Advertise With Us                                   Contribute With Us                                


Back You are here: Home Low-Carbon Smart Grid Last day in Smart City Expo and World Congress at the Fira Europa, Barcelona

Smart Grid

Last day in Smart City Expo and World Congress at the Fira Europa, Barcelona

by Miguel Veríssimo

The first idea is that, the World Congress is by far, a more important event than the Expo itself; even counting with all those huge “meeting points” that major corporations settle in central corridors. This can suggest both that dematerialization is already condemning these sort of events and that the Smart Growth concept and its marketing machine are yet taking the first steps. Nevertheless this November 2012 World Congress was an important moment to the Smart Cities initiative.


It’s already common sense that in 2007 cities assumed a leading position in the Urban/Rural ambivalence that underlines 200 years of industrial development. The growing population is triggering our survival instinct and telling us that together we can manage an easier solution for existence. “So let’s go to town”. Town is concentration, efficiency and economies of scale, opportunity, connection, logistics, consuming, culture and democracy. In fact cities are the intermediate hubs of this “global technological grid.” You don’t exist if you aren’t a citizen. And “citizen” means to live in a city.


However the world is a time machine. And throughout time we have always had leading cities and societies, or secondary cities and societies. But today find a common problem: Cities aren’t yet ready for this huge demographic phenomenon. Urbanity is a complex issue but, risking simplification, we have today two kind of problems: - those of old industrial cities, resulting from the need to face new challenges like; climate changes and environment, security, new economical vocation, urban redesign and infrastructural functioning; and those of emerging economies that are simply starting from zero, having not yet the correct drive or the hard and soft infrastructures to be smart on urbanity. Sustainable Cities require a well structured plan and time to grow.

This was by far the most important issue raised in this congress. Aren´t we disguising exclusiveness with an eco-technological suit? That´s why the term Smart, particularly attached to Cities, was questioned a few times during the congress. But, I like it!

Smart reminds me those wise guys from the movies, always looking for trouble and easy business. And this was in fact what Smart City Expo and World Congress was all about: “wise guys” looking for business, and cities looking for trouble. “It’s High-tech, stupid”! And new development paradigms will always dig holes between something – rich and poor, past and future, dumb and smart...

It´s impossible to attend all panels, but even so, in three intensive days we can have a comprehensive notion about the main issues surrounding this new development milestone: Energy; Technology and Innovation; Smart Society & Collaborative City; Environment; Urban Planning and Building; Mobility; Governance & Economy; Emergencies & Security; Smart GEO; City and Country cases.

Going straight to the crucial issues, we can´t even imagine an efficient system (natural or manmade) like cities must be, without having a very good project based on a holistic approach. In an ideal scenario urbanism is all about: geography and territory, about people and citizenship, culture, aesthetic and identity, economy and finance, mixing all the ingredients of a “living machine” with local environmental functioning, water and resources, waste and pollution. But, man is always "dribbling" nature. Cities function as huge magnets sucking everything around, buying time and externalizing effects. That´s why urban ecological footprint is increasing and the numbers are enormous. Taking London as an example (considered one of the smartest cities in the world); London´s ecological footprint in global hectares (GHA) is over 34 million, 200 times the size of the city! Or that Shanghai´s eco footprint exceeds 11 times its biocapacity! I remember in one of the most important panels (Nov 15th) – “Smart strategies for transforming cities”, Rakesh Bhana - European Investment Bank, mentioning almost as a slogan that “before green taxes or technology, we must stop cities sprawl”. Ok, that´s an old ecological sound bite, the only thing new about it, is that it came from a financier!

In fact, being in the centre of the concept, ecology is perhaps the smartest issue of all. We can´t throw technology at problems without safeguarding in the first place, an innovative governance implementing new political relationship between metropolitan areas and surrounding territories. Or, with this urban-centrism we can be facing sub-urbanity in a global scale. Green infrastructures and ecosystem services can replace Grey (manmade) infra-structures, providing effective and functional services such as: water cleanse, air quality, biomass, qualified urban landscapes, etc, etc.

In a different scale, Michael´s Braugart from APEA pointed other misinterpretations about eco/smart crossing: Isn´t eco-smart tech telling us to consume more, without problems once products are now “clean and green”? When the correct approach ought to be: reduce consuming, implementing a bio-economy, respecting nature? Michael´s Braugart proposed his Eco-effectiveness to give a chance to the ecosystem services inside the cities; “before start to artificialize everything around?”

Some interesting questions about the technological “time machine” we are living in, resulted from few enlighten shortcuts: One in The New Mobility Paradigms panel, Ben Baillie, defended the return to those “ancient uncivilised habits – “of crossing roads out of zebras”, as a next step for car/pedestrian symbiosis in smart mobility. This return can already be held by a smart road design, a cultural training (since early years), car traffic control, and very few technologies, helping us citizens to return to pre-industrial free walking and cycling habits all over cities, without cycle-ways or pathways. This can be pretty embarrassing when some cities in growing economies such as China, are implementing complex smart traffic systems, or expensive walkways to manage car/pedestrians conflict! When, in fact, the 21th century avant-garde metropolises, such as London or Sidney, are using culture, legal frame, and citizenship to reduce tech.

Another important issue was raised by an unknown citizen from the audience of the Big Data panel: “How can citizens be connected, once there are no policies to manage roaming worldwide, or assure free mobile connectivity? Aren´t we building something with no foundations?” In fact, even with recent cuts on roaming costs in E.U., they still stupidly high contradicting that global integration and man machine interconnectivity defended by the Smart Cities concept. Global harmonization is quickly needed.

Concluding: Tech is important to eco-smart growth. But, to have Smart Cities, in the sense of managing the “global village” in a more efficient way; reducing ecological pressure, only can be achieved using brain and hands before tech, only a good project can result in better urban eco-system, eco-efficient, eco-effective, easier to live in, social driven, democratic and transparent.

In that sense, I´ll be for sure the smartest guy in town.

Featured Partners