As an unprecedented proportion of world populations find themselves living in cities, it is beyond question that initiatives such as the global TheSmarterCity.com are invaluable. By observing and sharing how other urban centers have faced the challenges of city planning, participants can design more and more efficient social systems.
The website for Smarter Cities is very effective in illustrating the common facets of social systems by choosing a user friendly and easily understandable model of an urban center. The manner in which the major players in a discrete and sustainable social system are clearly depicted in one easy to perceive city map allows visitors to piece together the separate parts that create a holistic social system. One can clearly picture how physical systems (Traffic and Energy and Utilities), and technical systems (Communications and Energy and Economic Development) interact to provide an ecosystem for the human animal. While Smarter Cities has not overly complicated the social system it presents by limiting the number of components and processes it includes, it does effectively capture the complicated and interconnected nature in which inputs and outputs work together in their various functions.
Initially, though I found the overview provided in each wheel a little vague and abstract, I began to see how things could disparate components could “gel” together when I explored the Social Services wheel and it summed up very neatly how social services case workers could benefit tremendously from a coordinated and integrated electronic system that delivered comprehensive profiles of individual clients. It became abundantly clear to me how this sort of holistic access to information, accompanied by the elimination of paper trails and service gaps, could benefit contemporary societies immensely.
So while things were a little unclear to me on a macro level, as soon as the wheels got into specifics regarding actual programs that can be implemented, it became very clear to me how they worked on the micro and individual level. By engaging urban participants in coordinated collectives and cooperative activities, Smarter Cities shows how the small scale (micro-sociological in nature) can inform the grander macro-sociological apparatus of the city-state and their functions. The example of Alameda County under the Social Services wheel was particularly eye-opening in how different institutions pooled resources (under an IBM platform of tools and aids) from welfare systems, adult and aged systems, child care systems, etc. to bring together five systems that would allow case workers to tailor services to particular clients. The new “super” system even allowed caseworkers to draw connections between different clients by using common addresses and telephone records to detect linkages that facilitated more efficient aid deliveries. Wow.
In the Education Wheel, I quickly realized the importance of “culture” in urban planning. I was also met with aspects of “social systems,” class structure and social stratifications in the education children obtained. Teachers expressed how they tailored their lessons to be accessible via mobile phones, laptops, mp3 players, notebooks, and tablet devices, this was a clear reflection of how Communications and Energy and Utilities might can change the culture of learning and accessibility to learning materials. Separate processes and multiple factors that were turned by the one wheel not on the Smarter Cities map, the human wheel (a wheel which permeates all their wheels), came together. We zoomed in from above, as if landing in a plane, as if transported by some Communications gizmo that zapped people about, and boarded a school bus. From the macro of a world-encompassing eye, we found ourselves on a bus, being deposited neatly in time for class. Then we witnessed the children in micro, and how city youth may experience frequent migration, urban congestion and crime, and lack...
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