Mirror, mirror… who’s the smartest city of them all?

May 30, 2016
Make no mistake. It’s my home town Ghent, that is the smartest. And it deserves this title because in May 2016, it hosted the `JCI Smart City Challenge 2016’. This massive brainstorming session brought together 230 people — citizens, representatives from companies and the midfield — to come up with great ideas to make the city a whole lot smarter. Put all these components together in the mix, and you get strong ideas that will now be realized.

The weather was great, the location was inspiring, the support from the city was heart-warming (Mayor Termont, several aldermen and Ghent’s city strategist Karl-Filip Coenegrachts did the opening statements), all the attendees were very enthusiastic. The setting for creativity was ideal.

For us Delawarians, it was an absolute treat and an honor to be the facilitator and moderator for the day and the 7 smart tracks.

 7 tracks were identified, around which smart ideas were collected. At the end of the day, the goal was to present 1 specific idea in each particular area.



1. Smart economy

Why not fuel the smart economy through a smart ecosystem? By combining the different assets of companies, governments, universities and citizens, a new type of incubator workplace can be developed where creative and business minds can meet. The provided assets can be used to test new business ideas. Intrapreneurship can be mixed with entrepreneurship. Co-creation can be stimulated through a combination of a digital platform and real life workplaces. By enabling more diverse mixtures, more business ideas can be developed, making our city’s economy smarter.

2. Smart energy

How can we optimize the usage of energy? One line of thought is to better align the usage and production of energy. There’s often a big discrepancy between both, and one approach to the solution could be to change our energy behavior. To stimulate that, one of the ideas in this track was to create a contest where different districts across the city can compete, in order to become the ‘smartest energy district’.

3. Smart food

Awareness around healthy and nutritious food can’t start early enough. Schools, therefore, seem to be an ideal fertile ground for this. Several ideas around smart food at schools’ were penned down, like cultivating vegetable gardens at schools and using the harvested crops in the school kitchens. Not just a healthy, but also a yummy idea!

4. Smart governance

Cities often have lots of ‘empty spaces’: from empty garages during the day to empty stores and more. One of the ideas in this track was to create a type of ‘AirBnBfor space sourcing. Got space available (even if just a few hours per day), then why not make it available to a fellow citizen?

5. Smart Living

Turning energy production into an experience could be done by using the city’s many fitness centers to create and store energy locally. Or by developing a system of energy credits: the more energy credits you create, the more credits you can use. These credits could also be used, for example, through publicly available charging points dotted across the city. Many ideas in this track focused on decentralized energy storage. An interesting field, considering the advent of Tesla’s home battery, for instance.

6. Smart mobility

Our GPSs are quite good at getting us from point A to point B. But, especially in the city, traffic time often doubles because we’re all trying to find a parking space. A smart app could make city traffic a lot more fluent. A smart parking app would not just send you to point B. Rather, it would take you to the closest available parking spot near point B. As a driver you save time, while the city’s traffic jams can be reduced. A win for all.

7. Smart Citizens

One of the great ideas in this track was a type of Tinder for better healthcare and more social living. Many people are willing to help out other people, like the elderly person who is less able to go to the local store. But the problem is often that supply and demand are less well aligned. People at work don’t have time throughout the day to pick up groceries, but they may be available right after work and drop it off then. Through an app, more socially inclusive living in the city could be fostered. It might be good also to reconnect with your neighbors!

What’s next

These were just a few of the many dozens of ideas that were mentioned throughout the day and the 7 tracks. The best ideas will now be put to the test. Project teams will be set up to develop several proof of concepts that will be presented at JCI’s national convention ’Tomorrow Ghent 2017’.

So this is, in fact, just the beginning. By September 2017, many of these ideas will be formally launched, making Ghent even smarter.

And as Delawarians, we’ll continue to provide plenty of support to make as many of these a real success!

My impression

Oh boy, this was a tiring day, but also a very rewarding one!

Summing up my impressions in a few keywords: energetic + loads of ideas + great weather + fantastic drive and dynamism + great location + super positive feedback from all who attended. Typically Ghent also: socially rewarding, positive and sometimes a little nuts :).

Join us

If you want to help in realizing some of these many great ideas, visit the JCI website, or, if you’re a Delaware Consulting colleague, get in touch with me.

Stay tuned for regular updates via this blog!
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Greetings from the smartest city of them all: Ghent!

Author: Dries Storme. You can connect with Dries on LinkedIn.