‘SMART’ CITIES BEGIN AT THE NEIGHBOURHOOD LEVEL
In the smart-city era, cities are teaming up to learn from each other. They are extolling the virtues of creating data dashboards, sharing notes on how best to forge public-private partnerships, and comparing approaches to deploying free, accessible and reliable broadband. Entire conferences are dedicated to smart cities and CTOs are being traded across North America with the same vigour and excitement of the NBA draft season.
But cities are big. And by taking a birds-eye view in Toronto, New York, and other large complex cities, we miss the real lessons on civic participation, innovation, and building capacity that are products of each and every individual neighborhood. So this is a letter of recommendation for hyperlocal smart cities that identify innovations at the neighborhood level.
Take for example Regent Park Television, a twenty-four hour closed circuit community television station programmed and operated by the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre. The Centre has a mission to reach as many people as possible, fills the void of content created for and by the community, and equips young residents aged 15-29 with the television broadcasting skills required for them to share their own stories and potentially launch their careers.
Next, consider the cooperative broadband model of the Red Hook mesh network in Brooklyn, New York, which provides free and reliable access to the Internet for community members. It was built with resilience in mind, created as a sustainable response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the region in 2012.
A third and final example is Silicon Harlem, a for-profit organization in Harlem, New York, that runs coworking spaces to help launch local entrepreneurs, and hosts accelerator programs for Black and Brown youth to prepare for technology certification exams. This past summer they ran a drone accelerator program. It was designed to prepare high school students aged 16 and up to take the certification exam at LaGuardia, and includes an assignment that asks students to write a paragraph on Harlem and its history so as to not forget which constituents they might serve and affect in their future careers.
These are just a few examples of neighborhood level innovation that are tailored to the neighborhood’s needs and constituents, cognizant of unique characteristics and limitations, and that bake participatory practices into the deployment of technology. These are examples that make me think that there is more for Harlem to learn from Regent Park, and Red Hook to learn from the Mission district in San Francisco at a granular level than pursuing a macro-perspective between New York and Toronto. The need for hyperlocal engagement is here and with it the potential for a true smart city — a city full of smart neighborhoods and safe residents.