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When my so-called smartphone once again offered an incomprehensible message box and I frustratedly kept pressing buttons in an attempt to arrive at the desired functionality, I suddenly experienced a déjà vu. Not only did I, after some thought, recall that I had had this message in a similar situation, the solution came to mind again as well when I took some time recalling how I managed to solve it that time.

My telephone’s memory was full. And there is a logical connection between the working memory needed for the operating system, the device’s storage capacity (both internal and external) and the amount of active apps running. I think the same logic applies to a smart city. To achieve a dynamic and continuous innovation process that runs smoothly and almost organically, we will need to strike a healthy balance between programme initiatives and the absorption capacity of the of material you are working with.

In Eindhoven, many things go well, and we could well be slightly more proud of that. One nomination follows another election and the many Top 10 lists on successful initiatives continue to flood the reader/viewer. City and region are buzzing, and all the while, everything goes on neatly. At least, that is how it appears. At the same time, overload lies around the corner, and a lack of smart streaming, carrying with it the risk that smart can quickly become pretty stupid. In our enthusiasm, we innovators sometimes forget that there is no need to re-invent solutions for things we had already sorted out earlier.

The smart design of streets and junctions, smart utilisation of parking zones and transferiums, conducting a reorganisation on (city or) company level smartly, smartly establishing a municipal healthcare organization, smartly establishing a dialogue on the desirability of a city region, smartly locating, utilising, applying grants for arts and culture, smartly combining forces and versatility of a multicultural society, smartly tackling nuisances and criminality and smartly mapping the wishes and complaints of this city’s inhabitants are all not particularly items that call for innovative policy and expensive interim managers, simply because elsewhere, brilliant and instantly deployable, tried and tested knowledge is ready to be used.

“Smartness overload lies around the corner”

Smart innovation also includes daring to admit that as a city, as a community, we may be included to be ‘busybusybusy’ with innovation when, in fact, it is not truly innovation but just repeating badly what is already available elsewhere. A smart city tells its own story, that is, if you manage to get some order in your hardware and software. If you don’t make a catalogue out of all of your digital photos and videos in some manner, do not make choices and do not compile a scrapbook of some shape or form, you will not get any inspiring images to work with. Why is it that younger people revert en masse to using a Nokia dumbphone or a Polaroid camera? Exactly, because it offers them the peace to enjoy the simple success and happiness of a well-created message or picture.

As a smart city, you could fill more and more gigabytes with half-realized ideas and projects – websites and reports full of them – that will not be read or consulted by anyone because no-one even remembers that they are there, but it would be better to heed the message your system is telling you. If you ask me, the Eindhoven (wo)man in the street has been trying to tell us for some time now, ever more frequently and clearly: ‘there is something wrong with the speed; there is a mismatch between demand and supply; there is a divide between quick and slow; I need assistance but I’m not getting it.’ You wonder, is there any smart listening and learning being done? What is the matter with our Eindhoven memory?

It is my opinion that as a city, we should clean up our memory swiftly, smartly and smoothly to be able to go for true innovation. The economic domain should interact smoothly with the social, ecological and cultural domains. We should have our memory in order to move towards a smart system and a smart story. Old stuff in order, cleaned of rubbish and reduplications, re-start or trash old system folders, clear up space to make the system run optimally. This metaphor applies to many items that are going in Eindhoven, at the everyday level but also structurally – just dig into your own memory …!

My phone is doing fine again, by the way. Incidentally, I have also changed its battery. Perhaps I should apply for smart city memory manager…?

E52 is working on a series of articles aroun Eindhoven on its way to become a smart society. Read more here.