Review of the Smart City Expo World Congress 2022

Themes of the Smart City Expo World Congress

The first event we visited with the International Smart Cities Network at this year’s Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona sought common understanding right from the start of what the smart city signifies. For that reason, it was entitled ‘Cities Made for Citizens’ Needs’. Claudio Orrego Larraín, Governor of the Metropolitan Regional Government of Santiago, Chile stated that tech enterprises have so far failed to deliver on their promise of a safer, more equitable and more sustainable city. As he made clear, the focus on purely technology-driven progress is failing to listen to users and beneficiaries and ato ddress the why and how. Utilizing digital and technical solutions alone does not make the city smart. The smart city lives from the participation of smart people, the effectiveness of smart institutions and smart politics that listen, explain, and create the ground-breaking policies and legal frameworks. In this context, the new UN-Habitat report on the “Global Review of Smart City Governance Practices” was also presented.

Meanwhile at the Expo, private and public exhibitors rubbed shoulders in presenting the latest trends and innovations around the smart city. The opportunity highlighted the crucial role of the private sector in the development and implementation of innovative solutions. While many cities and municipalities struggle with innovation processes and are rarely willing to take associated risks, the start-up sector is piloting and implementing innovative, often tailor-made solutions. In general, start-ups are more agile and responsive than established technology companies when it comes to meeting local, specific requirements. Unsurprisingly then, they are often the cooperation partners of choice for local public institutions and administrations. However, to realize long-term cooperation, start-up development must be financed, and its sustainable growth secured. This is complicated by several challenges, including regulatory limitations for innovation procurement, contract types and economic activities.

Many topics specific to urban development and its challenges and how they relate to the digital transformation of cities were discussed, throwing a light on how politics, administrations and the private sector interplay. For example, the idea of the 15-minute city as a liveable, urban model for achieving the goals of sustainable development came to the fore during the presentation of the Global Proximity Observatory of ETI Chair. The importance of digital technologies for urban development, from the Internet of Things to cloud computing, digital twins, and artificial intelligence were discussed – openly and without reserve. However, a special stage was given to the topic of cyber resilience, which is the subject of the new Global Policy Roadmap of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. The challenge of standardisation was also prominently featured by the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology, while another publication by UN-Habitat addressed the issue of human rights in the context of digital transformation in cities.

Likewise, the importance of the Smart City in the context of climate change was emphasised and widely debated at the Expo, especially against the backdrop of increasing extreme weather events. Concepts such as the Smart Water City appear indispensable in the long term. Against the backdrop of the global energy crisis, the potential of the Smart City to combat energy poverty was also discussed: Here, digitalisation and technological progress can boost energy efficiency, foster renewable energy and help reduce consumption. The right moves presuppose a coherent, inclusive strategy at the municipal level.

Activities of the International Smart Cities Network

The ISCN was represented in Barcelona by a delegation of municipal and national representatives from the ISCN partner countries Brazil, India, Mexico, and Peru. Together with the partners, we explored current trends in digital urban transformation. We learned first-hand about the latest technological innovations and participated in the critical discussion of globally relevant smart city issues. To this end, the ISCN itself organised a global exchange event as part of the congress.

The event Tackling Climate Change with Digital Solutions for People-Centred Urban Development addressed smart city actors at national, regional, and municipal levels, as well as from academia and civil society organisations from around the world. Knowledge partners from Africa, Asia, America, and Europe shared their experiences and insights on digital solutions for climate-neutral urban development.

By presenting various innovative and co-creative projects and approaches in the fields of energy and mobility transition and extreme weather management, the partner countries and cities succeeded in intensifying their exchange of knowledge and experiences. Exploring a fictitious scenario, the different approaches and strategies were put into context and strengthened common understanding within the network.

The ISCN also participated in the event ‘Promoting Sustainable Urban Development through Digital Innovations in Indian cities’. The focus was on the importance of digital tools and integrated open data platforms for the development of urban data ecosystems. These play an important role in developing evidence-based and targeted interventions in our cities. One of the major challenges is to ensure participation in the data ecosystem and to design platforms in a participatory way to involve all stakeholders in decision-making at city level. In this context, we were able to share for the ISCN the experiences of the international ideas competition #SolutionsForCities, which enabled the co-creative development of the scalable digital solution MiMercado AMG’, a local online marketplace for the city of Guadalajara, Mexico.

Renate Mitterhuber, Head of the Division Smart City of the German Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building and commissioner for the International Smart City Network, also participated in the panel ‘Enabling urban innovation in Africa: Unlikely allies towards a collective policy agenda’. Together with Alice Higiro from the Ministry of ICT and Innovation in Rwanda and representatives of the cities of Berlin and Johannesburg, they discussed the sometimes different approaches and yet similar challenges in finding innovations to enable a sustainable and common good-oriented transformation towards the Smart City. In this context, citizen-centred design of digital solutions as well as engagement and collaboration with the innovation ecosystem and strategic policy-making are key issues. The latter must create the legal framework, regulate risks, protect rights and ensure benefits for citizens.

You can hear more voices, highlights, and opinions on SCEWC22 in our latest ISCN podcast episode!