pivot from one challenge to the next. One that can identify, listen to the evolving needs of citizens and respond by taking appropriate action.

The answer may just be digital city-wide currencies. The concept of a city or community currency is nothing new, going all the way back to 1930s Austria. However, the advent of a digital city currency opens the door to all sorts of possibilities. It allows for currency to be distributed as a reward and consequently to act as an incentive for specific behaviours and actions.

Already, cities across the world are considering implementing such schemes, so as to encourage activities benefiting the greater good. For instance, the New York State Assembly is mulling legislation to create local digital currencies, in order to boost local businesses and keep money within communities. Meanwhile, Berkeley in California plans to use such a currency to raise funds for social housing, relieving conditions for the city’s homeless.

These are just two examples of how a city currency platform can be used for the public good. Such a currency can be distributed as a reward to incentivize any number of activities - Using public transport, aiding the environment and volunteering are just some of the possibilities which spring to mind. As for the personal benefits for residents, there is no reason why city currencies can’t be used to pay city taxes and fines, or to gain access to local-run facilities such as swimming pools and gyms.

In addition to these multiple practical use cases, city-wide digital currencies can also achieve something else no less valuable or important. By better engaging people with the everyday life of the city, they can help build the unseen bonds which strengthen a sense of belonging, which lie at the heart of community. They can be the key to motivating local people to become the driving force behind achieving city goals. And in doing so, city-wide currencies can surely make the kind of long-term impact that any elected local official would want to achieve.

Amos Meiri is CEO and co-founder of Colu, @ColuApp

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