Libraries closing too early, bikes driving on the wrong side of the road? In Cebu, you text the Mayor


We are consistently interested in the mayoral role at every level, whether parish, council, town or city. As they have been developing over the last decade, mayoralties seem to combine the charisma of tradition and locality, with a strategic and entrepreneurial zeal - able to kick off new stories, perspectives and processes about their areas. 

Here's a great example from the Philippines, in the city of Cebu. Its Mayor Tomas Osmeña and his officers are running with social media technology, as a way to demonstrate how effective a "smart city" (in which citizens' data is used for social good) could be.

For example, see the text below:

From the report in GovInsider:

The Mayor is highly participative and interactive. Citizens text their complaints to the mobile number displayed prominently on his Facebook page, and it is the main tool of communication between the citizens and the Office. ”Anybody can call him anytime, anybody can send a message to him anytime and all of these things that are being discussed by the mayor", says his smart city officer, Paul Nigel Villarete.

Cebu is a university city with students from across the region who often don’t have access to proper study areas. In response, Cebu City became the first in the country to open a 24 hour city library that has public wifi. The library will give priority to students looking for a space to study. The City Office also plans to update its privacy laws to prevent people from accessing illegal content on public wifi.

Osmeña combines this responsiveness with more conventional but also imaginative policy hacks. Take the "Sardines for Garbage" initiative: 

The government hands out cans of sardines to residents who bring out their own trash to the garbage trucks during collection. “For the first time in my life, we have seen people stealing other people’s garbage,” he notes. 

The programme is meant to discourage people from throwing garbage on the streets, and prevent drainage pipes from getting clogged and flooding the city. Cebu learnt of this approach also from Curitiba, trialled it in two wards and is now rolling it out across other parts of the city.

For more on technology and civic participation, see this report from Next Century Cities. Also, The Participatory City initiative in Dagenham and Barking is fascinating, in the way it links tech platforms with social and making spaces.