Memo for Los Angeles…and other cities

I recently went on a trip to several Asian cities (Songdo, Seoul, Singapore, Hyderabad) as part of a class at the University of Southern California taught with professor François Bar. It was quite an experience: students took part in the trip thanks to Cisco TelePresence centers. On each step of the journey, I brought in local figures that were then interviewed by the students from Los Angeles.

Instead of asking them for a summary with no guiding principle, we asked that they give a memo laying out which lessons might be learnt from these Asian cities to Peter Marx, the Chief Innovation and Technology Officer in Los Angeles. You can find some of their contributions on the class blog. Their final proposal will be posted there.

I have done the same with this 10-point list (no particular order) of ideas I gleaned from my three-week trip. I hope that it will be useful for other cities.

Dear Peter Marx,

I know that, for many, Los Angeles is a city of reference. This should not keep it from taking inspiration from foreign experiences and achievements. Here is what I gleaned during my recent trips (each point is followed by the name of the cities that inspired it). We will discuss all of this in more detail when you meet the students.

  1. Older cities that we are trying to make smarter shouldn’t try to integrate all of the different existing computer systems. It is an unnecessary headache. Sharing significant metadata is enough. Seoul.
  2. Dedicated sensors will stay expensive for a few more years. Since data collection is essential, you might as well use your citizens’ smartphones. Seoul drew the routes for its night buses by using a heat map of areas where there were the most cellphone calls at night.
  3. Citizen hackathons – gatherings of hackers to fix a problem – can help improve the city. They push local authorities and businesses to open access to their data and they are the beginning of citizen participation. Singapore and Hyderabad.
  4. Mapping the city in a sophisticated and interactive way makes information understandable, and the visualization of this data facilitates conversations with citizens. Seoul, Songdo, Singapore, Hyderabad.
  5. The time for urban agriculture and green constructions has come. It can be ushered in through pilot projects funded jointly by the public and private sectors. This would be a good way to increase the value of the city’s many vacant lots, mostly in South L.A. Hyderabad and Singapore.
  6. You can change the dynamics and energy consumption of cities and neighborhoods through integrated designs that help citizens get to work and other places on foot or by bike. This works even better when coupled with public transportation. Songdo.
  7. New cities or even neighborhoods aren’t attractive, but galloping urbanization means we can’t avoid them. It is more important to work on the process than on the final result, by encouraging the participation of future users, citizens and companies. Simulation (world-building?) can help. Songdo is a counter-example.
  8. Smart cities are a huge market. Each company is tackling it and each has its own model. Any city capable of developing a services platform that is easy to deploy is in the starting blocks for this competition. This is a considerable opportunity for Los Angeles. Seoul, Singapore.
  9. Citizen participation should start from the get-go and should be thought of as an open process. That is a field where Los Angeles could inspire others.
  10. There is one final point that I have not had enough time to do research on but that seems crucial in these times of global warming and heightened droughts: water management. This is a strategic question for Singapore, which seems to be cleverly managing rainwater collection as well as the consumption and treatment of different water sources.

Dear Peter Marx, these are just a few of the important points I gleaned during my trip. I am at your disposal for any additional explanations.


Crédit photo : ビッグアップジャパン /Flickr/CC

J’enquête, je suis et j’analyse les technologies de l’information et de la communication depuis la préhistoire (1994). Piqué par la curiosité et l’envie de comprendre ce que je sentais important,...