Cities are Keeping Their Ears to the Ground

Published on October 18, 2017

Cities and Residents: Partnering for Progress

If we are to improve quality of life we can’t ignore cities, where seven out of every 10 people will be living by 2050. From Athens to Santa Monica to Palava, India, today’s roundtable studied the different tools that cities are using to establish closer relationships with citizens.

Using Technology to Connect

Technology offers one powerful new way for citizens to communicate and governments to gather data. Renaud Prouveur created the mobile app TellMyCity, whose users around the world can report a problem, suggest an idea or congratulate local governments. He said that more than an app, “It’s a new way to govern” by intelligently collecting data to improve public services.

Santa Monica’s Chief Civic Wellbeing Officer, Julie Rusk, talked about an index her city is using to measure and improve community well-being. She said it emerged out of a series of local tragedies. “We don’t want to just solve one more problem, we want to take a step back and make sure we’re really understanding what’s happening in our community. So this idea of putting together different types of data to get a more refined understanding of people is what our work is really about.”

We don’t want to just solve one more problem, we want to take a step back and make sure we’re really understanding what’s happening in our community. 
Julie Rusk, Chief Civic Wellbeing Officer, City of Santa Monica

Across the ocean in Athens, Vice Mayor Amalia Zepou noted that after the downturn in Greece, people were conducting their own public initiatives, such as picking up garbage or taking in the homeless. “There was something major that the municipality was missing,” she said. “To connect with that newly arising initiative and activity of public-spirited citizens.” To tap into that energy, she created synAthina, a collaborative online platform that engages community members in problem-solving.

To connect with that newly arising initiative and activity of public-spirited citizens. 
Amalia Zepou, Vice Mayor for Civil Society and Innovation, Municipality of Athens

Keeping People Happy by Getting Things Done

Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities. One of the newest ones is Palava, a city in India recently built by real estate developers, the Lodha Group. Abhishek Lodha said that India expects 500 million more people to move to cities in the next 20 years, and the government simply can’t provide for them. “The idea is to build a self-sufficient ecosystem which, because it’s based on private capital, can be much more easily replicated.” When asked about a common problem such as traffic, he explained that Palava was conceived from the bottom up as an easily walkable city. “As a private developer, keeping our citizens happy is in our economic interest.”

In many of these examples, collaboration with citizens is key. But how to gain their trust? Hazel Blears, a politician for more than 30 years, asked the audience how many trust their politicians. Only one person raised a hand. “You can have all the policies you like and the grand ideas,” she said. “But unless you have the resources to make something happen then you will never re-establish that trust.” She spoke about the power of public procurement to make a difference, “When you show that: you said, we listened, and we did…that creates the trust and the relationship.”

You can have all the policies you like and the grand ideas. But unless you have the resources to make something happen then you will never re-establish that trust. 
Hazel Blears, Chair, Social Investment Business

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