Smart Cities, transforming the hype to reality

Every time media talk about Smart Cities, it seems people will soon be living in a technology-driven city where everything is controlled, monitored and optimized by computers. Lights that turn on just when a person passes by, bins that communicate that they are full or traffic lights adapting in real-time to the number of cars driving around are some of the long-awaited improvements.

But reality hasn’t changed much. Lights keep turned on all night, bins keep being emptied even if they have just a couple of papers and traffic jams are as common as ever. What happens to all changes technology experts promised us?

Brookings Institution and ESADE organized on december 9th-10th the forum Getting Smarter about Smart Cities, a meeting to adrees the need to effectively apply new technologies to cities economy and organization and how to make it possible.

Jonathan Wareham, Vice Dean and Professor at ESADE, and Robert Puentes, Metropolitan Policy Program Senior Fellow at Brookings made the welcoming remarks.

The forum featured civic leaders from North America and Europe that are using emerging technologies and presented the keynote speaker Chris Vein, Chief Innovation Officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development, World Bank.

The main conclusions from the event were published in april. Here’s a small summary:

1. An economic and technolgic vision is needed

Everything begins with an idea and the best way to make it real is a good plan. Cities also need a vision of what they want to be once they applied and integrated new technologies. The city economics must be the focus of that vision and it must be based on a true assessment of their strengths, challenges, and opportunities.

2. Focus on three economic drivers

Productivity, Inclusivity and Resiliance must be the three key objectives of a Smart City. All of them will help the city addressing challenges the world is facing in the 21st century.

3. Governments must be prepared for the change to come

New technologies have the potential to change the way cities work and local governments must be prepared for that change. Their internal structures must be able to support it, meaning purposeful integration between technology and sustainability departments and their peers in other agencies. Communication with the neighbourhoods is basic and a good start, as Philadephia has showed.

4. Scale and risk tolerance are important

While local governments are the crucial public sector actor in the smart city space, not all projects and plans should encompass the entire city. District-scale plans may be a good option for big cities, especially those interested in enhancing medical, innovation, or advanced industry hubs like 22@ at Barcelona.

5. Networking and communication also is needed between cities

Representatives from the public and private sector should play a lead role forming these networks, to be sure, but they must also extend to include civic actors and other infrastructure users. Technology, as such, can serve as an effective convener, broker, enabler, and igniter for a host of interests.

The participants at the panel discussion were Jack Belcher, Chief Information Officer and Director of Department of Technology Services from the Arlington County, Virginia, Katalin Gallyas, Policy Advisor at the Economic Affairs Department of the City Council of Amsterdam, Chris Moore, Chief Information Officer of the City of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and Manel Sanroma, Chief Information Officer of the Barcelona City Council.

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