Citizens are foundations of Smart cities

When government officials and C-level executives came together in September 2016, from around the world to attend an executive 3 day Conference in Yinchuan, China, they agreed that without the fourth ‘p’ i.e ‘People’ in the PPP (public-private partnership) model, there will be no value creation. Increasingly, there is a clear shift to discussions about Smart Cities around citizens and humanising technology.

In June 2016, The Australian federal government released Smart Cities Plan, built on three pillars: smart investment, smart policy and smart technology. Yet, it also suggested that:

Cities are first and foremost for people.

and:

If our cities are to continue to meet their residents’ needs, it is essential for people to engage and participate in planning and policy decisions that have an impact on their lives.

Despite this quintessential policymaking statement, the plan largely uses language that conveys a limited role for people in cities: they live, work and consume. The absence of a more thorough response is surprising considering the rich body of work calling for better human engagement in the smart city agenda.

Technology is advancing too rapidly and if not handled correctly, technology solutions can feel imposed, rather than inclusive. Cities can be perceived to be tackling the ‘wrong’ problems or introducing ‘technology for technology’s sake’ and therefore failing to deliver value. Citizens need to feel part of the changes in their city.

If people are not involved, it can result in failures. For example, in India, in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) to enable the holistic development of cities. This initiative aimed to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local development and harnessing technology as a means to create smart outcomes for citizens. It also set up a platform —- http://www.mygov.in —- for better consultation between the government and citizens. But as cities launched their multi-crore urban renewal programmes, a few faltered badly on citizen’s participation. Take for example, Dehra Dun. Last year Doonites bulldozed their way into a smart city project and demanded their right to have a say in the planning process because they did not agree with the local government’s environmentally-destructive plans. Then there are examples of Bhubaneswar and Chennai: Both cities successfully demonstrated the positive impact of citizen’s participation in planning for SCM.

Technology can offer new creative solutions but it should always remain a means to an end at the service of the citizens. Citizens are the key to designing, building and making future smart cities. Citizen engagement should be the number one priority as citizens reflect the community needs. Therefore, smart city projects need to be set up after several deliberations with the residents of the city.

Smart city projects also help set up a platform for better consultation between government and citizens. City officials and urban experts should be trained to conduct meaningful and ethical engagement of citizens.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has called for a public engagement campaign around the benefits of smart cities, following research which suggested there is ‘public apathy’ around the technology.

The Smart Cities – Time to involve the people report found that just 18 percent of the British public has heard of a ‘smart city’ and that there is a lack of consumer consensus on the relevance of technologies typically associated with smart cities. In India, one of the reasons of roll out of smart city projects was that it was presupposed citizens have a certain level of digital literacy and access to technology.

A European manifesto on Citizen Engagement focuses on collaborating on the following initiatives:

  • To raise citizen awareness of the potential advantages and benefits of smart city projects
  • Develop and exploit new and existing collaborative models
  • Improve procurement and assessment procedures
  • Promote the use of open data and appropriate access to data by citizens
  • Promote open science and open innovation to foster smart citizens
  • Leadership in citizens engagement

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University of Adelaide-planting the seed for a sustainable society

At a time when businesses are under constant pressure to view their operations and impacts through the lens of sustainability, universities can play a significant role in forging the path to a sustainable future.Frequently regarded as well-established and respected organisations,universities have a unique and influential role to play in the quest for a more sustainable future. Universities act as a microcosm of the city and therefore can act as a real world laboratory with the purpose of addressing sustainability issues. Within the context of topics such as resource utilisation in food production and consumption and encouraging voluntary action in reducing waste and energy useage, universities are the best place to devise and test new initiatives to improve sustainability.     An institution’s efforts alone  mean nothing if they are unable to share their learning, experiences, successes and areas with local leaders and partners in general. This learning is of great value to the society and the environment.

The City of Adelaide is on a mission to be the first carbon neutral city by 2050. This cannot be achieved without the participation of institutions that prepare the next generation of society’s leaders for a sustainable future . Therefore it was a very pleasant news to learn that University of Adelaide, a respectable name in the research, innovation and creative thinking, has structured an initiative in sustainability by launching Campus Sustainability Program. University of Adelaide is a world class research-intensive institute which can create sustainability focused research opportunities and help engage students from multiple disciplines – like engineering, business, political science, humanities to promote sustainability at the campus and in the community, in general. The document highlights the university’s commitment to a sustainable future by collaborating with students, faculty, administrators working across the departments to create a road map to a sustainable campus.

What I find inspiring about their approach is that that they  leverage an engaged and vibrant student community, supported by an equally engaged employees community who think about sustainability holistically. By incorporating all three elements of  Triple Bottom Line i.e environment, economy, and society, they have devised some successful programs like ‘Ecoversity‘, ‘Green Project Fund’ in the past that have celebrated great success in engaging campus community and can boast of key achievements like 176% increase in recycling across all University campuses since 2011.

The present document  revolves around 3 elements :   Campus Transformation, Collaboration and Inspiration. The strategic plan will be achieved through 31 sustainability initiatives, grouped into five streams of work: Carbon Reduction, Water Efficiency, Engagement Activities, training and Skills and Investment and Purchasing. Investing  in these five areas will not only help the campus transform into a sustainable campus but they will also help the City of Adelaide transformation to a Carbon Neutral Adelaide. These strategies align with Carbon Neutral Adelaide initiative and it is expected will help not only advancing sustainability through the broader economy but also embed in the campus life and most importantly help students align their academic pursuits with sustainability so that they become socially and ecologically aware responsible citizens.

 

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How I stopped hoping for my autistic son to become ‘normal’

Yesterday marked the 10th World Autism Awareness Day. The United Nations, which passed a unanimous resolution in 2007 designating April 2nd for autism awareness, had Autonomy and Self-Determination as this year’s theme.

One would expect that in this day and age, people would have a better idea of what autism is (or isn’t). But from activists, academics to parents, there is consensus that the situation is far from ideal and the world at large has failed to recognise the rights of people with autism.

We, the neurotypical (those who don’t fall on the spectrum of autism) in psychiatric parlance, tend to see autistic people as inherently broken and abnormal. As a result, people with autism still fall outside of the basic human rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and therefore, fail to develop autonomy and self-determination.

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Encouraging community action through engagement

Research literature shows that when attempts to  change energy related behaviour and emit less carbon were targeted at individuals as ‘consumers’, the results were pretty patchy.  Problems like social dilemmas, social conventions, socio-technical infrastructures and the helplessness of individuals hindered individuals in engaging in sustainable behaviour. Research in social psychology states that initiatives to promote behaviour change are most effective when they are carried out at the community level and involve direct contact with the people. Diane Warburton reiterates the same idea that sustainable development can only deliver long term dividends in social and environmental aspect when deeply rooted and nurtured at the community level.

The city of Adelaide is on a mission to become the first carbon neutral city in the world.The Council along with the State Government unanimously approved an ambitious plan that from the outset harnesses the power of engaged citizens, local business and community stakeholders. They can work closely to learn, collaborate and influence action for a carbon neutral Adelaide .

Lets inspire Adelaide with some great examples of community engagement from around the world.

Community Green Stations in Hong Kong- A car park turned into a community space for green living

Hong Kong

PHOTO: Hong Kong Waste Reduction Website 

PHOTO :  Sustainia

In Hong Kong, the municipality wanted to create a recycling station that would have a positive impact on the community. The Community Green Stations in Hong Kong were set up to promote green living and collection of recyclables at the community level. The idea was to set up a place to drop off recyclables and a place to increase awareness of waste separation and segregation. The architects wanted the Centre to be a space where public life can be nurtured as well as a sense of belonging to the community. They turned an under-utilised carpark into a gathering place. The station supports recycling efforts at the community level; and hold exhibition and educational programmes to advocate the importance of recycling.  It consists of education centre, workshop, office and ancillary facilities. It was reported that the re­cyc­ling cov­er­age increased from from 56% to 92% of the pop­u­la­tion in Sha Tin District where the Centre is located. The Centre recently won an award for best practice in land use architecture.

Blue Ap Project and Bologna Regulation on Collaboration

As cities gear up to face the challenge of climate change whether its extreme heat, rainfall that cause extreme flooding, the city of Bologna in Italy has been involved in several European projects focused on protecting the environment and urban generation. Under the BLUE AP project, Bo­logna cre­ated a local cli­mate pro­file, risk as­sess­ment, and 10-year ad­apt­a­tion plan based on ex­tens­ive com­munity en­gage­ment in or­der to safe­guard the Italian city from heavy rain, drought, and ex­treme heat.The bot­tom-up nature of the entire project bolstered com­munity en­gage­ment throughout Bo­logna.

