Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)
Joe Dignan (European Head, IDC Government Insights)
Louisa Barker (Research Manager, IDC Government Insights)

The world is urban. People move to cities because of economic opportunities and social and demographic pressures. City leaders that want to make their cities people centric must deliver high-performing infrastructure and services aligned with citizens’ needs and values.

Prosperity and Happiness in an Urban World

People who live in cities tend to earn higher incomes, be more racially diverse, be in their prime working age and have a higher level of education. However, research also finds that city living can be stressful and can drive a variety of negative health outcomes. City leaders that want to make their cities successful and more attractive to citizens and businesses must bring together economic growth with citizens’ happiness and well-being.

Many European cities have forward-looking visions and strategies that are inspired by people-centric principles. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has worked with Carlos Moreno, associate professor at the University of Paris, to drive the vision of a 15-minute city. Amsterdam’s urban development plan — Structural Vision 2040 — aims to promote “a mixed and undivided city, where living is accessible and affordable, regardless of income, family composition, age or background.” And Milan’s Urban Development Plan 2030 sets key objectives, such as being a “city of opportunity that is attractive and inclusive” and “a green, liveable, resilient city” that is centred on the needs and expectations of citizens and businesses. To translate these high-level principles into actions that generate valuable outcomes for citizens, cities must deliver high-performing infrastructure and services aligned with the needs and values of citizens:

  • Cities that focus only on adopting global best practices to maximise infrastructure and service performance without understanding citizens’ needs will waste time and resources trying to adapt solutions that are not contextually relevant.
  • Cities that focus on catering to the current needs and wants of residents and local businesses could miss the opportunity to implement solutions that could innovate city infrastructure and services performance. Research and education on the “art of the possible” — and the new or improved outcomes these could drive — are key.

Data and Technology for People-Centric Cities

Cities in Europe and beyond have been investing in smart city initiatives for almost 10 years, but the results have been underwhelming. There has often been a plethora of fragmented pilot projects that have not scaled from a neighbourhood, say, to the entire city. These pilots excluded segments of the resident population from the intended benefits. The main reason for the shortcomings is that cities started with technology, not outcomes.

As the pace of technological innovation continues with edge computing, 5G, 6G, artificial intelligence, connected and autonomous driving, digital twins and mobility as a service, city leaders will only be able to realise the full potential of these technologies if they change tack and focus on people centricity, starting with the desired outcome and not the technological solution. A people-centric approach to technological innovation in cities must be applied both in the design and management of:

  • Data and technologies that city administrations use to manage the interaction and engagement with their constituents
  • Data and technologies that impact citizens through the outcomes they enable in various service domains, from economic development to public safety

Cascais: Not a Smart City, but an Intelligent City

IDC recently spoke with officials from a city that has fully embraced these principles. In the past five years, Cascais has become a hotbed for prototyping — and scaling — of innovative smart city solutions. These include MobiCascais (a multimodal mobility app), CityPoints (a rewards programme that encourages good citizenship through a gaming app) and, more recently, an operational control centre that connects data from anywhere in the territory — and played a crucial role in the COVID-19 response.

But it is not the technology that makes Cascais a smart city; the municipality does not even have a formal smart city plan. The intelligence lies in its ability to use technological innovation to make Cascais a place where people want to live because of its quality of life, convenience and efficiency of service, as well as trusted engagement between residents and the administration. In Cascais, everything starts with a people-centric approach. From the mayor, to every single employee, the municipal administration culture is to make the municipality the best partner for people’s happiness.

For more information, see our recent research about people-centric innovation in cities and the Cascais case study (subscription required). You can also join the IDC Government Executive Summit to hear directly from visionary leaders such as Professor Carlos Moreno, Scientific Director of the Chair eTi (Entrepreneurship – Territory – Innovation) Panthéon Sorbonne University, IAE Paris, on how they are shaping the next normal of public services to reimagine cities and communities (attendance is complementary for the public sector).

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