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A Manifesto for Smart Citizens

We, citizens of all cities, take the fate of the places we live in into our own hands. We care about the buildings and the parks, the shops, the schools, the roads and the trees. But above all, we care about the quality of the life we live in our cities. Quality that arises from the casual interactions, uncalled for encounters, the craze and the booze and the loves we lost and found. We know that our lives are interconnected, and what we do here will impact the outcomes over there. While we can never predict the eventual effect of our actions, we take full responsibility to make this world a better place.

Therefore, we refuse to be consumers, client and informants only, and reclaim agency towards the processes, algorithms and systems that shape our world. We need to know how decisions are made, we need to have the information that is at hand; we need to have direct access to the people in power, and be involved in the crafting of laws and procedures that we grapple with every day.

Fortunately, we hold all the means in our hands. We have appropriated the tools to connect at the touch of a button, organise ourselves, make our voices heard. We know how to measure ourselves and our environment, to visualise and analyse the data, to come to conclusions and take action. We have continuous access to the best of learning in the world, to powerful phones and laptops and software, and to home-grown labs that help us make the things that others won’t. Furthermore we were inspired by such diverse examples as the 1% club, Avaaz, Kickstarter, Couchsurfing, Change by Us, and many, many more.

We are ready. But, as yet, our government is not. It was shaped in the 18th Century, but increasingly struggles with 21st Century problems it cannot solve. It lost touch with its citizens and is less and less equipped to provide the services and security it pledged to offer. While it tries to build ‘Smart Cities’ that reinforce or strengthen the status quo - that was responsible for the problems in the first place - it loses sight of the most valuable resource it can tap into: the Smart Citizen.

Smart Citizens:

  • Take responsibility for the place they live, work and love in;
  • Value access over ownership, contribution over power;
  • Ask forgiveness, not permission;
  • Know where they can get the tools, knowledge and support they need;
  • Value empathy, dialogue and trust;
  • Appropriate technology, rather than accept it as is;
  • Help the people that struggle with smart stuff;
  • Ask questions, then more questions, before they come up with answers;
  • Actively take part in design efforts to come up with better solutions;
  • Work agile, prototype early, test quickly and know when to start over;
  • Will not stop in the face of huge barriers;
  • Unremittingly share their knowledge and their learning, because this is where true value comes from.

All over the world, smart citizens take action. We self-organise, form cooperations, share resources and take back full responsibility for the care of our children and elderly. We pop up restaurants, harvest renewable energy, maintain urban gardens, build temporary structures and nurture compassion and trust. We kick-start the products and services we care about, repair and upcycle, or learn how to manufacture things ourselves. We have even coined new currencies in response to events that recently shook our comfortable world, but were never solved by the powers that be.

Until now, we have mostly worked next to governments, sometimes against them, but hardly ever with them. As a result, many of the initiatives so far have been one-offs, inspiring but not game changing. We have put lots of energy into small-scale interventions that briefly flared and then returned to business as usual. Just imagine what will happen if our energy, passion and knowledge are teamed up by governments that know how to implement and scale up. Governments that take full responsibility for participating in the open dialogue that is needed to radically rethink the systems that were built decades ago. 

To get ourselves ready for the 21st Century, we have to redefine what “government” actually means. We ARE our government. Without us, there is nobody there. As it takes a village to raise a child, it takes people to craft a society. We know it can be done; it was done before. And with the help of new technologies it is easier than ever. So we actively set out to build truly smart cities, with smart citizens at their helms, and together become the change that we want to see.

(Note: 'A Manifesto for Smart Citizens' - An unauthorised companion to Dan Hill’s seminal essay On the smart city; Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead: http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2013/02/on-the-smart-city-a-call-for-smart-citizens-instead.html (accessed 04.10.2013))

This edited version is also published in the publication Smart Citizens by FutureEverything Publications, edited by Drew Hemment and Anthony Townsend.

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