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Wake Up to a ‘Conscious City’

August 7, 2017

Astrid Ambroziak

The term “smart city” is everywhere. We can’t talk about parking or transportation without considering this as part of our vernacular. However, what does “smart” mean in this equation? Is it based on the old idea that corresponds with IQ, or does it touch upon the more functional “emotional intelligence”?


Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) is a term created in 1990 by two psychology professors – John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey. The term became popular thanks to Dan Goleman and his 1996 book of the same name.


Psychology Today magazine explains EQ as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.


“It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem-solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.”


Cities are more and more complex. It is becoming harder to identify what a city is, never mind what a smart city is, because IQ – albeit number measurable – is hard to measure in its practicality.


In the next 20 years, about 5 billion people are projected to be living in cities, and their density is on the increase. The smart city’s foundation overall is sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT). Yet, both of these become useless without the people. Because what is the foremost purpose of smart cities? Making life easier and more fulfilling for people.


Thus, let’s consider the smart city concept from a perspective of a “conscious city.” The term was coined by architect Itai Palti and neuroscientist Moshe Bar in 2015, when they published, in The Guardian newspaper, their “Manifesto for conscious cities: should streets be sensitive to our mental needs?”


That raised eye brows, leading to the movement demonstrating that technology goes only so far if not managed and applied from the human perspective. That is, from the emotional intelligence perspective.


“In co-authoring the ‘manifesto,’” Palti said, “I intended to highlight that, despite the complex problems many cities are facing, there is a greater opportunity than ever to make a positive impact in people’s lives through design.


“The smart city revolution brought with it many gains, but is also an augmentation of an arrangement that brought ills to our cities today: performance above experience. ‘Conscious cities’ gives a name and definition to a new field that differentiates itself by proposing to replace our focus on efficiency with a focus on well-being.


“We can now direct well-developed expertise beyond the streamlining of services, and into the creation of better built surroundings,” Palti said.


Subsequently, the conscious city movement takes the smart city to another level – the human level.


In parking, day after day another city employs various payment companies to make parking easier and more convenient. Parking apps using the latest technology are becoming ubiquitous. And some companies are considering not only the convenience of paying for parking with their apps, but also the emotional factor involved.


Isn’t it “easier” to pay for parking with an app called Parking Kitty or Buffalo Roam than an app called ParkingPay? The folks at Passport and the cities of Portland, OR, and Buffalo have considered the EQ component and the people. After all, securing parking and paying for parking can be a very emotional experience. Shortage of parking or time limits on parking can hijack one’s “amygdala” easily.


Santiago Martin Caravaca, a Data and Regulatory Strategist and Founder of SmartCityBrand (http://smartcitybrand.com), wrote in “Do You Live in an Emotionally Intelligent City?” “[Such] cities are able to perceive citizens’ emotions, comprehend the information of those emotions (through analytics), and manage them in real time.”


Yes, emotions are data also. Conscious cities and emotionally intelligent cities understand that because these cities are built for the citizens, their input into building them is crucial. What works in one city might not work in another.


Leaders of city governments and of parking and transportations companies must listen to their people. Listening is the best skill of any leader, and with the focus on technology, listening to the people often goes amiss. We can’t be focused just on efficiency without prioritizing effectiveness.


Uber and LAX are perfect examples of listening and emotional intelligence being amiss. Yes, Uber can pick up a passenger at LAX, yet because of the airport’s poor design, a passenger often must wait for her ride 20 or 30 minutes, because drop-off cars can’t pick up a new client, having to line up in the auxiliary lot to be dispatched.


If officials with Uber and LAX would just listen, the pickup point could be outside the airport at an off-site parking company, with a shuttle picking up the passengers. The airport fee would go to the parking companies, which are losing business because of Uber and Lyft. The wait for a ride would be eliminated, as well as the congestion. Yet no one is listening, and no one is engaging in a discussion.


Self-driving cars, part of a smart city, are on everyone’s radar. Yet are we force-feeding self-driving cars to the people? 


As I am writing this, Tesla is going into production of Model 3 cars, planning to meet its goal for launch in December with production of 20,000 cars. Though Tesla hasn’t disclosed the exact figures, about 400,000 to 500,000 Model 3 cars reportedly have been reserved with a $1,000 deposit per each.


And just last month, Volvo announced that, starting 2019, all new models will be equipped with an electric motor. They will be hybrids or pure electrics, and its conventional gasoline or diesel cars will be phased out.


Fully electric car sales grew 102% in June 2017 versus June 2016, so perhaps Volvo and Tesla are listening?


Perhaps it is time for us to all pause and put people first and technology that serves them second. In parking, transit, urban planning, it is time for us to look within, engage and listen, thus creating conscious, emotionally intelligent cities and not just cold mechanical smart cities.



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