Updates from Smart City Expo Barcelona 2021

From 16th to 18th of November 2021 the Smart City Expo and World Congress took place in Barcelona and online. This event celebrated its 10th anniversary and to help build better, safer, more inclusive cities worldwide remains the goal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given digitalization in cities a boost being a crucial lever to respond to the pandemic. At the same time, it exposed the digital gap making more visible than ever that without human-centered/citizen-centered, inclusive approaches, some citizens may be left behind. From technology-led to human-centered cities and from efficiency-oriented to inclusive, collaborative policies and solutions: A change of mindset towards more human centeredness was tangible starting from the opening session with the title “we are the cities we make”, but also i.e. in the inputs from Roberta Cocco, Ministry of Technological Innovation and Digital Transition of Italy, and Tak Nagumo, Smart City Institute of Japan. On one side, cities and governments launched calls and initiatives for citizens to be able to continue their work and their education during the pandemic. On the other side, the pandemic brought decentralization as less people need to go to the city center, first due to home office duty and now due to home office possibilities.

Other relevant topics were medium and small businesses powering local recoveries and the potential to foster nature and green spaces within the city centers and suburban areas. Medium and small businesses are the economic backbone of cities around the world and digital technologies can play an important role to spark and support their recovery, with huge implications for urban and city centers. Nature-based solutions and green spaces are going to be key in preventing future pandemics, but also a vast contribution to a green and healthy city.

Data is said to be the oil of the 21st century, but Federico Bayle from Dymaxion Labs identified challenges for data management for a common-good oriented urban development: availability regarding quantity and quality of data, lack of standardization, issue of confidentiality, quality and costs of satellite pictures, regulations to acquire these images, need for technical equipment, transferability of results, , etc.

UN-Habitat presented its Playbook “Centering People in Smart Cities”.  The Playbook intends to strengthen a new focus on innovation, digital and smart cities,in order to foster a human-centered rather than in a technology-led use of technologies in urban planning. . The playbook was produced for UN Habitat’s People-Centered Smart Cities Flagship Programme which works to ensure that deployment of technology contributes to sustainability, inclusivity, prosperity and human rights in cities.

Another interesting session were Amsterdam’s lessons learned from deploying sensors in Amsterdam: Be responsible, be aware, be careful when deploying sensors as the city needs to remain responsible and accountable.

And last but not least, Berlin’s experiences on data strategies: The main challenge is cooperating with many stakeholders such as public administration, civil society and private sector. Lots of data is collected and work in data silos, but data needs to be made available for use cases citywide.

Further information

Smart City Expo and World Congress Barcelona 2021: https://www.smartcityexpo.com/

A blueprint for the future: We are the cities we make. Ugo Valenti at Cities Today: https://cities-today.com/industry/blueprint-future-we-are-cities-we-make/

UN-Habitat Playbook “Centering People in Smart Cities”: https://unhabitat.org/programme/people-centered-smart-cities