Inaction: The Greatest Threat To Cities

Evolution, innovation, change… these are concepts inherent in our society—natural, permanent, ever-present moments of acceleration and deceleration. Captured in Darwin’s theory of evolution and witnessed daily in the rapidly changing landscape of technology. Though we are surrounded by such evolution, the change that results can often be resisted and resented as a natural human instinct. Change seems to suit only those who do not notice it. But there are moments in history where change is undeniable, unrelenting and unavoidable.

Today, cities and society at-large are in such an historical moment. We are in a period of accelerated change and innovation. Developments in new technologies and solutions are not the slowly scaling transformations of history such as the shift from horse powered transportation to combustible engines, which took decades to reach saturation. Now, we see such transformation measured in years or even months rather than decades or centuries.

Political crises around the world, globalization and the digital revolution are just some of the factors that created this important acceleration, which provides an opportunity for all sectors of society—including the public sector. The increasing pace of change and the need to more quickly adapt, generates both a societal tension and an immediate need for public administrations to adapt their management approach and the manner in which they serve the public.

The relationship between citizens and the public sector is also changing rapidly. More is needed and expected with fewer resources. Greater transparency and openness is shifting from smart policies to required practices. Such openness creates opportunities for citizens to more easily identify the means by which they can directly engage in government issues. Challenges facing 21st century cities are not being addressed solely from the top-down, but from a more inclusive, more holistic, more grassroots approach. Resolving these modern challenges is a shared responsibility between politicians, public servants and citizens themselves.

Open Government, which implies transparency, open data, greater efficiency, accountability, and both citizen and public worker engagement, is a cultural change that affects all parts of public administration. This shift in governance now allows for the transformation of the public administration and its management model.

Such adaptation is far more than creating a website entitled “Open Government.” It is more than compliance with transparency laws and regulations. It is not just implementing so-called participatory processes where citizens can be heard, but are not listened to. Open Government is much more. Open Government is a fundamental change in management style and approach—a development of trust between the public sector and the public that results in the shift of power being controlled by the public administration to being shared with the public.

Though resistance to change is a universal human characteristic, change was perhaps most resisted in the public sector. In the private sector, rapid adaptation is driven by the desire to achieve new competitive advantages by early adopters or simply to restore equilibrium by the followers. In either case, time is a critical success factor.

Until recently, time was not a consideration for cities—at least not beyond the time defined by election cycles. Competition was almost a foreign term. But now, more so than any earlier period in history, cities are competing for talent, economic development and other resources. City leaders who champion early adoption of Open Government and Smart City solutions create competitive advantages for their community, while also increasing efficiency and quality of life. Smart City solutions have become powerful forces of change and have increased global competition between urban centers. Citizens are no longer just consumers of public services, but are also valuable resources to imagine, develop and implement smarter solutions to city challenges.

Change is inevitable. Time is our most limited resource. Inaction is to waste the opportunities inherent in both and it is an immeasurable failure of public servants and citizens who chose not to adapt.


Carles Agustí
Original source: Smart & Resilient Cities


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