On the smart city concept

[Versión en castellano]

From 2011 the statistics show very clearly that there is a boom in the searches and in the number of news that Google publishes on Smart Cities in Spain.

Trends on smart cities in Spain. Source: Google trends, 19/8/12

The Smart City concept has always seemed very odd to me. Indeed, you can hear at conferences and seminars that it is not a well-defined one. Everyone uses it a bit according to his personal criteria. It is commonly assumed as dealing with the use of information and communications technologies, sustainability, quality of life in cities, etc. But everyone uses it at his will and according to his own interests. There are those who think that there should be a standardization, so that everybody could agree on a specific unique and universal meaning. Without neglecting the obvious advantages of standardization, it seems to me that in some contexts this lack of precise definition is one of the main advantages of the concept, as we will see below.

On the other hand, there is no clear and well-defined origin of the concept, although there is usually  a consensus that IBM had much to do. Anyway, I think that if this concept had not ever been coined, we would be doing exactly the same thing. I mean it is not necessary to coin the concept for applying technology, for looking for sustainability, for improving the quality of life in cities, etc. Nevertheless, although not introducing major substantive issues, the concept itself does strenghthen competition: all city leaders want to build a  city smarter than their neighbors’, thus fighting to improve their city with a stronger vigor. And that, of course, is great for the people. Therefore, as the Italians say: the smart city concept, si non è vero e ben trovato

City & citizens. El Rastro, Madrid. (photo by F. Rayon, 2011)

The effect of the urbanization effect taking place in the world is widely known: people do want to live in cities. The cities increasingly want to attract new people to live in, especially if they bring talent, creativity and innovation skills with them. This way, the cities expand their economy, the municipalities get more revenues and can therefore devote more financial resources to improving their citizens’ quality of life. This in turn makes them more competitive to attract again more talent, etc. And it is in this spiral of increasing competitiveness where the Smart City concept plays its role fully. For it is clear that these words are magical for the city leaders, since they give them good opportunities to appear in the media whenever they can say they are driving his city to a smarter status… This is clearly shown in the first graph, where we can see a tremendous growth of the concept presence in the media. On August 2012, 12, a “Smart City” search in Google yielded 401 million results. We should therefore welcome the concept if it really makes city managers improve their cities in a faster and more effective way. And let’s them use the concept in a broad, flexible and adaptable way, and apply it to the most specific needs of their cities, always looking for cost/benefit and sustainability optimization.

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