Image result for bologna pictures

PHOTO: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bologna

Over 500 ‘actors’ within the city were engaged in the development of the Bologna Metropolitan Strategic Plan (PSM).Citizen participation in the development of the PSM was extensive, driven by the fact that every 10 years 25% of the city’s population changes so there is need to embed the concept of citizenship; and the need to rebuild democratic confidence after the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent domestic political strife.   Under a municipal law (LR 20/2000), citizens & stakeholders sign a ‘cohabitation pact’ with the municipality to set out mutual responsibilities and commitment to solve identified problems. Social innovators, knowledge institutions, entrepreneurs agreed to enter into a co -design process.165 collaboration pacts have been adopted across Italy involving 20,000 people.

Owners and Renters collaborate to reduce energy use

In Australia, rental properties are extremely vulnerable to high rising energy pricing.  Split incentives” are a big barrier to greater energy efficiency in buildings. When building owners pay heating bills, for example, renters have no incentive to turn down their thermostats. But in Tokyo, tenants are now graded publicly by the city government for energy efficiency alongside landlords, spurring more collaboration, according to the report. Tokyo hopes to cut energy use in residential buildings by one-sixth by 2020.

PHOTO: JASON ORTEGO VIA UNSPLASH

As energy prices continue to rise, the gap between those who can afford to improve the energy efficiency of their property and those who cannot is growing. They can learn from Tokyo where the government is encouraging its renters and owners to collaborate on improving energy efficiency and prioritising energy efficiency upgrades.

These and many more examples of the cities around the world exist where the cities are engaging its citizens and make them part of key stakeholders in addressing environmental and sustainability issues.

 

 

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10 things I’ve learned raising my autistic son

April 2 is the eighth World Autism Awareness Day. This day is celebrated to raise awareness about different aspects of autism so that families, societies, and governments can collectively devise policies and strategies for providing a better support system to improve the lives of people with autism.

Whilst awareness about autism, a broad-spectrum disability, has been increasing, there are several misunderstanding, myths, and taboos attached, in terms of what it is and what can be done. It is a fact that people with autism are increasing Worldwide; and so should the awareness so that there can be collective effort for better intervention, leading to reduced stress on the parents, care takers, and governments.


At a playground filled with kids, Adil* excitedly runs to the swing only to find that a girl is taking it. This particular moment is a litmus test for me as I wait for my son’s reaction.

My faint smile turns into a sigh of relief when he says, “Maybe I can wait and play in sand for some time.” He runs and jumps in the sand playing with dump trucks and other toy construction vehicles.

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December 16 – A Black Day for Humanity

This post is dedicated to the tragedy struck in Pakistan . Today is a terrible terrible day for all of Pakistanis, for all of the mothers, for all the humanity. I am a mother and I am distraught to hear the tragedy that has struck in Peshawar, Pakistan. My heart like many others in the world is rending with sorrow and grief. As I stand for my namaz ,tears keep rolling down. I imagine for a second the plight of a mother who has lost her child in this tragedy and feel weak with grief. Emotions can’t keep control on themselves. I let the tears roll down because I don’t want them to stop. I let myself feel this tragedy. I let myself immerse in the numbness of the situation. I let myself grieve for more than 100 kids that have been brutally murdered in a terrorist attack. Terrorists have hit at the heart of my nation. I grieve with you Peshawar. I grieve with you Pakistan.

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Impact of Electricity Cuts on the Way of Life

Breakdown of critical infrastructure systems, such as electricity generation and distributing systems, in modern societies can lead to economic expensive and socially catastrophic consequences. Pakistanis have been suffering from unscheduled and prolonged load shedding consistently for the past 7-8 years. This is an example of breakdown of a critical infrastructure that has changed the dynamics of living in Pakistan.  In summers, when the temperatures hit 48 degrees Celsius, it becomes unbearable to survive the heat without any fans or air conditioners. This situation has prompted me to start a new research using the theoretical framework of “Infrastructure Inversion” to study the impact of infrastructure failure on the societal living and practices in Pakistani urban households which are considered a modern digitally networked society.  Continue reading

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