Learning from the Barcelona Smart Cities Expo

The Barcelona Smart City Expo and World Congress was a great learning experience for me. I spent the full week in Barcelona, most of which at the conference and expo, observing, listening, talking and trying to get a feel for the overall state of thinking and attitudes toward the future on the part of all the many and diverse players. It was a highly informative and in many ways challenging week. And a bit puzzling

The big split, to my way of thinking, traces to the fact that many, most even, of the exhibits and presentations took as their point of departure, specific products, service and/or technologies. That’s fair enough from at least one perspective, and one could quickly see that there were quite a number of powerful tools and arguments from this side that need to be taken into consideration.

Those of us working on these issues from a public policy perspective are well aware that the only way to move from what we have to more sustainable, more successful and happier cities, will require that we harness and put to work the very best of the technologies that are out there or that we can somehow fashion to help do the job. But?

Tool led – or tool enabled?

On the other hand it seemed to me that I was able to spot, overall, less concern on the stands and in the presentations with the “wetware” of the smart cities challenge, namely people and their behaviour. The technologies that were being displayed on center stage are often imposing and potentially very useful. However the point of departure from a policy perspective has to do with what they can do to create a more positive living environment for the people who live, work and play there. And such environments are complex, and also often involve a certain number of contradictions and uncertainties.

So on my way back to Paris, I decided that we could make a contribution in the following way, in attempt to bring the two sides of the equation together and see how we might, with the help of an international group of expert collaborators, make a best and most creative synthesis.

We thus decided to launch a collaborative international project under the heading The 2012 Safe Streets Challenge, in the hope that it could serve as an open turntable for expert opinion and information exchanges, taking the full year of 2012 to see if we can advance the discussions and creative interactions must be mastered if we are to advance the sustainability, economic and social challenges of our cities. Unlike the full Barcelona conference we shall be concentrating specifically on issues of mobility.

To lay the base for the collaboration, we sat down and created three main internet synapses, including:

  1. The 2012 Safe Streets Challenge website at https://safestreetstrategies.wordpress.com/.
  2. A supporting Facebook site at http://www.facebook.com/SafeStreetStrategies
  3. A Twitter site at https://twitter.com/#!/safestreets2012

While the program will be formally launched only with the New Year, these basic supporting tools are already in pretty good working shape and should be useful for your consultation and use.

The project is being guided by an International Advisory Panel consisting of some of the world’s leading experts working in this field in Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Portugal,  Spain, Sweden, Singapore, Taiwan, and the USA. (For full information on the panel, consult the website as per 2 Jan 2012.)

The first quarter of the year, Q1, will be given over the identifying the widest possible range of tools an approaches that are being tested, developed and in places use to render the streets of our cities more safe. And we are well aware that there are not only very many of these, but also that they span a very wide range of types and approaches. That we view as good news since the challenges are so great that the work and contributions of all hands are greatly needed.

Level playing field.

It is often the case in projects of this sort that the organizers will concentrate on what they consider to be the best techniques and methods of getting the job done. We are in no such hurry. In this case, and especially during the creative first quarter outreach phase, we have every intention of casting the net of the research and information developing as wide a possible. Thus we are looking for hardware, software and, once again, wetware, with a view in the second quarter of the project to start to see if we can begin to draw some preliminary conclusions and hints for public policy makers, the media, the various eventual work partners, and the public more generally, to whom this project is expressly dedicated.

Next year in Barcelona

Perhaps the 2012 Barcelona event will provide a useful occasion for presenting and opening up the findings of the full year project to critical comment and discussion. In any event, those who wish to follow progress will be amply served by the tool set which is indicated here. And if you have questions, suggestions or should like in any way to get involved in this project, please get in touch with us as follows.

New Mobility Partnerships, EcoPlan International
8-20 rue Joseph Bara., 75006 Paris France
Tel. Europe +_331 7556 3788 USA: +1 (213) 985 3501 E: eric.britton@ecoplan.org

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One response to “Learning from the Barcelona Smart Cities Expo

  1. Hi Eric,

    Great move! I also attended the conference and had the feeling (a previous feeling in fact, in all this buzzword of smart cities) that we need to put some action beyond the formulations from private companies if we really want changes to happen. And this will only occur if public policies and citizen visions and needs are incoporated. I really enjoyed your session as it concentrated on real urban problems and real solutions for everyday life in cities. I always miss the street level in the smart cities retoric (all those renders from above and thinking in big scale planning only leads to infrastructure and hardware instead of thinking the way a pedestrian, the common people move on streets and carry our lives).
    I will follow the initiative!

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