Smart City Expo 2012: debating future cities and innovation models

29th November – 2nd December 2011, Barcelona, Spain

by Francesca Bria

The first Smart City Expo hosted more than 50 cities around the world, 118 businesses, over 6000 participants and 2000 panellists. The Expo announced the creation of a global Network of Smart Cities coordinated by the City of Barcelona, encompassing cities and businesses around the world. The objective is to promote policy actions and activities in this new field, by creating global common standards and criteria for the effective implementation of smart cities at a global level. The Expo was a meeting point for professionals active in the field of digital future cities, including heads of public administrations, practitioners and academics. Barcelona has made extensive investments and policy commitments with the intention of becoming one of Europe’s leading smart cities, promoting big innovation policy initiatives such as launching Barcelona Smart City Campus next to the 22@ district, an urban hub for businesses, innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. The conference organisers invited speakers of the highest rank such as Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab, Anthony Townsend Research Director of the Institute for the Future, Jeremy Rifkin founder of the Foundation on Economic Trends, Abha Joshi-Ghani Manager of Urban Development of the World Bank, Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, Adam Greenfield, founder and managing director of Urbanscale.

Developing the smart and sustainable cities of the future is not an easy undertaking at a time of urgent societal challenges such as financial crises, environmental disasters, climate change, ageing populations and increasing unemployment. All these issues will require innovative solutions that challenge traditional ways of doing things. Organisations are required to move from closed innovation models to open and collaborative innovation models that can unleash the power of social production and collective intelligence.

It’s not just about the technology

One of the most challenging issues addressed during the different panels at the Expo was  that smart cities are clearly not only about ‘plumbing’ or a ‘technological fix’. On the contrary smart cities need to solve societal challenges through future technologies following a holistic approach that integrates technological innovation with urban planning, sociology and anthropology. For instance ‘defining innovative social meaning of technologies and investigating how urban technologies will impact public services and people’s lives’ are, according to Jonathan Wareham Vice-Dean of Research at Esade Business School, amongst the most exciting research questions. Integrating non technological elements, such as social relationships, institutions and social norms is going to be challenging, but that’s where the big impact will lie, leading to the discovery of new services that will transform people’s lives.

Innovation in smart cities

These issues focussed on civic innovation were further discussed during a panel moderated by Esteve Alimirall titled ‘Open innovation for developing smart cities’. I was one of the panellists together with Jake Barton and Peter Corbett, both members of Code for America, one of the most interesting projects worldwide on open innovation in the public sector. In the panel I emphasised the importance of creating collective action and awareness, moving beyond the things that IT is already good at doing (such as data aggregation, sensing, tracking) to more complex aspects of social and collective intelligence. As Jeremy Rifkin reminded us in one stimulating debate during the Expo, what is happening with the smart cities is a new revolution in which new distributed energy models will shift towards a system similar to an ‘internet of global energy’, with a multitude of nodes with the capability to produce and distribute energy. This revolution according to Rifkin will provide an opportunity to create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs. From a more critical perspective Adam Greenfield, the author of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing stressed the need for open civic innovation to emerge. According to Greenfield, there is no such a thing as a smart city, the city should empower people that can become smarter and collectively shape and transform the urban environment.

Cities in the driving seat

The public sector, and specifically cities, have an important role to play as the orchestrators of urban innovation platforms. Urbanization is occurring at a rapid rate; in 2050 75% of the population will live in cities. Cities can then set the rules of the game, building smart cities as open cities that facilitate innovation ecosystems to emerge, creating new entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs for future generations. This is why the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development is supporting 13 pilots in European cities that are developing smart applications in areas ranging from transport, education, health and environment.

Smart City Expo & World Congress will host again the second edition next November 2012.

One comment for “Smart City Expo 2012: debating future cities and innovation models

  1. Save the date! 13-15 November 2012 in Barcelona. London road show: Tuesday 24 April 2012 guest speakers and one to one meetings! Don’t miss your chance to network et take part in the “smart city plaza”. Contact us at

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