A colleague recently told me a story about her blind grandfather. When she was only 9 years old her mother asked her to help her grandfather navigate the busy city streets and sidewalks. Everything was going great until he walked into a pipe at the precise moment she had become distracted and was not looking.
Rather than yell at her, he said very calmly, "Imagine: What if this city was designed by a blind person? Then there would be no pipes sticking up in the middle of a sidewalk for people like me to walk into!" She never forgot that moment, and that "what if" question.
A big part of making something smarter is asking the right "what if" questions to the right set of people. A smarter city is less about what technology, and more about how technology is applied in order to make a positive impact in people’s lives. In defining what it takes to make a city smarter, it is important to start with those that live and work and go to school in a city.
Here is a story of a young girl in Europe who was part of a classroom project to come up with ideas to make their city smarter.
Aurora, 10, from the Netherlands knew how treacherous it was to cross busy city streets. She knew from experience that many cars do not stop at crosswalks (even though they are supposed to) and she knew it was especially dangerous for smaller people that were hard to see. So she asked a really good "what if" question: What if there could be crosswalks where the stripes glow and flash when people step out onto them?
Recognizing this as a great "what if" question, we teamed up with Aurora and her classmates to help build the "flashing pedestrian crossing" that she had envisioned.