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Urbanization is one of the world’s mega-trends, so it is surprising that the majority of the world’s 557,000 Mayors do not share their challenges with the world. That is why we created the Living Labs Global Award that in its current edition (submission deadline 17th of February 2012) has brought together 21 leading global cities, among them San Francisco, Rome, Glasgow, Hamburg, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Fukuoka and Mexico City to call for solutions that could significantly improve their citizens’ lives.

Eindhoven Summit on Service Innovation in Cities. Source: Living Labs Global

This is an original contribution to the on-going global dialogue on smart cities. This dialogue typically categorizes issues through a technology or product perspective led by dominant market players, rather than by specific problem areas for cities in which major break-throughs could be achieved.

So what is it that cities want? We can see a number of thematic clusters emerging around the areas of mobility and tourism, accessibility, open government and data, prevention of lifestyle disease, smart urban services, smart affordable housing and energy. What is revealing is the way in which cities have framed these questions, which often imply not just a technological solution but a rethinking of an entire service model.

Active e-Bike / Callock. Source: Living Labs Global

Take the example of San Francisco’s call to integrate the wireless control of urban systems. This could be considered a simple technology challenge were it not a call to inspire the future of public space. The city not only will integrate sensors, wireless networks, smart lighting and services but also address the big question of how all this data will be integrated and governed. With public space being such a central issue to our urban lives, both as an environmental and civic resource, and with technology evolving so rapidly, this is in fact an amazing challenge to put forward.

Most of the participating cities are not just calling for technical help, but solutions that can harness technology to revolutionise our experience of cities and create entirely new ways of participation. Rio de Janeiro calls for a Knowledge Square, an immersive urban experience of the internet and the knowledge it represents for the 60% of its citizens that are left behind the digital divide.

Cities are not light-hearted about putting forward these challenges. They are selected from more than 250 candidates and follow a careful consideration linked to the objective of the Award programme: to implement a pilot of the winning solution in each city. Winners receive no cash prize, but the full institutional commitment of a city to support a limited deployment of the solution and publish an evaluation of the results. This not only allows citizens and other stakeholders to experience the future almost immediately, but provides a smart way of changing the expectations in later procurement and regulatory actions.

Cities and local governments spend an annual 3,5 trillion Euros ($4,6 trillion) and the share of technology rises steadily. Yet, as most actors in the market agree, decisions are often taking without sufficient market intelligence and fear of innovative solutions. The Living Labs Global Award demonstrates successfully how these limitations can be overcome by implementing a more structured approach to collecting market intelligence and evaluating technologies through pilots before undertaking major investments.

The Climate Group, Metropolis and Oracle share our vision of a more agile marketplace for cities, in which intelligent decision-making becomes a central piece in building our future cities. They have been joined by more than 400 companies from 34 countries that have already submitted their solutions.

Our past editions have generated impressive results: Companies report that winning the Award and implementing a subsequent pilot has accelerated their sales cycle from an average of 36 months to just 6-9 months, leading to quicker diffusion of their technologies and cost savings that more than make up for the effort of implementing a pilot.

This is how an intelligent market for smart cities should work.

To submit to the Living Labs Global Award 2012, enter your solution before 17th of February 2012 to www.llga.org/submission.php.

Cities can apply to the selection process for the 2013 edition by contacting us at research@livinglabs-global.com.