Innovation in the city

Publié le 19 Février 2014

And now: cities trying to become “smart,” or, better yet, trying to use information and communication technologies in innovative ways to improve our lives. This is what I am going to focus on in the coming months, starting today with a small Asia-heavy world tour. Why?

  • In 1996 I started covering the ICT industry in the San Francisco Bay area. Out of curiosity. To understand what it was all about. I learned how versatile the tools were and the power of entrepreneurship. But all too often these were people who gazed only at their own navel and who saw themselves as the center of the world
  • When I returned to France in 2010, I took an interest in innovations emerging around the whole world. The idea – I see things clearer now, after the fact – was to measure the impact of ICTs as force multipliers in all of the fields where they are used. Everywhere I have been (45 cities in 32 countries), I have found people who adopt them to change a little part of their universe, ranging from businessmen and women to social entrepreneurs, but also activists of all tendencies and all “missions.”
  • Now I am turning my attention to cities, for the good reason that they are where the impact of these technologies on societies is both the strongest and the easiest to grasp. Mobility, preserving the environment, sustainable development, new types of socialisation, new types of economies (sharing, for instance): in cities, everything can be reviewed, corrected and revitalised on an innovative basis.

Over half of the world’s population now lives in cities, which we would all love to improve and make – why not? – smarter. This is what the biggest companies in the field (Cisco, IBM, Schneider Electric and a few others) are proposing, in what they see as the biggest information technology market of the coming years (20 billion dollars in 2020). But their point of view has three weaknesses:

  • A simplistic notion of ICTs that does not match with the inherent complexity of human agglomerations.
  • An emphasis on municipalities as interlocutors even though the strongest urban dynamics often take place in spaces that are informal and harder to grasp, from neighbourhoods to city-regions.
  • A strong tendency to ignore the participation of citizens when designing the spaces in which they live and produce.

The idea is therefore to investigate how cities with different levels of ICT maturity innovate and improve the lives of their citizens (this is the “Citynnovation” part of the project) and how the latter participate or not (this is the “Participolis” part of the project.) First stops: Las Vegas, Songdo in Korea, Singapore, Hyderabad and Masdar (Abu Dhabi).

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