What do you get when you join 60+ students, young professionals, entrepreneurs, specialists and generalists to talk about the future of our cities?
In my case, three key realizations:
1. I am not alone
I’ve often questioned by ability to own the moniker of “millennial”. For years I’ve openly questioned the near instant adoption of new technologies and social media channels and the tendency of many of my counterparts to compulsively publish various facets of their personal lives online.
So when I was selected to participate in the Future Cities forum, all about Smart Cities, I wondered if I would be the lone luddite in a room filled with forward-thinking tech-savvy youth. Perhaps it would be revealed that my reticence to immediately embrace new applications of tech is really thinly veiled paranoia of things I do not understand.
Wrong on both counts. I guess even millennials harbor misconceptions of their Gen Y brethren. I’d say most people gathered were also critical users of technology and data, regardless of their age cohort. At times, it felt like a safe space, a support group in which to vent fears, concerns and opposition about the path we’re on and to excitedly chatter about alternatives.
2. It is not too late
Ok. So this item is a bit of a misnomer. New sensors, data collection, communication and analysis technologies exist and are already being used in some places. That ship has sailed. We may be behind on establishing the legislative framework and governance structures needed to channel them into the kinds of uses we can get behind, but now is the time.
The Government of Canada has launched a Smart Cities Challenge. Cities can win 50 million dollars for their innovative ideas using data and connected technology to, as they put it, “strengthen our communities and create opportunities to continue growing Canada’s middle class.”
This is a pivotal moment in human history. Questions of privacy, diversity, inclusion, automation, and what it means to live a good life are all on the table.
3. It will take all of us
My final key take away is that we need to keep breaking down the silos between disciplines and organizations involved in this shift.
You can read what the City of Ottawa has heard from consultations thus far an proposes as its Smart Cities strategy and share your own ideas. You don’t require any specialized knowledge. If you want a say in shaping the future of Ottawa, take this opportunity (read more here). Similar initiatives are underway in other Canadian cities as well.
You can also educate yourself on what’s happening around the world (I’m a fan of City Lab’s newsletter), raise awareness among those in your circles, share your ideas with elected representatives, protest and take part. Our friendships, coalitions and diverse voices are needed, as is listening -really truly listening.
An official report on what was gleaned from the Future Cities Forum has just been published by organizers Hub Ottawa and Art Engine. In it, you’ll find a list of the many organizations and funders who made this event possible (thank you, thank you!). Shout outs are also due to Deloitte Greenhouse for their event facilitation and to Idea Couture for their super cool game IMPACT: A foresight game.
I’d be remiss not to acknowledge my fellow participants. Such a thrill to hash things out with bright minds and big hearts like theirs.