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Birmingham's 'Vision' Plan Is Smart City Drivel

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Toby
Toby  
2/26/2013 12:04:41 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
The Big Picture issues
This is a tricky subject. I have consulted quite a bit for local councils in the UK and I speak from this experience. Councils typically have a vast gamut of services to provide. It is usual for 70-80 different units to provide these and often with little or no strategic thinking to guide them. The net result is a huge lost opportunity to streamline services and save costs. However before any change can be implemented, councils are always asked "whats the big picture?" (and rightly so) and thus the need for a vision which in turn can be boiled down into tangible results. That these can seem fluffy is more often than not the result of hiring the wrong consultants :)

I have (and still do) consult on the basis of turning these sorts of visions into the nuts and bolts that make for real change, they are not simple, are not easy and are not cheap, but they are necesscary.

 

tbulone
tbulone  
2/25/2013 10:18:49 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Too often the case
Rich, Birmingham has plenty of company. Cities come up with "Vision Plans" all the time.  There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and sometimes they even help a local politician or two get elected.  But that's the easy part.  Unfortunately, the next phase where people need to roll up their sleeves and start working on achieving the vision kind of hangs people up.  Making progress toward the vision requires determination, collaboration, community will, accountability, resources, and good old fashioned hard work to make things happen.  Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have a local public champion for the vision that can keep the plan moving forward even when the inevitable stumbling blocks are hit, (someone like Mayors Koch, Giuliani, or Bloomberg).

Nicole Ferraro
Nicole Ferraro  
2/24/2013 11:51:05 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: The Criticism is a little harsh
Patrick: Thanks for weighing in. I'm curious though, what is the point of a document that just spells out a broad "vision" for achievements that ultimately every city should strive for? Why not go the extra mile and talk about specific plans? Seems like far too much hype for very little substance. But I'd love to hear more from you on this.

richheap
richheap  
2/23/2013 10:26:55 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: The Criticism is a little harsh
Thanks Patrick, and I agree with you up to a point. It is too early to judge the city on its 'smart city' approach given that this is an initial document. Birmingham has a strong council and business community, so can produce something much better and more inspirational. It has great potential.

However, this is all we have to go on at the moment and it doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. Also, for a vision document, it doesn't seem to contain anything especially visionary. Most people don't read council documents and, for those who do, this won't do much to get them excited.

Are you involved with Birmingham's strategy at all?

PatrickWillcocks
PatrickWillcocks  
2/23/2013 5:40:13 AM
User Rank Village Voice
Re: The Criticism is a little harsh
I think that it is too early to judge Birmingham on this document. It is after all just a vision. The Smart City Commission (a partnership drawn from key bodies on the city) is working on an Action Plan as we speak which again will be consulted upon later this year. The content and proposed actions taken together with the vision will enable a better judgement on the true effectiveness and quality of Birmingham's approach

Nicole Ferraro
Nicole Ferraro  
2/22/2013 6:20:58 PM
User Rank Staff
Too often the case
Rich, thanks for the great blog about Birmingham. It may be received as harsh, but cities need to hear this kind of thing. We don't need more rhetoric and excellent use of buzzwords. We need to see actual plans. So even if that means only setting up a detailed plan to get "smart" in one small area, as opposed to saying very broadly that the whole city needs fixing and will be fixed in a smart way, that's better than producing multiple pages of what may ultimately amount to nothing but a lot of nice words.

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
2/22/2013 6:00:26 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Substance needed
Great point, Daved, and I'd venture that this is the "trick." When you think about it, though, this is part of what a good proposal needs to do. It's not impossible, it just requires some thought.

Davedgreat2000
Davedgreat2000  
2/22/2013 5:39:26 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Substance needed
I also think that the more information you have in a report like this may make some peolple go "What was that?" as well. so too much information can ruin any good presentation. With this report though you have little information and the people who care are saying "what was that?"

So how does the city council bridge the gap between too little information and to much information (information overload)?

richheap
richheap  
2/22/2013 5:29:30 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Substance needed
I agree, and it'd be great if people could have more of a role in shaping these sorts of policies. One of the aims of public consultation periods like Birmingham's is to try to get people thinking about these issues and having their say.

But councils won't inspire anyone with this sort of vagueness. That's a shame.

If you're going to put resources into producing a document like this, then at least make sure you produce something that people can understand. If you can't do that then the danger is that people (even the ones who are interested in these sorts of things) will walk away saying 'What the hell was that all about?' and 'Those guys haven't got a clue.'

That's a big missed opportunity.

Davedgreat2000
Davedgreat2000  
2/22/2013 5:10:27 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Substance needed
@Rich, unfortunetly its sounds like not a whole lot of citizens are taking notice on these plans.  Brits much like American Citizens dont worry much about master plans (unless the Master is actually involved, then we are all in trouble). They only care when it comes time to reduce or eliminate public services. but not about the plans to create a smart city. Often times the politicians do not really understand what a Smart City is or how to build up there city to become a Smart City.

I think the key to any master plan would be to sell it to the citizens before they sell it to themselves. I mean if the people who actually live in the city were to all get involved with the planning i bet the businesses would follow by investing. It just needs to be pushed by the people who Pay the taxes.

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