Is Istanbul a smart city?

Is Istanbul a smart city?

Last Friday I had the opportunity to do a radio interview with IBM’s Business Development Executive Esra Çizmeci Yetkin about smart cities.

Previously I had the pleasure of discussing the very same concept with Ali Rıza Ersoy from Siemens, who leads the company’s efforts in making cities a little smarter. Furthermore, last week at the IBITIG meeting led by Faruk Eczacıbaşı and Leyla Arsan there was a long debate about whether Istanbul was a smart city

All these interviews coincided at a time when blizzards took over city life in Istanbul. Whether it comes from Siemens or IBM or any other company, the definition of a smart city doesn’t change much. 

Smart cities can be identified (and ranked) along six main axes or dimensions. These axes are: a smart economy; smart mobility; a smart environment; smart people; smart living; and, finally, smart governance.

These six axes connect with traditional regional and neoclassical theories of urban growth and development. In particular, the axes are based respectively on theories of regional competitiveness, transport and ICT economics, natural resources, human and social capital, quality of life and participation of citizens in the governance of cities.

A city can be defined as “smart” when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.

The smart city concept is important because more than 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities in a few decades. We have to do things a lot more efficiently to be sustained. 

The generation that is starting work has a great part in this movement as well. The Y generation likes to be connected and mobile all the time. Just as the Y generation likes it, a smart city lets people do what they wish, when they wish and how they wish seamlessly, unlike Istanbul. ICT companies like Siemens, IBM, Koç Sistem and telecommunication companies like Turkcell try to make the city more livable by the Y generation standards. 

However, I feel that Istanbul is just too huge to be handled anymore. At least with the current form of governance it is next to impossible. In the United States there is a mayor of the city and he/she decides almost everything with the city council. In Turkey, there is the mayor, the governor, the chief of police, the head of this and that. Therefore it is very hard to find out who runs what and to what extent. 

In the way it is defined a smart city should be run with the people for the people. Istanbul is run without the people and certainly not for the people. Otherwise we wouldn’t be waiting three hours just to cross over to the other side of the city. It is the same thing with the electricity, water and port management. Without proper technologies we just waste millions of dollars and lose efficiency. 

It would be wonderful to consolidate some responsibilities to mayors and get more ICT firms in the deciding process. The city produces too much data to be handled by any number of people. If Turkey wants to get ahead with its cities there is no other way but to use technology wisely with the people for the people.