Civic Engagement

If you ask what a “Smart City” is to one hundred people, you’ll receive one hundred different answers. In all likelihood, the common theme that will unite these definitions is technology. Popular notions of Smart Cities are often tied to innovative new devices and platforms, and for good reason. Technology is an integral part of any Smart City.

But a Smart City is more than just technology.

The Mayor of Panama has declared his pride that the capital of Panama is Latin America's first 'smart city'. The global movement towards smart cities has been described as a phenomenon and South America has been slower than other continents in terms of embracing such a transformation. Cities all ove

Scientists at NASA are proving the intellect of teens isn't limited to just science fairs or small-scale lab experiments with the advance CitySmart, a smart city platform designed to help mayors and city staff manage resources. Through A World Bridge (AWB), an international program led by NASA and Trillium Learning that allows students to contribute to federal technology projects, teens in the U.S. and internationally are co-developing a smart city platform that will help monitor resources like renewable energy, water, electricity and agricultural systems.

In the early days of American government, engagement with citizens was composed of letters, spirited speeches at city hall and the occasional revolution. Today, after waning and resurging, waning and resurging, the interactions between people and their government have largely taken a new form.

How do you engage citizens when most of them don't have time or interest in attending local government meetings?

Anyone who doubts that creativity is abundant in the public sector need only scroll through the lists of semifinalists and "Bright Ideas" recognized by the Harvard Kennedy School's Innovations in American Government awards program. The programs being highlighted for this year signal a growing trend of utilizing existing technology platforms, and particularly social media, to reduce program costs and improve services.

Earlier this month, Illinois enacted a first-of-its-kind law that forces all beauty professionals -- including barbers, hairstylists and nail technicians -- to take domestic violence training. As of Jan. 1, beauty professionals must participate in an hour of instruction on how to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence among their clients.

When it comes to improving cities, not much is certain, but of two things I am sure: The secret s lies in collaboration -- getting numerous independent interests working in coordinated ways on big problems. And one of the secrets of effective collaboration is knowing what each partner is good at so that each can contribute from its strengths.

I've gotten a lot of Twitter feedback on the list of the 100 zip codes with the thickest bubbles posted last week. Before turning to the unbubbliest zip codes in the next post, let me respond to the most common objections using three actual tweets as takeoff points.

“Cities are fantastically dynamic places, and this is strikingly true of their successful parts, which offer a fertile ground for the plans of thousands of people.”

— Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Today’s world is locked in a frenetic search for new ideas, new paradigms, new recipes and models. And success often resides in the most basic of conditions: simplicity.

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