A smart city develops from a unique social fabric.
One of the most prominent themes I have noticed as we travel through European smart cities is the importance and the influence of the people within. In the presentation with Smart City Amsterdam, they expressed that “smart people make smart cities.” These people are not simply “smart” because they know how to use the apps on their smartphones, but also because they are open and connected to their communities. The communities here seem tighter-knit than those in the United States. They are also far more diverse, and this may be due to the fact that cities attract people of various backgrounds. Diversity improves innovation and garners richer ideas and solutions. In the United States, there is a lack of this social cohesion. US citizens experience a lower frequency of personal interactions as they travel from garage to office to garage. Whereas people in smart cities seem to be far more comfortable moving about in their communities. I believe this is an essential tool to create a smart city. I would love for everyone to accept each other and live in an integrated manner. As a Resident Advisor, that is my main focus for incoming first-year students: help them transition to college life and create a comfortable home in the residence hall. In the European smart cities we have traveled, I have not felt uncomfortable once. Even at a time when I, as a white woman, was the minority. And why is this? The society here understands the significance and power of people. The social network is stronger than anything I have experienced. People who love where they live are more likely to take action to improve their communities and lifestyles. To develop a smart city, one must first begin with the people, then the infrastructure will follow.
The first step to forming a smart city is connect the people. Plan events and festivals that provide platforms for interactions. While in The Hague, I experienced a high number of these celebrations within a short period of time. I went to the Thailand Grand Festival, organized by The Royal Thai Embassy, and watched a Thai band play while eating Pad Thai. On the same day, I passed The Hague Cultural Parade and Festival, where I browsed through booths of African jewelry and clothing and partook in a drum circle. These festivals expose the cultures present in The Hague to others in the community. People are given the unique opportunity to gain insight into their neighbors’ cultures. This develops empathy. I also visited a food and drink festival with live music outside Escher in het Paleis. Vendors from all different kinds of restaurants occupied booths, where one could purchase food and drink with tokens bought from a stand. From oysters to Vietnamese street food to the best hot dog I have ever eaten. I saw groups of friends having drinks in front of the stage, and families sitting at picnic tables while the children ran about. Often at food events in the US, a line of food trucks or stalls are set up on a street, but there is nowhere to sit and mingle. Here, with outdoor seating at each vendor, people have the opportunity to enjoy their communities and connect with the people around them.
Events like these can be immensely effective. Diverse populations are welcomed to share cultures and mix amongst themselves. In the United States, this ought to be our primary step toward becoming smarter. Improving the social network and increasing the number of personal interactions of an individual will create a community that wants to progress towards a smarter future.