Last month we visited Slovakia to discuss with several municipalities on creating better cities for people. It was carried out in cooperation with the local organization Smart Cities Klub, which works on improving the quality of life in Slovakian cities.
We’ve met Smart Cities Klub’s Chairman, Miloslav Jurik, earlier this year in the Netherlands. We immediately liked his views on the future of smart cities: while cities and companies see smartness as merely new technology, Miloslav and his organization work on utilizing technology for people. Smart cities are first of all livable cities.
It was this shared view that brought us to work together. We hosted a workshop in Trnava (more on this wonderful city in another post). Decision makers from seven Slovakian municipalities have come to discuss how to take their city to the next step, focusing on cycling infrastructure and livable public spaces.
The conversation revolved around the importance cycling takes in the future of cities, and how we can advance all aspects of the city, such as economy, safety, and health, if we put people in the middle of the planning process. In the end, I take two main messages from the workshop:
When it comes to cycling, it is easy to say claim “we are not the Netherlands.” And it’s true. Most cities are far behind the Netherlands when it comes to bike infrastructure. Cities use this gap as an excuse: ‘we are so far behind, that there’s no chance to catch up’ they say. This attitude is a recipe to stagnation. Instead, we need to use these examples a source of inspiration and a source of proven best-practices.
Every city has a story, something that makes it unique, that gives its citizens pride, that older residents tell their children. In Slovakia, we heard great stories about the different cities. Some are proud of their historic role, some are important economically, and others are famous for the culture. Our conversations with some of the cities were on creating the next chapter in their story, and how to do it in a sustainable, inclusive way.
It was great to see that so many Slovakian cities are starting to take people-oriented design seriously. Some cities have already achieved great advancements. Others are just beginning their journey. But the spirit is there, and we are looking forward to keeping the conversation going.