What does ‘smart city’ mean? “A smart city is a place where the traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses.”



Cities have always been the engines of economic growth. However, they do not always respected common sense criteria of “sustainable development”. In other words, development that takes place in urban areas is not always people-friendly. In this innovative setting the quality of citizens’ life should improve at the same speed as the quality of the urban environment. It is a core element of the urban innovation promoted by the European Commission: indeed, a new call for proposals for Smart Cities and Communities under Horizon 2020 opened on 10 December 2014. Successful proposals should provide solutions integrating energy, transport and ICT through lighthouse projects.

 The main themes that the projects should develop are the following:

  1. Low energy district
  2. Integrated infrastructure
  3. Sustainable urban mobility

 To have an idea of what are the ‘smartest cities’ in the world, Forbes presented a top5, which included Barcelona (that scored most points, becoming the top smart city in the world), New York, and London.

 Of course, high scores in different areas are difficult to reach contemporaneously. For example, Barcelona did not achieve the first position in all the indicators, but it has been rewarded because of its involvement in the smart city concept, with above-average performance in every field.

 Getting some inspirations from Barcelona. Barcelona aims to make the best use of resources, respecting the environment:

  1. Smart lighting: It consists in prioritising illumination for pedestrian areas, improving lighting and energy-efficiency levels, incorporating technology into the management of public lighting and proposing specific lighting projects in order to personalise streets, buildings and monuments. 

  2.  Smart Water: Measures have been set in motion in order to enable the city to intelligently manage its hydrological resources.
  3. Smart rubbish collection: The smart treatment and management of waste creates jobs, saves resources and does not harm the environment. 

Small does not mean easy. As you can see from the top3, being small does not mean being smarter. On the contrary, bigger cities seem to perform better as innovation incubators: necessity is the mother of innovation.

Essentially, ‘smart cities’ exploit networks that already exist but are still hidden, whose potentiality is unexploited. There are many possible synergies that can be activated bringing together businesses, cities, research communities, and civil societies. For example, investing in Research & Innovation funding could be a catalyst for private-sector investment in clean energy.

When networks are finally recognized and organized, they can create value. This means that energies are not wasted and the entire community can benefit from them. Furthermore, if the projects are well managed and coordinated as a complex set of different actions moving toward a common goal, the urban area can become hub of innovation. Innovation triggers more and more innovation.



Eliana Canavesio