‘Cities are essential to our survival as a species in the 21st century’ – this statement voiced by Robert Muggah at the Smart City Expo World Congress highlights the daunting challenges that policy-makers, experts and citizens are facing in transforming our cities into smart, sustainable, and inclusive urban habitats. The Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, as the world’s leading event for smart city projects in the context of urban development, provided a platform to debate these pressing questions. YEL delegates Natalia, Natasa, Ania and Philipp had the opportunity to listen to and engage with smart city and technology experts from all over the world between the 14th-16th of November in Barcelona. After three days of enriching debates and discussions at the conference, five main insights prevail:
1. Interdependence: As the world is increasingly interconnected, there is a need for cities to act together across borders. Challenges such as climate change, air pollution, migration and questions of social hardships are most effectively addressed if cities work together and share their visions as well as best-practices.
2. Inclusion: Smart cities cannot be built without involving citizens in the process. Modern technologies allow us to connect different demographics within cities and empower previously less-privileged segments of our societies.
3. Leadership: Strong leadership is essential to make smart city projects work all around the globe. Many policy-makers and experts get preoccupied with technology, but they should rather focus on outcomes and act as role-models.
4. Technology: Technology provides the tools to make cities smarter, but needs to be incorporated into sound strategies. Emerging technologies such as the blockchain could radically alter the way we think about business transactions in the future and open-up entirely new use-cases in the field of urban governance.
5. Vision: Thinking about smart cities means thinking about complete holistic change. It is not enough for cities to simply procure and apply digital technologies, but rather about crafting a new paradigm of how we want to live in our cities in the future. We need to envision our cities in a different manner if we truly want to make them smart.
In addition, the trade fair that formed part of the event allowed to explore the newest technologies and smart applications that stand behind the transformation of our cities. From industry leaders that offer intelligent air traffic management systems to a start-up that allows pet owners to ‘park their dog’ and supervise via app – many companies, cities and institutions exhibited their innovative solutions that constitute the technological basis for smart cities. Altogether, the YEL delegates agreed that it is encouraging to see how the topic of smart cities is increasingly gaining traction. As the potential of applying smart technologies in our cities is receiving more political attention globally, it is imperative for young people to shape the agenda on the future of our cities. The YEL delegation in 2018 will hopefully continue on this path.