Smart cities' main goals: Promote innovation and new behaviours

From the left: Piero Bassetti, Andrea Poggio, Giangiacomo Schiavi, Carlo Ratti.

Monday, 17 March 2014

For many years the smart city concept has been increasingly used in public debates, articles, conferences, and academic publications.

There is a general agreement that the primary objective of smart cities is the achievement of the 2020 energy objectives (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% and to make a 20% improvement in energy efficiency)(1).

From Milan to Copenhagen, from Helsinki to Abu Dhabi, many cities and citizens around the world have started the process to become smart, in order to reach many goals, from a zero carbon footprint and cleaner mobility to healthier and more sustainable behaviours and habits. 

But there is lack of clarity about what the ‘smart city’ concept really means. 

For instance, according to Professor R. Laurini (2), a single definition does not exist 
and a synthesis between different visions is difficult to be found. Professor Laurini takes
in consideration the points of views of the EU(1), and of the architect and director of MIT Senseable City Lab Carlo Ratti.

The first view  considers six variables: economy, mobility, environmental, people, living, governance (2). The second says that an intelligent or smart city is technological, interconnected, clean, attractive, comforting, efficient, open, collaborative, creative, digital and green.

These variables show that cities and citizens are strictly linked, so we cannot talk about cities without considering their inhabitants and behaviours.
Starting from this point, a key factor is the ability to influence people, their choices and the way they interact with technologies.
This idea, which underlines the important role of local authorities and stakeholders as drivers of change, is one of the pillars of the eBRIDGE project (see the Lisbon case study

A recent event in Milan, attempted to shed light to some of these questions. Milan City of Expo: The creative metropolis is becoming smart, held at the Fondazione Corriere della Sera in Milan, in January, 2014, with many interesting reflections on smart citizens, smart cities and their connections.

Speakers in this event included the president of Globus et Locus Piero Bassetti, the president of Fondazione Legambiente Innovazione Andrea Poggio, the architect and director of MIT Senseable City Lab Carlo Ratti, the journalist Beppe Severgnini and the vice director of Corriere della Sera Giangiacomo Schiavi.

Janette Webb (3), Professor of Sociology, Energy and Communities at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Local authorities have a key part to play because they contribute to rebuilding local economies by improving infrastructure and housing stock, stimulating local jobs and creating neighbourhood partnerships. There is an opportunity to have people collaborating in meaningful, bigger projects, instead of leaving them feeling disempowered. This will make a meaningful difference to the place where they live.”
It is important that citizens feel the sense of what their city, municipality and authorities are doing and why. Everyone can make the difference and be part of the city evolution.

The role of citizens was further emphasised by Andrea Poggio: “Citizens are the key players. We prefer to talk about smart citizens instead of smart cities. But how can we give citizens the possibility to be smart?”
An answer to this question could come from smart, willing citizens making informed, sustainable choices for their living, working, eating, dressing and mobility needs.
Some options depend on the individual, but others have to be provided by municipalities, authorities, urban planners, associations, companies.
Car sharing is an interesting and accessible example of city ‘smartness'.

“It was introduced in Milan in 2001 by Legambiente with only three cars and today it is living a boom” Andrea Poggio explained. “Nowadays Milan has four different car sharing fleets: GuidaMi, E-VAI, Car2go and Enjoy. GuidaMi and E-VAI have already introduced electric cars in their fleet. The combination between e-cars and car sharing could become the expression of the Milan’s transition to the smart or intelligent city and smart citizens.”


(1) Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and into the initiative ‘Resource efficient Europe’.
(2) Tecnologie ICT per le Smart City – Professor R. Laurini.
(3) Smart City Dynamics – Inspiring views from experts across Europe –