Collier’s Digi.City is a project, now multi-level effort to connect and educate various cities as to what other communities are doing for their citizens in the realm of digital technologies. The reason I interviewed via Facebook and Twitter Live is because Ms. Collier on Tuesday, hosted an event here in New Orleans involving the New Orleans Councilman at Large Jason Williams, New Orleans Chamber President Ben Johnson, City of New Orleans Chief Information Officer Kimberly W. LaGrue,and Propeller Director of Programs Daniel Appelwhite.
Collier has visited ten American cities to learn and to educate, to inspire and to connect. As part of her Eisenhower fellowship, the Lafayette Louisiana native, traveled to five cities in China as the first part of her journey. It appears she was as impressed as I am stunned. I knew China was the world’s largest economy, but I did not realize how high-tech their cities are, currently.
To me, China, a communist country, like all the other communist countries of which I am generally aware, such as Cuba, have been living in a time warp, decades behind us in their buildings, their schools, their infrastructure. Apparently wrong as it relates to the cities such as those Collier visited. They are wired. They are connected. They are smart.
Which raises the very obvious and important question—how can a state-run country house numerous cities with populations over ten million people and be so “hip” to the needs being driven by the future? Communism and a state-controlled economy grew up in the agrarian and early industrial days. What are they doing right given the extraordinarily large population? What advantages in this new “smart” and mobile-tech focused world would a country like China and cities like Beijing have as we all fast-forward into tomorrow in this global economy?
Below is part one of the fascinating discussion I had with Chelsea Collier about her efforts with Digi.City. This one focuses upon, yes, you guessed it, China.
Part 2 tomorrow
COLLIER: Thanks to the Eisenhower fellowship, I had the chance to study smart cities in the US and China, so truly, I don't know if there's truly as one smart city in the world, a lot of cities are on their way to integrating smart city technology, but the first large Chinese city that I visited was Beijing. On fellowship I had the chance to travel to five different Chinese cities Beijing was where I started and then Shanghai Shinyoung Shenzhen and Hangzhou.
SABLUDOWSKY: That's actually fascinating of those five which did you find the most fascinating?
COLLIER: Oh gosh that is such a hard question--the one that I think I resonated with the most was Hangzhou and to be perfectly honest I had never even heard of Hangzhou before I started my research on China and smart cities. Hangzhou has almost 10 million people in the city so you know I think New York is may be comparable in the US and it's one of I think 20 cities in China with population of more than five million and so China is just on a completely different scale than the US and everywhere that I went in Hangzhou it's a very kind of coastal cities so there's a lot of waterways--reminded me a lot of my roots in southern Louisiana. It's just a really really beautiful town or beautiful city, but they integrate technology at every single step, so as you're walking through the city and looking at the beautiful vistas ancient buildings, there's technology guiding your way, so I think they've done a really beautiful job with integrating innovation with just historical significance.
SABLUDOWSKY: You know, so really in terms of China a lot of people think of China as a third world nation with a lot of people incredible population and what you're saying is that's not the case?
COLLIER: Not the case it's a whole new China and I think as Westerners it's really easy to just watch the headlines and pay attention to headlines and that plays for our view of what's happening in the country, but from what I learned and what I experienced they are incredibly committed to innovation and as a result they've moved 700 million people out of poverty in the last 10 years. So, if we put that on an American scale that's two Americas that they've that they've moved out of out of poverty and you know I think some of the things that we struggle with in the US, things around digital divide and access to prosperity, to education, to health care all of these issues that our local state and federal communities are challenged with, there are some some best practices from around the world that we can incorporate, even though our countries are different our traditions are different, our histories are different, our governments are different our systems are different, and that's really the goal of my work in smart cities is to almost cherry-pick what's going right and use that to inform everyone who's collectively on the journey
SABLUDOWSKY: So in terms of the digital divide are you saying that that there are more people who are wired or connected to the Internet in China then perhaps yeah United States?
COLLIER: It, well, just from a numbers perspective yeah, so, there's 1.4 billion people in China compare that to three hundred some-odd million in in the US, It's it's it's it's a scale that's hard to wrap your mind around but what's so interesting to me is that in China everyone is connected through this, through the mobile phone, and there's one platform called WeChat that everybody does every activity through so here, in the US we have an app from mail or several apps for mail, for calendars, for where to shop how to review something, a chat is a separate app, how to pay for something is a separate app and without naming company names, I mean who ride share through different app, you share money through a different app, in China it's all one app.
COLLIER: You can do everything through the click of a phone. It's all automated. It's so easy. When I came back to the US, I was in China for four weeks, and I came back to the US, it was almost like a recalibration, like "what do you mean I can't do everything through through one app and just, you know, very different systems. But and again I think that would be very challenging to do here in the US just based on how the capitalism and private sector works, I mean that that's a whole conversation but I think he can take some best practices away in terms of efficiency