November 25, 2012

Smart Open Cities? Thoughts from the Smart City Expo

It is been more than a week since the second edition of the Smart City Expo & World Congress ended in Barcelona. Three days in which top thinkers and business leaders from all over the world met to discuss about the last tendencies in technologies applied to urban management.

I had the opportunity to attend some of the sessions and also to meet colleagues from all over the world with whom I shared very interesting and fruitful discussions, most of them in parallel events and dinners organised last minute (but those are always the best meetings, right?).

As expected and announced, the congress was a completely business-oriented experience in which enterprises in the Smart City business had the opportunity to meet cities from all over the world in a perfect exhibition space. The stands area proved to be a store window to showcase Smart City solutions with even Smart Plaza area in which solutions from gold sponsors were shown in what was thought to be the recreation of a live square.

Among other topics discussed in the several sessions, there was the common opinion that the ultimate solution for Smart Cities is a urban platform, a concept under which lies the idea, in simple words, that cities can be controlled by a single management system that will collect city data from different sources, display it in visual maps or models and help city executives take the right management decisions with the maximum and most accurate information.

Much can be argued about the simplicity, suitability and resiliency of such unique technological solutions. However, in this post I would like to raise the attention on the adequacy of adopting open solutions and standards for the interconnection of such platforms between cities.

In a context of increasing recollection of data coming from many sources, there is the need of creating solutions to standardise these sources for the sake of compatibility but also to facilitate the work of enterprises and developers that aim at developing products and services of public interest for cities. This, which seems quite obvious in differents systems inside the same city, makes also big sense when talking about different cities. Would you imagine being a developer and being able to develop an application that would work at different cities at the same time using a single standard?

City Protocol
This is what the world initiative City Protocol, launched during the Smart City Expo aims at doing: the creation of common approaches, standards and solutions in partnership with industry, research agencies and other organisations to help cities build a sustainable future. This is indeed the most promising initiative presented during the expo, and the one that will attract more attention during the following months due to the high expectations created.
At European level there are also some projects working in this sense. One of them is CitySDK which searches for a unique service development kit that can be used at least with the seven European cities participating in the project. Another one is Commons for Europe that fosters the creation of large bases of code commons that can be shared between cities and is behind the creation of the organisation Code for Europe, the European version of Code for America.

As you can see, many interesting stuff is happening... 

October 21, 2012

Citizens taking over the Smart City - the Smart Citizen project

Last 2011 can be described as the year of the “Smart Cities” take off or, as the colleague Pablo Sanchez Chillón would ironically say: “the year that we lived smartly” (in Spanish). The excitement produced in cities all around the globe about the adoption of these ultimate smart solutions for the binary approach of success or failure of the XXIst century cities has attracted an heterogeneous group of private stakeholders that do not want to miss under any circumstance the business opportunity of the decade.  

Of course, this Smart Cities discourse has been accompanied by several different size ad-hoc events in which these private stakeholders have fought to become privileged prescribers of Smart City solutions in the shape of gold sponsors. One example could be the Smart Citiy Expo & World Congress in Barcelona whose second edition is talking place in November 13-15 (the first edition last year attracted more than 6000 attendees proving the high interest around the topic). Another example could the past Smart Cities Industry Summit in London in September 25-26 or the next to come Smart City Exhibition in Bologna in October 29-31.

All these events are thought to be the playground in which the interested parties around the Smart Cities movement meet to discuss around the topic, show solutions and, step by step, improve life in the city hand in hand with technology.  However, very often those interested parties are a complicated biased mixture between private stakeholders promoting their solutions, academic researchers offering an elevated discourse too often far away from real needs and city managers searching for advice.

Having the opportunity of attending and participating in some of them, what shocked me the most was the disconnection of the business actors participating in them and the reality under which most citizens like me live daily. Undoubtedly, as we have already commented in this blog, the success of the Smart City will only take place considering civic engagement as the center of any action.

It seems like the Smart City movement has been divided into two separate layers, intimately connected but one living ignoring the other. On the upper side we have the business Smart City movement, showing impressive technology-enhanced beautifully-designed city managers-oriented business solutions. On lower side we have the Smart Citizens underground movement, as I like to call it, where active citizens, citizeneers, have directly started taking over their public space with tailored solutions designed and tested by them to tackle their needs.

Fascinatingly, not only technology applied to urban solutions has provided new business space for big tech companies but it also has empowered citizens to be able to act and interconnect with the public space independently of their closest government bodies.

So, what happens when a group of citizens wants to have access to data about their surroundings in the city, like acoustic contamination, daylight or sound? What if they can’t access this kind of data in their city or it is directly not being collected by their city? Well, they can do like the promoters of the “Smart Citizen - sensores ciudadanos” project:

The idea is to construct an open source Arduino-based collection platform that is feed with the data coming from tons of sensor boards that capture environment data and send it over the Internet to the platform. The promoters shared their idea in the crowdfunding platform Goteo and reached enough investment to carry on with their project. The boards will be placed at the homes of donors, like me. So any person can be user and producer of data for the common good. Of course I am longing to receive mine at home soon and start posting about my experience.

June 3, 2012

Panel: (Not so) Smart Cities: technology, security and privacy

Last May 31st I was invited to give a speech in the panel “(Not so) Smart Cities: technology, security and privacy”, alongside privacy expert researchers Aaron K. Martin (@_nomap) and Gus Hosein (@privacyint). The event was part of a set of public sessions organised in the framework of the 2012 conference of the Living In Surveillance Societies (LISS) COST Action.

I was asked to make an introductory speech around the concept of the Smart Cities, which was quite unknown by wide part of the audience. I tried to offer, from the point of view of the social sciences, a critical view on the popularity of the term Smart City among worldwide cities. 

I made some reflections on, from my experience, what is the situation in cities when trying to develop Smart City strategies receiving tremendous number of offers from a variety of business sectors and the big gap between those solutions and citizens expectations. I offered a selection of projects developed under the Smart City tag where citizens don’t seem to be at the centre of any designed action.

After all the criticism, I ended my speech with positive hopes. As commented in the past in this blog, the Smart City enthousiasm and the strong political commitment that the term has collected in many cities are an excellent opportunity to face the real problems of the city alongside citizeneers as city activists, taking the action and decisions to the streets and starting doing projects by and for the citizens, using technology as an excellent communication instrument to engage and empower people in finding solutions for our common shared urban problems.

These are the slides I used:(Not so) #smart cities - May 31 2012 - LISS conference 

Disclaimer alert: I take this opportunity to remind that any opinion in this blog or any other personal content is mine only