30 Oct 2015

”OrganiCity is the smart city’s one stop shop”


AarhusAarhus, digital transition, experiment

Photo: INNOVATION LAB / Aropia

The OrganiCity Coordinator, Martin Brynskov from Aarhus University, answers three important questions about OrganiCity – and about why it makes much more sense looking for a good experiment than for the perfect solution.

Why does the World need a thing like OrganiCity?
OrganiCity is basically about doing smart cities in the right way; about creating a platform that works in the new reality brought to us by the digital transition.

This transition is very, very comprehensive: Almost all aspects of our lives are being digitalised, and the transition doesn’t just involve individual cities our countries but the entire globe. This kind of transition is hugely complex, because it affects so many different things: technologies, existing practices, legislation, organisations, people… and not least a lot of questions related to surveillance and business models.

If you want to have a voice in the digital transition and take part in deciding how society should look in the future, it’s clearly necessary to have some place to go and do something, or, at the very least, to say something. In other words, it’s necessary to have some sort of “one stop shop” that you can go to, if you want to do experiments across the city’s sectors and divides – and, mind you, experiments, which are sound in terms of legislation, rights and so on. This kind of one stop shop doesn’t exist, but that’s what we’re creating with OrganiCity – in London, Aarhus and Santander. It’s basically a prototype of the digital society’s helpdesk.

And so why does it make sense to work in London, Aarhus and Santander?
Well, first of all because they represent three very different types of cities, culturally, organisationally, technically and size-wise. In other words, if we succeed in finding a way of experimenting, which works in all three cities, we will be able to make it work in many, many places.

All in all, OrganiCity offers the framework to make experiments in the cities, and it is one of the world’s most ambitious attempts to do so. We invite grassroots, governments, big companies, organisations, start-ups and NGO’s to take part in systematic experimentation that will help us all outline the city of the future.

Why is it so important to experiment – why can’t we make solutions instead?
It’s because it has turned out to be extremely difficult to figure out, what kind of solutions are well-suited for cities. Previously, creating the smart city was a solution-focused project. It was all about finding the solution. But it didn’t work. This was largely due to the fact that cities were – and are still – sector based, meaning that cities work and solve problems within a specific, isolated sector, like transportation or health.

However, the reality is that you can’t find the best solutions to a city’s problem without working across sectors. This has to do with the thousands of small and big systems that we have which we need to be able to communicate with each other – both within cities and globally. Where we had become accustomed to thinking that smart cities could be built through some sort of meta system, which could contain all others systems, we now understand the need for a link between the systems and working across systems. We can achieve this, if we support people who have the courage to experiment with some of the many challenges posed by working with super-complex systems in super-complex cities.

And what might a specific experiment then look like?
Well, it might concern measuring air pollution in a building block or neighbourhood and comparing measurements to the official data – or to enable school pupils, associations, municipalities or citizens to actually use the resources we have in our cities such as data, sensors and people.

Is OrganiCity a criticism of the ’traditional’ approach to smart cities?
Yes. In many ways, smart cities haven’t delivered so far. This is because the smart city has been considered a technological challenge that just needed to be fixed. In reality, the smart city is much more of a cultural, financial, legal and organisational challenge.

Finally, it’s becoming clear that administering a city’s shared resources can’t be primarily about technology. We need technical solutions, which enable us to work together across sectors – but the technicians can’t do this job on their own. We need to have a number of joint processes, where we experiment and proceed by trial and error in our search for a sustainable way of organising a city.

Photo: INNOVATION LAB / Aropia


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