A Glimpse into the Well-Informed City

Graphic Design: Krizia Angelina

If someone is well informed, he or she would likely do things better. In a family, a father must have been able to perform his duty better had he known the characteristics of his family member and the future they had envisaged for the family. This applies to a company too. Employees, according to a survey by Korn Ferry released in 2016, will fare it better if they could first get a grip of the company’s mission and purpose as well as how they can contribute to achieving it. Comprehensive understanding of ones’ position in a system is essential to making them perform better in achieving a larger and broader goal, say, in helping a bigger system such as a private company to sell a quarter of their total products by the end of the month.

Getting informed about one’s position in a system is not easy: the world is not so well-organized—and seemingly it never will be—that it would make it rather difficult to imagine how one should function in it. The good thing is, human since eons ago have been struggling to organize and re-organize, creating sundry organizations—and systems—spanning from enormous ones such as the United Nations or a country, to the smaller ones like a city, private company, community, family, and so on. It seems that it’s in every man’s wish to have a more structured life.

Among all forms of organization, a city is perhaps one of the most effective ones to ever exist: it’s not too large that it’s somewhat manageable, and also not too small that, if better managed, people could fulfill almost their daily needs from therein, including the need to interact with others. By making a city operate well and sustainably, that means we have created an effective organization that can sustain many forms of life on earth. To achieve such a goal, it would take every ‘organ’ in the city to run well, by organs meaning individuals and a set of institutions that encompass civil societies, media, private companies, and government agencies. These individuals and institutions—let’s called them stakeholders—ought to grasp their positions in the city’s overall system in order to maximize their performance. To that means, the city must provide adequate information about its own system to the stakeholders who reside in it.          

There are seven primary levers of governance, wrote Jonathan F. P. Rose in his book ‘The Well-Tempered City,’ that can guide city development and operations: a vision, a master plan, data collection, regulations, incentives, investments, and communication. These levers, to borrow Rose’s words, “...will lead to success only if collectively they become part of the city’s social and cultural DNA.” While formulating a vision or goal for a city is of the utmost importance, arriving at an apt vision is not an easy task; that’s unless we have collected enough data to comprehend the city’s circumstances. Only after enough data is collected a vision and the master plan to achieve it can be rightly made. This also means that, through the collection of data, we can as well see what’s best for the city’s system, and effectively inform and allocate each stakeholder’s best resources to fulfill the city’s vision.

Let’s instantiate this. Imagine that a city government has just collected the data needed to make the vision and master plan of its city, collected through many approaches by crunching every possible existing data, infrastructure, opinion, natural phenomenon, and/or other relevant factor in the city considered beneficial for future decision-making. The data may include such examples: the aspirations solicited from each neighborhood’s monthly assembly to help decide what matters most for the citizens; the amount of usable energy generated in the city’s many sectors divided by the amount of energy used to create it—or what is called the energy return on investment (EROI) formula—to help decide which sectors should be prioritized for efficiency; the average annual rainfall measured with the most advanced tools to help decide how much green space should be preserved in the city; and so forth. If collected correctly and thoroughly, the data should have covered a wide array of information, which then can be analyzed and transformed into knowledge and foreknowledge to develop a robust city vision and master plan.

Having done that, the city government will need to communicate its vision and master plan to its stakeholders so that mutual understanding and consent could be formed. Approaching stakeholders to partake in fulfilling the city’s vision is somehow laborious: informing them is one thing, but to make them effectively involved is another. Here's the thing though; if someone is well informed, he or she would likely do things better. The emphasis should be on the ‘well-informed’ aspect, meaning that the city should pretty much know about itself—through data—before informing its vision and master plan to the citizens and how significant they are towards achieving it. In addition, in retrospect towards how humans strive for the never-ending quest of making life more structured, every effort then should be geared toward making information shared—along with its methods of sharing—to be as structured as possible.