Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Smart Fun Cities

(This is an English translation of this original post in Spanish)

According to United Nations' data, provided by the World Bank, at the end of 2009 more people lived in cities than in rural areas for the first time, and the trend is for the urban population to keep growing.

It's clear, therefore, that we need to manage cities more and better, we need creativity, innovation, ideas to break the mould of urban management today.

In this regard, in recent months a new concept has been taking root in organizations (public and private) involved in city management.

This is the concept of a smart city. It is a concept that has a lot of definitions depending on what you want to emphasize.

Wikipedia says:
A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.”

In other words, a smart city is one where city management is based on real time data provided by information and communication technologies, ICTs. That information is processed to act in accordance with the main lines of action.

In the case of the 1st International Congress on Smart Cities, which was held in Barcelona at the end of last November, these are:
  • Life and people.
  • Government and funding.
  • Mobility.
  • Energy.
  • Green environment.
  • Urban planning.
In the end, the main goal of a smart city is better management, greater efficiency, sustainability and respect for the green environment, all of this with the help of ICTs.

And, if all that wasn't difficult enough on its own, we need to do it in the context of an economic and social crisis when enthusiasm and confidence in the future are not at their highest. So, perhaps we need to make life more fun, more enjoyable, a happier experience, forgetting the harsh reality, even if only for a few minutes. We need to laugh, to enjoy, to switch off from time to time with simple things, like going shopping, picking up the children from school, going for a walk, etc.

This is where the concept that I have "baptized" Smart Fun Cities, which is nothing more than managing cities with a little "fun", comes in.

Many years ago teachers discovered that it is much easier and more effective to educate through fun. Advertisers also know that humour is an important ally to sell more. Another is sex.

Moreover, ICTs now allow us to interact with people, something unthinkable a few years ago, especially with the advent of smartphones. Interaction is another special ingredient, like fun and humour.

This allows us to encourage public-spirited behaviour, to sell more products or, as I said before, to brighten people's lives.

A good example was The Fun Theory initiative promoted by the Volkswagen group. The aim of this initiative was "to implement fun and simple ideas to change people's behaviour in order to improve it. It doesn't matter if it's for yourself, for the environment or for something completely different, all that matters is that it is changing for the better."

So, they had the brilliant idea of transforming the stairs at an underground station into a piano. This made leaving more fun and, besides that, travellers did more physical exercise walking up the escalator next to the stairs.

Another example, of the same initiative, is a litter bin which, every time you throw something in, makes a noise that sounds like it is dropping into a huge hole. The result was, in only one day, it collected 40kg more litter than conventional bins.

There are more examples of The Fun Theory initiative. Another one is the speed camera lottery. This is a sensor that detects the speed of vehicles and shows them like in lottery game. (A similar, more serious initiative has also been tried in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area).

However, all of this doesn't have to be related to improving public behaviour, it can be business-related as well. Tesco, one of the main food distribution chains worldwide, launched an interesting initiative in South Korea, through Home Plus - their Korean name - which they called "bringing the shop to the people" (and not vice versa, which is the usual way).

To achieve this they filled the subway stations with photos of their shop shelves. Using their smartphones people passing selected the products and paid for them. In this way, the products arrived at their homes without them going to the supermarket and wasting a lot of time.

This initiative established Home Plus as the first online supermarket and second offline in South Korea. It is a good example of how a good idea can result in economic benefits.

This is an original and useful idea in a country - South Korea - with an intensive use of public transport. It is a good way to make the most of people's time.

Another business case is that of McDonald's in Sweden. On a big electronic panel located in a central square with a large flow of people, they also launched an interesting initiative. That was to play a version of the classic game Pong with smartphones, without having to install anything extra on them. Anyone able to finish the game in half a minute was sent a promotional code that was valid at the nearest McDonald's.

This is a fun and original way to promote a brand. T-Mobile did something similar in Terrassa (though the video says it was in Barcelona). But, in their case it was controlled by the use of previously selected extras.

Sometimes we don't need ICTs, just an original, fun idea, such as public benches used to show danger of downsizing shorts... :)

Personally, I think now is the ideal time to launch a similar initiative to these here. Do you want to join me? :)

Links about this topic:
  • The last imagen is taken from here.

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