What is an Intelligent City?

How We Live, Work & Play is Changing

The urban fabric of the world is changing as key cities turn their backs on the traditional economy and move towards an intelligent future. An Intelligent City is characterised by its place in the new economy with a commitment to cultural capital, innovative environments, diversity, high social intelligence and digital innovation.

It typically has diversity in social relationships, a high capacity for imagination and innovation central to the creativity of its population and its institutions of knowledge creation; and a rapidly evolving digital interface for communication and knowledge co-creation.

The first dimension is cultural capital – a pillar of the new economy. Events such as the Venice Biennale or the Basel Art Fair, and cultural icons like the various Guggenheim museums put cities on the global map, are economically robust and generate tourism, population increases and civic pride. As author and academic Peter Hill says, they brand a city or a state in relation to its neighbours. ‘Get these things right and you create jobs, and people want to move to your city to fill those jobs and support your housing market.’

A specific example is the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao in Spain. It is hailed as one of the most significant cultural buildings in the world, delivering commercial and economic value without losing its integrity. Approximately one million people visit the Guggenheim Bilbao every year, only 17 per cent of whom are locals. This new economy connection with cultural capital yields more than $300 million to the local Bilbao economy, representing the equivalent of almost 5,000 jobs. That’s not generated by a new manufacturing plant or huge software office park. That’s all the work of an art museum. This is intelligent use of cultural capital, essential to the creation of an intelligent city.

The second dimension – innovative environments – relates not only to space and material innovation, but also to people in the city: the imagination, inventiveness and creativity of the individuals who live and work in the city. This perspective was described by Richard Florida (2002) as the ‘creative city’, gathering the values and desires of the ‘new creative class’ formed by knowledge and talented people, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other creative people. These are the people who determine how the workplace is organized, whether companies will prosper, whether cities thrive or wither.

These influencers and knowledge leaders were described in more detail by Ross Honeywill  in his 2006 book, NEO Power . He wrote of the 4.5 million Australians with high social intelligence who determine the future of cities, governments, public policy, economies and intelligent societies. In this new economy an intelligent city is defined by its socially intelligent consumers’ deep desire for human scale, authenticity, relevance, design and personal engagement.

More recently Honeywill proposed that an intelligent city is the manifestation of the principle of diverse solutions for diverse neighbourhoods. This picks up on the third  principle – diversity. It celebrates authenticity and human scale within blurred physical and metaphysical boundaries. This is not the Canary Wharf of London or Melbourne’s Docklands, both of which suffer the erasure and mass reconstruction of urban areas*. Rather this philosophy embraces the slow and gradual evolution of authentic local cultures linked together by their differentness, not sanitised by their sameness .

Addressing the fourth dimension – social intelligence – Honeywill’s theory asserts that the socially intelligent minority of citizens in any developed or first-world economy accounts for the majority of all discretionary spending in that economy; that socially intelligent consumers deliver Peak Value. His theory was tested in a decade-long analysis of data from one-million respondents across three continents.  That research revealed that it is indeed the socially intelligent citizens of urban settings that set the pace and deliver change. This phenomenon sees the socially intelligent diaspora across the globe linked by a common commitment to social reform and a collective intelligence. “We have seen the rise of emotional intelligence,” he said, “the future is now being determined by social intelligence.”

Collective intelligence was described by James Surowiecki in Wisdom of Crowds, a book that explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant that few might be — better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future. In his book, Surowiecki used the example of the  television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He argued that, every week, Millionaire pitted group intelligence against individual intelligence — and that, every week, group intelligence won. When a contestant asked the audience, a crowd of people with nothing better to do on a weekday afternoon than sit in a TV studio, picked the right answer 91 per cent of the time. Collective intelligence, Surowiecki proposes, is more powerful than the intelligence of an individual.

The collective intelligence of a city’s population is ‘the capacity of human communities to co-operate intellectually in creation, innovation and invention’; ‘the collective learning and creative process realized through exchanges of knowledge and intellectual creativity’; ‘the capability for a group to organize itself in order to decide upon its own future and control the means to attain it in complex contexts’ (Atlee 2004). This dimension is based on the belief that is the social intelligence of the city that enables cooperation in knowledge and innovation.

