Covid-19 is changing the way we behave in Galway city. We all know now how complicated life is being in confinement, trying to keep a good balance between personal life and professional activities while working from home and/or also living with high levels of stress when there is a health or safety risk in our surroundings.
Digital technologies can alleviate the stress on these situations by enabling services at the individual level like social distancing apps, and at the community level with social networks, but can digital technology and a response plan best practices enable better living conditions at the city level? Are smart cities a way to reach these best practices and city conditions? Amid Covid-19 and the New Normality can technology establish the good conditions for setting Smart City Galway?
The situation for Smart Cities amid COVID-19
In order to understand and correctly set in context our readers about where we are in terms of Smart Cities amid COVID-19, we should first understand that Smart Cities make use of digital technologies and promote the creation of strategies and methodologies to facilitate city services, improving the quality of life of city inhabitants.
Smart cities enable experimentation of innovative technologies, and enable the test and adoption of pioneer city services, and most important, promote the sharing of best practices for the fast and best development of systems and technologies that make city services more reliable and interoperable, across different areas in a single city, as well as between multiple cities.
In this context, a smart city shall be the best scenario to react to unexpected circumstances like a health or safety risk outbreak, such as COVID-19, and also facilitate the implementation of reaction plan(s ) for recovering activities and support citizens’ needs in a reliable manner.
However, even by having the best technology, if there is no collective work and a studied and defined strategy to implement the plan, no plan will result in a successful reaction for health outbreaks and safety risk conditions like a global pandemic.
I believe that defining a safe response plan for the city and its inhabitants, identifying a list of activities and actions for creating a new normal, will bring a positive attitude in everyone in Galway.
Citizens Involvement in Smart City Galway
Smart Cities are characterised by allowing pioneering solutions that improve local practices, while promoting sustainable living. Job promotion and economic recovery after Covid-19 are extremely important and must rely on strategic recovery plans, using digital technologies as a main backbone for enabling reliable mid-long term solutions. Creating a network for cities to share best practices, compare results, and avoid vendor (and city ) lock-in, while advocating citizens best services in the city is the priority, especially after Covid-19 where sharing city information and strategies are crucial to have better visualisation of the city's inhabitant's health conditions.
'Any information that is considered personal data belongs to the individual and in a city. This is not an exception'
Education, and the correct information campaigns for citizens, is important. Running online co-creation activities, citizens engagement, and e-learning campaigns to connect city officials with citizens is a way to communicate the proper messages in this undefined New Normal. At the same time the collection of requirements, social needs analysis, and the identification of city infrastructure required for Galway to be at the level of international/global smart cities, and to scale up city solutions and services, can be enabled by using smart digital technologies.
In 'Smart City Galway New Normal', the data that traditionally belongs to a municipality belongs now to citizens, according to the new European directive on General Data Protection Regulation. Any information that is considered personal data belongs to the individual and in a city. This is not an exception. Helping citizens understand the importance of data and how nothing works today that is disconnected from data global economies and societies, is crucial in Galway city.
'Safety is the basis for a good start in the new normal, from home to the street and as soon as we return to activities in the city after Covid-19'
Galway City must define its own “de facto” model and generate its best implementation strategy and when required only address local and regional implementation plans, but mostly focus on national involvement.
There is no single standard or methodology that can define the full behaviour of a city. Galway Smart City must define connexion strategies to act as a connecting hub between surrounding cities and other larger cities thus enabling smart city interoperability and the identification of city services expansion.
Health and safety in the New Normality
Safety is the basis for a good start in the new normal, from home to the street and as soon as we return to activities in the city after Covid-19. Feeling safe in relation to health conditions is the most important issue. The activities and actions that could be taken in our open areas, business spaces and indoor areas (ie, building premises, offices ) in order to improve/establish a safer working environment need to take into consideration the official recommendations from the health and safety authority.
Who has not worried about going outside and thinking twice if it is healthy to use the public transport which is shared with other individuals?
After the first outbreak on Covid-19 in China, the spread to Europe and other continents, the WHO’s pandemic declaration, the already long duration of confinement conditions in some countries, and the unknown effects on everybody’s life, we are yet to see the long effects of the pandemic evolution.
The biggest impact so far is in people’s behaviour. It is too early yet to talk about the psychology of people after Covid-19 but one of the clearest consequences is the trust people have lost in relation to health conditions - not only in our closed circle of individuals, but also in others surrounding us. People are now thinking now, how many of those individuals around them are healthy?
'At the individual level, developing a personal response plan in line with all guidelines to help keeping Covid-19 under control will enable us to develop a new normal for ourselves'
Who has not worried about going outside and thinking twice if it is healthy to use the public transport which is shared with other individuals, or going into a place with another group of unknown people. Those questions may remain for a long time and certainly the worst of the pandemic's effects is how society, as a whole, can trust each other to ensure good health.
Galway Smart City needs to immediately improve current health and safety procedures to cover health emergencies, including Covid-19, and other diseases that are transmissible by contact (virus and infections ). Creating new procedures in how to act when someone self-identifies, or is identified by others, in having some symptoms, or the introduction of digital technology to make some indications to prevent future health hazards, is a priority.
'As a vibrant society in the West of Ireland, we all need to be committed to address the challenges of Covid-19'
Mark and trace procedures can be created and implemented to guarantee good public health and thus promote healthy practices and improve people’s confidence when doing activities in Galway city. The creation of ethical procedures to reduce any unexpected attitude or discriminative situation that is not desired and does not promote healthy conditions.
At the individual level, developing a personal response plan in line with all guidelines to help keeping Covid-19 under control will enable us to develop a new normal for ourselves.
Smart Digital Technology towards a New Normal
There is no 'biggest problem' in a city that legacy systems do not scale. There is no 'biggest blockage' to grow a smart city that has a technology lock-in. Defining Galway Smart City strategies, have scale-up plans, define policy roadmaps, and designing smart city architecture(s ) to avoid common technology problems is main priority, particularly now after Covid-19 where there is more relevance on health and safety aspects for citizens to consider, such as healthy areas, Covid-19 free areas, social distancing measures, etc.
As a vibrant society in the West of Ireland, we all need to be committed to address the challenges of Covid-19, from the most complex aspect, which is to find a solution for collective problems to generating best practices for living, or best practices to pass through the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Working with a digital strategy plan in mind, as part of a Galway Smart City, will help the city to get back to safety easily, and define the New Normal conditions for a fast recovery and good future living conditions.
Dr Martin Serrano is one of the most active and visionary minds in the world on the issue of Smart Cities. He lives in Galway and has dedicated most of his time to promote innovative ideas, investigate emerging technologies, and their real life implementation. He is a principal investigator at The Data Science Institute, as part of the National University of Ireland, Galway, based at the SFI Insight Centre for Data Analytics.