How many times have we heard the word “smart city”? Do we really know what it means?
Suddenly, cities all over the world are turning into smart cities. Google is building one in Toronto while China is leading the global race to build smart cities and digitalizing urban environments. Helsinki is rolling out smart city solutions as part of its Innovation Districts project. Global spending on smart city initiatives has totaled more than $120 billion last year.
The smart city vision typically involves artificial intelligence, driverless cars, smart street lighting, and smart parking. It promises to solve fundamental challenges for towns and cities. However, no one seems able to agree on what a smart city is even if the term has become an overused buzzword.
Are those utopian pictures we sometimes see mere illusions of progress or spaces where progress can be hosted?
There is a widespread tendency to think that technological advanced services are what make a city “smart”. As the European Commission defines them: “A smart city is a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business”. The goal of a smart city? To improve urban life through more sustainable integrated solutions.
However, it is not enough to equip a city with cutting-edge technologies to make it become “smart”. In reality, in smart cities there is no technological equipment but the way in which citizens, businesses, the community in general uses it and therefore, they experience the city itself. Such cities must pursue urban development goals which must be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and technologically innovative. To become a place where progress can be made, the way citizens interact with it and with each other must be addressed.
These cities should therefore be people-centered and circular, with objectives in terms of competitiveness, environmental sustainability and social inclusion. The circular vision of the city is strongly interconnected with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The transition , however, can only be achieved when all stakeholders – individuals, the private sector, government and civil society – collaborate. In a circular and smart city, energy production is renewable and local, buildings are modular and shared, mobility is shared, clean and optimised. Technology plays a pivotal role but it should be combined with a circular approach.
As cities are driving many contemporary environmental challenges – responsible for 70% global GHG emissions, 60% of resource consumption and 70% of global waste – they also hold the key to curbing the trend. Cities are uniquely positioned to drive a global transition towards a circular economy and through a data-driven approach, they can make perfect hubs for innovation. Needless to say that a circular mobility model fits with this vision as it’s low impact, low cost, and have many economic benefits. Here at GaiaGo we fully embrace this vision and believe that together, circularity and technological innovation, are the ingredients that can make a city sustainable.