The fifth dimension is a shared digital landscape embedded into the physical environment of the city and available to the city’s population: communication infrastructure, digital spaces, digital interfaces in public places, and digital problem-solving tools available in the urban setting. In the near future digital interfaces in public spaces – e.g. touch screens –  will attract consumers and then enable them to book theatre tickets, order groceries for immediate delivery, buy books etc – all at the touch of a screen. In the street or in a railway station or at an airport.

Thus the concept of an ‘intelligent city’ integrates all the five dimensions of cultural capital, of imagination and innovation, of physical and cultural diversity, of social evolution, and of digital/virtual interfaces. Consequently, the term ‘intelligent city’ describes a territory with:

(1)  a higher than average social evolution – high proportion of consumers with high social intelligence

(2)  well developed knowledge-intensive activities and diverse clusters of such activities

(3)  embedded routines of social co-operation allowing knowledge and know-how to be acquired, shared and adapted

(4)  a developed communication infrastructure, digital interfaces, and knowledge / innovation management tools

(5)  a proven ability to innovate, manage and resolve disruptions that appear for the first time. (This capacity to innovate and simultaneously manage uncertainty is a critical factor in the building blocks of an intelligent city).

Working In An Intelligent City

The nature of work is changing, and the relationship between employer and employee is changing from hierarchy to equality. Socially intelligent city  workers view work not as a separate and distinct activity that happens between the hours of nine and five but, rather, as an extension of their lives. For them, work has little to do with time-keeping, and the separation between work and leisure is increasingly blurred.

Socially intelligent city workers are not workaholics — they are lifeaholics. They define themselves not by their job but by their interests, talents, and abilities. Who happens to pay for those talents is less important than the talents themselves. And there will be many things they do that they will not get paid for. For example, an urban worker with high social intelligence may be a well-paid stock market analyst in a large broking house, as well as being an author or composer or an expert gardener. He or she may be a business analyst in an energy company by day, while also splitting ‘spare’ time between a voluntary position on the executive of a national homeless youth initiative and earning money writing occasional articles for a business magazine.

The intelligent city workplace has the look and feel of an environment designed, not for the organization, but for the people who work there. It is designed around the people who use it, and the interface between customer and employee is a digital tissue rather than a wall. This organic, user-based connectivity celebrates the knowledge–work nature of most intelligent city enterprises.

How workers in an intelligent city do their work depends on how the workplace itself has been structured. It isn’t enough that a workplace has an iconic staff ‘canteen’ designed by a renowned international architect if the rest of the workplace is designed in the traditional mode. The building and its facilities must all be designed to assist people to work in high-performance teams operating in a 24/7 world, free to reconfigure their facilities to fit their work objectives. Factor-in a place to live, and a range of cultural activities, and the workplace is being redefined as one suited to the socially intelligent city worker.

This new breed attracted to the workplace in an intelligent city doesn’t make the distinction between work and leisure activities because their brains are always engaged. The experience is important; they seek experience as well as achievement, but don’t want achievement at the expense of experience.

The intelligent city workplace is a ‘thinking coliseum’ where people come to test their own ideas, principles, and theories in a robust and challenging environment filled with like-minded colleagues. In this model there is a menu of learning activities including lectures, tutorials, and assignments. There are also clear performance-objectives that people work to achieve, either together or separately. If a worker is promoted in a year’s time it’s not because she put in the hours; it’s because of what she achieved in thought leadership or innovation.

Workers in an intelligent city switch slow time and fast time to their advantage to make the most of their own productivity. This rewards employers with, rather than robs them of, employee productivity. Intelligent employers provide facilities that support socially intelligent city workers’ always-on mode of operating rather than destroy it. Employee shopping or banking online during ‘business hours’ is not a corporate price to pay; it is a positive contribution to productivity.

This shift in power and focus is a celebration of individual determinism, rather than corporate or employer determinism, because in an intelligent city, the constructive outcomes are shared.

* David Neustein from University of Sydney wrote an excellent piece on the sins of British architect Lord Richard Rogers in Architectural Review Australia

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