Smart citizens make smart cities

I grew up in New York City in the 1980s, and I still remember the realities of Manhattan before it got cleaned up in the 1990s —dark, dirty, and a bit dangerous. That’s been the stereotype of cities for generations, especially as the Industrial Age took hold and workers poured into cities to live in small spaces and work in dangerous conditions. In much of the world, this migration is ongoing – it’s estimated that by 2020, more than half of the world’s populations will live in urban areas, with millions of people in the same kind of dangerous conditions as new city residents faced centuries ago.

Young couple watching phone

So the question becomes: as this push of people into cities increases, how can we make sure the cities of tomorrow are not similar to the slums of today?

As we look towards this increasingly urbanized society, there is a lot of talk about smart cities being the answer. But how do we build these smart cities? Do we need to form government committees, public private partnerships, and fund PR campaigns? Maybe, but it turns out that the biggest driver of the smart city is a lot closer to home: it’s you, the smart citizen.

You don’t consider yourself a smart citizen? Maybe you should. Do you have a smartphone, and do you want to use this smartphone to improve your urban life? Then congratulations, you’re a smart citizen.

In Ericsson’s new ConsumerLab report about the smart citizen, we found that as the internet makes citizens more informed, we all in turn make better informed decisions. As smart citizens, our changing behaviors, more efficient practices and smarter social norms are helping develop cities into the kinds of place where we want to live.

For example, how useful would it be to have sensors in public spaces so we could know which areas are super crowded? We could find out that a demonstration is taking place in the park we planned to take a quiet picnic in, or we could be alerted that a large group of people are gathered at a particular subway stop, so maybe it’s better to take a different line. If that sounds like a good idea to you, you’re not alone; 76 percent of the respondents in the ConsumerLab study would like sensors in streets, pavements and public areas to accomplish just that.

Why is this important? Well, besides the obvious fact that we need to make cities a better home for a majority of the world’s population, this kind of behavior and thinking is driving the development of ICT as a key urban infrastructure, just as important as roads, buildings and other physical infrastructure.

From my childhood, I also remember the trope of heroes being handed the key to the city as a reward for a job well done. Now, we all hold the key to our cities in our pockets: the smartphone.

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