‘Allow citizens to feel part of the city’s decision making process’

Getting citizens involved in the management of your city and benefit from having them as your privileged partner. That is, in short, the message of Joana Fernandes from Lisboa E-Nova. She will speak at the Smart Cities Industry Summit in London (25-26th September) and gives us a preview.

Last year, 18.000 citizens participated in an initiative to present and vote for new ideas for the City of Lisbon (the Lisbon Participatory Budgeting Initiative). This is quite an impressive number, considering the fact that there was no huge media campaign. ‘We used local networks’, says Joana Fernandes. ‘People simply talked about it and created their own campaigns through social media.’ Some of the city’s most important projects being implemented right now, such as the construction of bicycle lanes and the requalification of the Mouraria neighbourhood (the cradle of Fado) are some of those citizens’ ideas.

‘Don’t be afraid to ask. Citizens are an added value in tackling the city’s problems, challenges
and offering solutions’

Not engaged with the city
Lisbon is facing a strong reduction in population. In the past thirty years the city has lost
almost 300,000 inhabitants. ‘Ofcourse, this is an economic problem’, Fernandes says. ‘At the same time, if people move away, they are not engaged with the city. The most important thing Lisbon wants to achieve with its Smart City strategy, is to attract more citizens and allow them to express how they feel and to feel part of the city’s decision making process.’

Changing habits
This focus emerged with the municipality’s energy-environmental strategy to have real time evaluation on how much the city spends on energy, water and materials. The municipality was keen to develop projects based on people’s cooperation and feedback. One way to tackle this is to organize workshops, trying to get people to understand how much they consume and how they can be more efficient. ‘People are OK making small efforts such as switching off standby or using an extra plug. Changing people’s habits is where it gets tricky’, says Fernandes. ‘The real challenge is to get people to understand that it pays off’.

She disagrees with the suggestion that most citizens just don’t care about their energy consumption. ‘It is nice to see that some people try things at home, do some calculations and question themselves. We invited them to explain their findings to others in our workshops. They should become our energy ambassador, someone detached from the energy world. Getting the citizens involved in projects in the city, that is what Smart City strategy is all about. The city should be the home to innovative ideas and improbable partnerships between decision makers and the citizens. Don’t be afraid to ask. Citizens are an added value in tackling the city’s problems, challenges and offering solutions’, Fernandes advices.