The smart city is a stage, each actor has a role to play.

2017-02-03 - Watt Factory , Smart Cities

My goodness, it’s difficult to explain what a smart city is and why it is more than a hype. It is by far the most frequently asked question in formal and informal conversations about smart city research. In fact, the ‘smart city’ label has become so popular that it makes little sense to even try to define it any longer. At this point in time, it has become a movement rather than a well-defined concept. So, join me in finding out how you can be part of the movement by taking the stage!

Smart cities are not utopian. Perfect cities are though, unless you would argue that widely mentioned European examples such as Barcelona, Copenhagen, Helsinki, or London are perfect? The smartness of a city lies in its capability to manage and optimise the many trade-offs between the expectations of its ecosystem of stakeholders, not in its ability to stuff the public space with digital technologies, unless it serves the first part of this sentence. That is as close as I will get to a definition here. The nature of these trade-offs is the mechanism that hinders the city to be truly perfect. To give a simplified example, the tourist may like the authenticity of a cobblestone-paved street whereas the commuter might prefer new pavements to make his daily bike trip to work safer. To make it even more complex, we include generations that have not yet been born in the ecosystem circle, because smart cities think about sustainability today and tomorrow. A daunting task from a managerial point of view, especially if one expects the city’s local government and administration to be solely responsible for it. Luckily they are not, for - if they would be – it would either be completely unrealistic or panoptic. In this time and age no organisation or government can single-handedly manage the complexity of a wide ecosystem.


The smart city is a stage, each actor has a role to play.

Find me one city that does not express the ambition to be smart. The ambition is not the tricky part; obviously it is the realisation. Hungry vendors have long seen the value of the smart city label to claim a considerable share of the marketplace, but young enterprises are now entering the scene. This is where the accelerator comes in, and also where you - as a citizen, an entrepreneur, a visitor, or a co-creator - come in. The many citizens that live within the ecosystem, are in fact its core. If we want to realise a smart city, we need to play our roles by participating in any way we can. And there are many ways: to share ideas, to criticise ideas, to start a business, to act as a sounding board, to organise events, to share your skills or assets, to develop smart city apps and technologies… are just a few of the possibilities. The accelerator can only be a catalyst for what is there already. The - obviously sustainable - energy source of the smart city is the positive interaction of its ecosystem players, a largely untapped resource. Next, there is indeed a wide array of technologies to enable that.


Joachim Van den Bergh, Vlerick Business School

The accelerator should focus on viability by scaling ideas, not by protecting them but by exposing them to real market conditions.

Joachim Van den Bergh, Vlerick Business School

So, what to expect of an initiative such as Watt Factory? A good accelerator will solve what I call the incubator-trap: generating ideas, showcasing the attractiveness of the idea, but failing to show the viability. Generally this is the weak spot of the living lab: the typical smart city version of the incubator. The accelerator should focus on viability by scaling ideas, not by protecting them but by exposing them to real market conditions. Can the business convert the potential of an attractive idea in real sustainable value, for the city, the customer and the shareholder? The smart city accelerator connects the promising young enterprise with the city’s ecosystem to help it test and realise its potential. I am curious to see if Watt Factory will indeed be the smart accelerator that assists its inhabitants to thrive in the city jungle: sometimes a tough but always a beautiful place to live in!

Joachim Van den Bergh

Senior Research Associate

www.linkedin.com/in/joaber