Europen approach to Smart City Development
Europen approach to Smart City Development
In 2014, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world’s population lived in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050. And, although this trend is global, almost 90% of the increase is expected to be concentrated in Asia and Africa. In real terms, the number of urban residents is growing by nearly 60 million people every year. As the planet becomes more urban, cities need to become smarter. Major urbanization requires new and innovative ways to manage the complexity of urban living. It demands new ways to target problems like overcrowding, energy consumption, resource management and environmental protection, as well as address many other challenges.
The seemingly irreversible trend of urbanization poses both immense challenges as well as fantastic opportunities for human prosperity and wellbeing. I am a glass-half-full guy, an optimist, but not blind to the many so-called ‘wicked’ problems that city growth and city life bring in its wake. The main reason for my optimism is that I believe cities are, in principle, at the perfect ‘sweet spot’ balancing the myriad ways it is possible for populations to govern, organize and run their lives.
Why are cities at the ‘sweet spot’? On the one hand, most cities are large enough to wield significant political power, financial and other resources and the numbers of the people, communities, firms and institutions located in them. They are also generally large enough to have resilience through their internal diversity, strength in depth and strategic competence. These attributes are essential for well-run human societies. On the other hand, however, and in contrast to central governments in all but very small countries, cities are at the same time geographically, culturally and historically close enough to these same actors to understand their needs, collaborate meaningfully with them and take and implement appropriate decisions on the ground. They are also generally small enough to be nimble, flexible, dynamic and responsive. In many ways, therefore, cities can balance these two contrasting sets of attributes, thereby in principle functioning as the most efficient and effective form of human organization that we have yet devised.
In case you think this is starry-eyed, let me underline that this is the potential of cities -- many if not most cities exhibit a large number of these qualities, whilst too many do not. The challenge, therefore, is to better understand and spread good ideas, and build knowledge about successful city development in a collaborative way across the globe as well as within countries and regions. Although every city is faced with a highly unique set of challenges and opportunities, mutual learning between cities in terms of good practices and how these might be adapted to fit specific contexts, is absolutely paramount. This is, of course, already happening on a large scale through a plethora of city networks and communities of practice. What is arguably lacking, however, is a forum which draws the best ideas from existing networks, most of which operate in relative isolation, largely unaware of developments and ideas being generated elsewhere.
The ‘smart city’ label, although currently the most prominent, is by no means the only game in town. There are, for example, networks and/or concepts focusing on digital cities, sustainable cities, innovative cities, intelligent cities, creative cities, so-called Fab Cities, shareable cities, cities of nature, green cities, resilient cities, open cities, energy cities, cities of tomorrow, cities as launch pads for transformation, and not least the so-called C40 network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change.
It would be mistaken to imagine that the ‘smart city’ label is an umbrella term that somehow embraces all the others. Many of these networks eschew the description of ‘smart’ as it might be perceived as being too technology-deterministic, whilst others see technology as an absolutely essential enabler if we are to live in well functioning, fair and prosperous settlements. It is thus clear that mutual learning and cross-fertilization is essential to align such different views. To facilitate this, this blog will endeavour to bring together, examine and compare the most important, striking and valuable developments and trends from many of the different strands of experience and discussion.
I start in this blog by outlining the current European approach to smart city development. I was one of the authors of a recent study on smart cities in the EU for the European Parliament. This concluded that the smart city concept has emerged not just as an innovative modus operandi for future urban living in Europe but as a key strategy to tackle poverty and inequality, unemployment and energy management. Despite much discussion and debate on the value, function and future of smart cities, as a concept it resists easy definition. At its core, the idea of smart cities is rooted in the creation and connection of human capital, social capital and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure in order to generate greater and more sustainable economic development and a better quality of life. The European approach to smart cities is further defined along six axes or smart dimensions related to: economy, mobility, environment, people, living and governance.
The coordination of policies along these dimensions reflects the positive feedback between city development and urbanisation; cities attract people whilst the availability of populations and infrastructure facilitates economic and societal development. But this feedback alone and the growth to which it gives rise are not sufficient to produce the hoped for benefits, as the problems associated with the uncontrolled growth of the mega-cities amply demonstrate. The linkages between economic, societal and environmental development are not easily scalable as cities expand and are difficult to predict precisely, let alone control. Their beneficial evolution must therefore be facilitated by a combination of framework conditions and ICT infrastructures. In this way a platform needs to be provided on which governments, businesses and citizens can communicate and work together, and track the evolution of the city.
Future blogs will take deeper dives into these challenges and opportunities, as well as examine important issues and lessons emerging from many of the other networks and concepts mentioned above.
 European Parliament (2014) Mapping Smart Cities in the EU, Brussels: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/etudes/join/2014/507480/IPOL-ITRE_ET(2014)507480_EN.pdf
 These problems also occur in the developing world, perhaps more acutely such as in Nigeria), as well as in the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil.