With our partner, Prof. Carlos Moreno, president of Forum Live in a Living City (LiaLC), we launched the first session of the Initiative for Habitat III during the CITIES FOR LIFE 2015 Global Meeting, held in Medellin the August 31 and September 1st.


Medellin, Robert Spizzichino, 8/31/15

The issue paper Habitat III on this subject tries to explain the concept and the state of its current implementation, and clearly takes side in its development.

The role of ICTs in networked urbanization and the dynamism of cities in the 21st century is becoming increasingly understood. ICTs have ushered significant and irrevocable changes in the way people live, boosted social prosperity, and had significant impact on the growth and competitiveness of economies and cities. There is also growing recognition of ICTs’ potential to achieve desired outcomes in urban development: high-quality public spaces, well-connected grids, well-designed density, increased resource efficiency, improved quality of life, growth with reduced carbon emissions, and knowledge creation and management that address emerging needs and risks --- the contours of cities that are smart and sustainable.

The paper considers that it even makes a basis for the development of a new model of planning and governance adapted to the complexity of urban problems of this century. What struck me in this text is that it sometimes takes word for word the arguments of a report exposing the value of the sole industrial sector "Efficient, innovative, participatory: how to make the most intelligent city? »

My comments are founding on the ambiguities and risks of this concept, but without denying the contribution of ICT to the management of the city.
The smart city, or intelligent city, is full of promises that vary according to its promoter and his/her definition of intelligence. Management improvement and benefit for users (which users?) sometimes overlap.

Ecology - The smart city would improve environmental quality, thanks to extensive use of smart grids clad with sensors that return amounts of data to analyze. In Europe and France in particular, we  have several partial experiences of implementing "smart grid"  providing enhanced interconnections and new applications, for example Issy-les-Moulineaux (with Bouygues Immobilier) and Nice Metropolis  (Alstom and EDF). These experiences are clearly prototyping future developments of industrial products and services for new markets in urban management.

For now, no one has answered the question of the business model of smart grids; these projects aim to bring responses. The neighborhood level involves different uses and types of energy, and there’s lack of data on this subject. The city, energy and digital skills are three specific domains that no actor is, today, able to combine easily. Beyond the lack of perspective, the cost of the investment raises questions about the economic barriers that probably exclude smaller cities to invest on these innovations.

Reducing congestion and related pollution is also a classic of smart grids. While we are right to want to optimize traffic congestions by providing advanced information; but if new travel solutions do not come at the same time, the fluidity of traffic will produce what it has always done in the past: a flow of new vehicles on the road.

Obviously, the smart city also promotes teleworking and teleservices. That represents also a way to increase the "performance" of public service; the number of digitalized services- which facilitates privatization- also facilitates rationalization and less duplicates. According to the British strategy of online public services, the same service operating with  digital technology costs fifty times cheaper than the service B2B, thirty times cheaper than by postal exchange and twenty times cheaper than in phone exchange. It will take years to assess whether the slimming cure does not actually come at the expense of the user; it raises also the question of digital capacity of the administration and of the users. The digital city socialization process. And we must also ensure the safety of data for users.

A safer city - The smart city also wants an answer to security problems, from delinquency to fire, relying on predictive analysis of large amounts of data. The smart city could be hostile to the "undesirable" that sometimes scares more affluent citizens groups.  Both are nevertheless also users of the city. The risk of increased surveillance against the will of citizens is not negligeable. "For Saskia Sassen, we must work" to urbanize technology rather than using technologies that misurbanize the city "

A more democratic city - Having become intelligent, cities allow a return to the democratic ideal, in the etymological sense: people power. The open data is thus at the heart of smart cities policies and crystallizes the political polarisme of smart city, both managed as a business, but also more transparent and participatory. Urban crowd funding, created at the origin to fight poverty, currently tends to favors the rich neighborhoods over the poor neighborhoods. These devices therefore strengthen the two-speed city in favor of an upper middle class with strong cultural capital. Only people familiar with modern technologies and able to afford them will join to this techno-participation.

So, the smart city, spearheading a more sustainable world? This idyllic vision of the city raises a number of questions. First, it is based on the interconnection of networks. How then react the whole system in case of failure of one of its elements? Second, the technological control over the city may overstate or create digital divides, by promoting a government by experts as much by dividing the people according to their technological equipment. Today, people without smartphone already often encounter difficulties in access to certain services. Moreover, most optimizations promised by this model are based on personal data: geolocation, uses preferences. The legitimate question of the right of individuals and the protection of privacy is raised. And if being reluctant to deliver its data is becoming a factor of exclusion in terms of service rendered, can we still talk about free will?

One can’t analyze a technology without addressing its social and political environment. Asking question of technology is asking the control of its development. Data and algorithms are not neutral, we are here facing political and democratic issues: which city do we want to build? Who manages the city? Who decides? How citizens and users partner?

Far to refuse any technological innovation, digital can encourage citizen participation in the management of his city. This can happen through participatory processes on the basis of comprehensive diagnostics and through greater collective intelligence, for the coproduction of the data (citizens reveals the state of the city via applications), and of course the transparency of public action.

Reconciling optimization of the city in real time and its reappropriation by its users is far from obvious, especially because a participatory management requires long deliberation process. Moreover, how to reconcile a participatory logic, which requires information’s transparency with the business model of urban operators, where ownership and data privacy is strategic? These issues, also, remain open. The smart city must deliver its environmental promises and build its social dimension to meet the commitments of the sustainable city. One thing is certain: it will not be without its intelligent inhabitants (smart citizens).

Finally, an important observation: there are other concepts for smart cities

The advantage of Smart word is the extent of its meanings: Elegant, cunning, Sassy, ​​Vivid, Intelligent (computer). And in Europe we have a dual approach on smart cities: that one from smart grids and that one from of an European laboratory of urban and social experiments operating from 10 cities: Smart City introduces an innovative method of support for urban projects and Territorial Development centered on real uses of the city and citizen interventions.

◊ inventing new modes of consultation and design of the city
◊ Act as interface between inhabitants, local actors and project management
◊ Supporting urban transformation and the emergence of new imaginary
◊ Integrate uses and the recovery of the territories

This is precisely what concerns "Cities for Life"

Twitter Feed

International Urban Development Association

A global membership association of urban policy-makers and practitioners to share knowledge, experience and tools for integrated territorial development.  // READ MORE