We can call them “Smart Cities” instead of “Connected” or “Digital Cities”, but they are stuck with an image of digitised cities where each citizen is converted into data and each service is transposed into sensors and mobile applications.
This cliché probably explains in large part the results of the survey presented last October by the OBSOCO (Consumer and Society Observatory) and Chronos, a research and foresight consultancy: out of six models for the evolution of a municipality, 4,000 French people surveyed can imagine themselves in the “nature city” followed closely by the “self-sufficient city” (surrounded by an agricultural green belt able to feed its population) and the “short-distances city”, as is reported in the Gazette des Communes. The Smart City was the last choice. Less than one out of three French people would be willing to share their details to contribute to its smooth running.
Another interesting figure, recalled by the TV channel Arte, in its geopolitical programme “Les Dessous des Cartes”: in 2050, the world population will be about 9.5 billion people, of which 65% will be living in cities (compared with 53% in 2013), cities which will produce 80% of greenhouse gases, for 2% occupancy of the surface of the globe.
It is therefore urgent to propose a new project for cities and, we reiterate, this vision goes far beyond a digital facelift. Here are the explanations given by Jean-François Penciolelli, Head of Public Sector at Gfi Informatique and Vice-President of the Advancity Sustainable City Cluster, Lionel Bry, Smart City Global Practice Manager at Gfi Informatique and Laurent Leenhardt, Head of Software Group at Gfi Informatique.
If you ask a dozen people the question “What is a Smart City?”, you will get a dozen different answers, estimates Lionel Bry. “The reality is inevitably complex. Of course, you can build a Smart City from scratch, like in Korea or in Dubai. This may seem easier (provided that these new cities really become the ‘living labs’ of tomorrow, but there will only be a handful of these cities. The main interest is transforming existing cities. It undoubtedly needs to start with changing the behaviour of elected officials, agents and citizens. The city becomes smarter when its occupants are smarter. This is the case of Medellín in Colombia (3.5 million inhabitants): the most violent city in the world in the 90s, it has become a model of innovation and citizen participation thanks to a strategic vision and systems thinking of urban space”.
Back to France. “To fully understand the issues of Smart Cities, we must be aware of the ‘silent revolution’ that the public sector is experiencing today”, underlines Laurent Leenhardt. “This metamorphosis is threefold: regulatory, territorial and digital. The regulatory constraint has always existed, but it reminds us that making citizens happy is not the only mission of a city ... It juggles with constraints and objectives of all kinds, from the management of building permits to the choice of sustainable development strategies”.
The second aspect is territorial reorganization. “The public sector is evolving under budgetary constraints. Reorganising the regions is only the tip of the iceberg: France is going to go from 36,000 communes to 2,000, which upsets the organisation charts and the organisation of cities”.
Finally, digital transformation is affecting cities in the same way as it is shaking up private companies: “The citizen should be considered a real ‘customer’. They demand a wider offer of services, available 7 days a week and accessible on all media and channels. They want continuous information, real-time alerts, access to more information and more systematic consideration of their expectations. They call for elected representatives who are more accessible and connected with their citizens”.
Transversality is an initial answer: “We need to rethink the organization of the city, and in particular its information systems”, continues Laurent Leenhardt. “Information must circulate and adapt to the mobility of citizens. Each city-dweller is producing more and more data and when the city itself opens its books, in a logic of Open Data: how can we make the best use of this explosion of data? Today, 80% of a community's IS data is management data. Tomorrow, 80% of the data of this same IS will be external data related to the lifestyle of citizens and the consumption patterns of businesses in the territory”.
A concrete example of a Smart City has just been announced: in September 2017, the city of Dijon unveiled its public space management project. “The capital of the Burgundy region awarded the contract to a consortium formed by the Bouygues Group, Citelum, a subsidiary of EDF, and Suez, the water and waste management group”, explains Le Monde newspaper. “Transportation, street lighting, video protection, traffic lights and town centre access terminals: thanks to sensors, cameras and geo-localisable vehicles (police cars, refuse trucks), the operating data of all public services and facilities of the metropolis (256,000 inhabitants) are transmitted, in real time, to a unique control centre. This command centre, which will be operational at the end of 2018, will replace the various check points, such as those of the municipal police, the security station and the e-administration (Allô Mairie). The contract for the implementation and operation of this centralised and connected management tool for public facilities, the first of its kind in France, is worth 105 million euros over twelve years, of which 53 million in investments and the remainder corresponding to operating costs”.
“It is often the same issue”, explains Jean-François Penciolelli: “a group of industrial players needs to work together to provide a coherent service including both traditional services and data from the services offered by new players such as the GAFA. Smart Cities must meet five key objectives: firstly, to optimise the management of increasingly rare resources, whether they be financial, human, energy or production resources ... secondly, to improve citizen satisfaction, to involve them in the life of the city, to attract inhabitants, tourists, businesses and retailers and to provide a high-quality public service and ensure sustainable functioning, guaranteeing employment and security for citizens”.
We should be wary of the puzzle approach that simply combines the services offered from different isolated platforms, whether they are from local or global players: “It is often chaotic and gradually leads to the city losing control”.
Some sectors such as transportation or climate impact reduction attract more investment. “They are often tested on a neighbourhood scale”, points out Lionel Bry. “The challenge will be to scale up successfully. There are many local initiatives, which are simple and effective in all areas, such as the cross-referencing of data making it possible to develop the personalisation and effectiveness of support for RSA recipients (tax credit). Another example: connecting data from a local tax observatory and public transport infrastructure data, with the digitization of urban planning processes to help a city visualise the impact of a real estate construction program in 3D. A whole range of solutions contributes to the creation of a smart city; the difficulty is to coordinate these actions. Cities need a maestro, a coordinated vision and digital platforms facilitating interoperability. In this respect, work on urban data conducted in metropolises such as Paris, Lyon, Montpellier and Nantes, is the beginning of a new territorial governance, and can be considered as first successes, which should be generalised and sustained over time”.
The three experts from Gfi Informatique draw the attention of local authorities to data management. “We have to consider what the major digital players (Waze, Uber, Facebook ...) expect in return from citizens, when they offer them urban services, which are presented as being free of charge. Cities have every interest in taking control of these topics rather than letting global players capture all the citizens' data. These data are assets, they can be monetized. There is an urgent need to establish a policy on who has access to what data, when and why?”, underline the three experts.
Finally, the Smart City must deal with complex temporality: “Ideally, you need to be able to deliver quick results that help public service managers, reassure the impatient citizen and act as standard bearer, while larger projects, exceeding the mayor's 6-year term of office, are implemented. The concept of spatiality is also important: the Smart City is not limited to the city centre and its suburbs.... It goes beyond borders in the framework of territorial alliances, as for example the Sillon Lorrain, which is dear to André Rossinot and a prefiguration of a territorial hub, which today connects the territories of Thionville, Metz, Nancy and Epinal, and could potentially become a European hub (Luxembourg, ...)”.