Are millennials the answer to smart cities?

by | May 11, 2016 | Smart cit­ies

Which way is the bus going?

This puzzle, fea­tured on Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, went vir­al because while it was con­fus­ing many people online, when it was fea­tured on a tv show 80% of chil­dren under 10 got the answer imme­di­ately.

It was also used in Peter­bor­ough DNA’s Break­through Think­ing Events. A three part facil­it­ated work­shop atten­ded by a cross sec­tion of busi­ness, pub­lic and third sec­tor com­munit­ies to exper­i­ence tech­niques which help remove the men­tal block­ers in order to think more cre­at­ively and gen­er­ate inter­est­ing ideas as to how to improve the city.

This approach feeds into the wider co-cre­ation mod­el to tack­ling city chal­lenges, which has recently been adop­ted in cit­ies all over the world from Par­is to Toron­to. How­ever, with the Nation­al Geo­graph­ic puzzle demon­strat­ing the impact of cog­nit­ive devel­op­ment, it also raises the prob­lems of the lack of engage­ment with young people about the future of our cit­ies. If cit­ies want to think dif­fer­ently about how to tackle city chal­lenges, we need to be ask­ing people who have a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing. Let’s empower the next gen­er­a­tion of change-makers.

Peter­bor­ough DNA has set about address­ing this chal­lenge and the res­ult is Smart Sup­per. Tak­ing inspir­a­tion from crowd-based micro-fund­ing ini­ti­at­ives such as Detroit Soup Night, the event is formed of loc­al Peter­bor­ough stu­dents (ages 11–18) work­ing in teams in order to pitch their ideas to loc­al decision makers and experts in the chal­lenge area who vote for their favour­ite idea, which is then awar­ded the pro­ceeds of the night.

These events are designed to be a fun and inspir­ing oppor­tun­ity to intro­duce young people to smart cit­ies themes and help pre­serve and nur­ture their cre­ativ­ity. From grasp­ing the chal­lenge areas such as sus­tain­able trans­port to cir­cu­lar eco­nomy, the stu­dents apply them in all sorts of nov­el ways and move on to pro­pos­ing ambi­tious but real­ist­ic ideas such as design­ing com­munity gar­dens from recyc­ling waste build­ing mater­i­als to urb­an min­ing. The oppor­tun­ity for the young people to present their smart city ideas allows loc­al decision makers to exper­i­ence the tal­ent that lies with­in the city. This has even res­ul­ted in bring­ing some of these ideas to life that might not have oth­er­wise been real­ised.

The major chal­lenges of our time are for­cing cit­ies all over to rethink how they plan their strategies for the future. All too often, it is easy to lose sight that the aim of Smart Cit­ies is to find and imple­ment the most effect­ive solu­tions to our pub­lic chal­lenges. At a time when cit­ies are asked to do more with dwind­ling resources, we can’t keep doing the same things and expect to get dif­fer­ent out­comes. When you do open the chal­lenge up and encour­age cit­izens to express their opin­ions, you break down one of the most com­mon bar­ri­ers of smart cit­ies and tap into this under­u­til­ised resource. There is no defin­it­ive mod­el for co-cre­ation in cit­ies, but I strongly believe that it provides the oppor­tun­ity for cit­izens, espe­cially young people, to let their voices be heard and set the agenda. Young people have some­thing to say about the future of our cit­ies, may­be we should start listen­ing.

If you haven’t already searched for the answer to the puzzle at the start of the blog, why not test the the­ory and ask a young per­son. If you know any oth­er cit­ies who are get­ting young people involved in Smart Cit­ies work, or would like to know more about what Peter­bor­ough DNA are doing, then please get in touch.