What type of society does municipal digitalisation create?
Cities across the globe are experimenting with hi-tech innovations that yield more advanced and efficient metropolises, from electric autonomous shuttle services and sensor-operated street lights to increased data sharing across city agencies to optimise municipal services. Virtually every function a city provides is becoming automated, connectable, and communicable. It’s a bold and wondrous future – promising urban settings that are exponentially more efficient and better integrated into our lives.
But such ‘smart cities’ can bring some not so welcome side effects, leading to colder, more isolated, alienating, and often intrusive urban landscapes. Yes, urban hubs are running smoother than ever and will only get more efficient in the future, but what type of society has municipal digitalisation created?
We need to tap into these advanced technologies to make our urban centers not just more efficient, but nicer places to live —where municipalities help make residents feel cared for and seen (in the good sense, not the creepy one), where the city is not just a place of residence but a home, where citizens can join together and create neighbourhoods with all what that should include (from block parties to welcoming committees to neighbourly support systems) but which too often fall short of our ideals. In short, let’s make our cities not just smarter, but kinder.
The good news is that there are already initiatives being spearheaded by municipalities and tech companies alike to bring benevolence, community, and decency back into our core metropolitan values. These solutions are harnessing the power of technology to advance municipal services as well as citizen-to-citizen relationships, raising the quality of life and nurturing kindness in their cities.
Ecological initiatives are one way to create smarter, more thoughtful urban environments amidst all the smog. Municipal bike rental systems and urban bike paths have won over commuters in cities worldwide, with mobile apps providing support with bike station locaters and payment portals. Apps like giveO2 are helping empower urban dwellers and make daily choices such as driving vs. walking by tracking users’ daily carbon footprints, aiding them in limiting extraneous pollution.
Helping the disabled in hectic and often cumbersome urban environments is also a task embraced by current tech solutions. AngelSense, for example, is an app-based platform for GPS tracking and voice monitoring designed for individuals with special needs. Their technology helps track and locate children or adults who may have strayed from homes, schools, or other facilities, helping prevent tragic outcomes. Other altruistic solutions help wheelchair users find accessible subway stations, restrooms, cafes, clubs, parking spots, and much more, and of course telemedicine is finally on the cusp of changing the way people access healthcare in cities, particularly for the elderly and disabled who may have no one to assist them.
One of the most important elements in fostering good will and humanity in cities is creating interpersonal connections in urban settings where alienation often reigns—turning cities of strangers into communities where citizens actually communicate. Imagine city blocks full of towering apartment buildings where residents routinely host street fairs and know each other well enough to wave hello.
Building tight-knit communities within cities can be facilitated by apps like Nextdoor, which provides private, neighbourhood-centric social networks so people can stay informed of social and current events in the area, whether it’s an alert about a nearby robbery or an upcoming block BBQ.
FourSquare, renowned for helping people find the best places to eat, drink, shop, or visit, is another app that can help build community by letting friends and strangers connect over similar tastes in food and entertainment.
Other projects allow citizens to directly invest in their home cities, such as Neighborly, which lets users invest in municipal bonds to help finance civic projects like schools, parks, bridges, and other city infrastructural projects. Technological solutions like these can build bridges between people, bringing them together to help a community flourish.
We at Colu are helping build urban communities from the wallet up by creating local currencies which can only be used in a certain neighbourhood or city, encouraging people to shop local, eat local, buy local, and live local. This strengthens the local economy, supports small and medium-sized businesses, creates jobs by putting money spent back into the community, and cuts down on pollution by sourcing local products.
Local currencies can also reward good deeds monetarily such as recycling or even helping an elderly person with their groceries. With a strong and inclusive local economy, people feel more connected to one another, fostering kindness, real community, and actual relationships – with money as the catalyst.
In a world seemingly overwhelmed by a never-ending innovation revolution, urban centers are at risk of spiraling into Blade Runner types of dystopia, losing touch with the very element that made them great in the first place – their humanity. Technology can divide people, creating competition, greed and streets where everyone’s necks are cocked towards their social media friends but away from the real people right next to them. Let’s continue to use our unprecedented pace of advancement to bring kindness and caring into urban society, not aloofness and alienation.
Amos Meiri is a leader in the blockchain technology and local currency spaces and the CEO of Colu. After seeing success with his previous blockchain venture, ColoredCoins, Amos co-founded a startup entitled, Colu – a blockchain-powered platform, which is introducing and facilitating digital, local currencies to cities across the globe.
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