European cities are smart!
Smart cities projects have increased their popularity worldwide since their very first implementation. But how and to what extent have they expanded in the European Union? On which topics they have been focusing on? Read further for fresh findings from University of Portsmouth's team.
What does smart city mean?
There are different definitions of smart city on offer. In our research, we define a city as ‘smart’ when investments in human and societal capital and in traditional and modern communication infrastructures foster sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life. These actions have also to be done with no waste of natural resources and a deeper involvement of citizens in the decision-making process - known as participatory governance.
Sometimes, the ambiguity about the definition itself leads to the general public not fully understanding the meaning of the ‘smart city‘. Often cities seem to claim to be ‘smarter’ even though the evidence suggests that they are not - based on a proper definition. For example, the status of being ‘wired’ is assumed to be sufficient to indicate smartness. Simply ‘wired’ cities with high availability and quality of information and communication technology infrastructure are not necessarily smart or intelligent cities.
Why have smart cities increased their importance in the last decade?
Several aspects have triggered the importance of smart cities, in national and international policies:
- Increasingly tight budgets have added pressure on basic services such as drinking water, electricity, waste management, street and highway maintenance. A greater and wider use of new technologies in these services can make cities more efficient.
- Concerns about climate change. The share of population living in cities is rising worldwide. Improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, while promoting energy resilience in terms of security of supply and price, is becoming crucial to their sustainability.
- The influence of the online entertainment, retail and consumer services is beginning to change the nature of the High Street. While traditional high street shops – in many occasions the heart of cities - maintain a predominant role in retail sales, they are facing a challenging time to be resilient and to find a renewed role with respect to the emerging online counterpart.
- An ageing population is placing an increasing burden on adult social care, to the point where it is absorbing an ever-increasing proportion of local authority budgets.
- Pressures from various makers and developers of technology (e.g. Cisco, IBM, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Siemens, and Thales) who have sought business opportunities from ‘smart city’ thinking.
What are European projects on smart cities mainly about?
The preliminary evidence from the project shows variations in the concept of ‘Smart City’. Nonetheless, consistently with the efficiency goal, the main narrative in the EU is developed in terms of energy.
When exploring the correlation with other terms, the most common words are “measuring”, “consumption” and “action”. Not surprisingly, most projects are related to the measurement of consumption. The “action” in itself refers to the scope of the project in reducing the consumption. For example, by using other green alternatives or materials. In terms of EU discourse, this is in line with the European Commission’s environmental initiatives in general, and more specifically with its 7th Environment Action Programme.
In which way policymakers have influenced the perception of smart cities?
Both the practitioners and policymakers have used the dominant energy themes in their statements and agenda. Therefore, they have shaped the perception of smart city policies and projects across the EU in this sense. However, it is worth stressing that the project detects an attempt to reshape the smart policy narrative towards more IT-related projects over the years 2008-2010.
What is the purpose of this deliverable within Perceive’s research? For whom might be relevant?
Nowadays cities are facing important economic, environmental, social, and institutional challenges. The next step of our research will explore the link between ‘smartness’ and ‘resilience’ to the above potential shocks. In other words, how do the smart attributes affect the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks? In our opinion, this research question is crucial to inform the next investment policies, and in turn, to shape citizens’ perception about the added value generated by the EU as a strong contributor to the smart specialisation process.