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A Smart City: Technology as Driver of Change

By Luís Barros, Chief Operating Officer and Architect

To speak about Smart Cities is to speak about technology, but the scope of reflection is much broader. It integrates changes in the underlying territorial systems, in the infrastructures that feed them and in the needs and attitudes of those who inhabit them. Only with a vision of this network can it possible to build cities that, besides smart, must also be sustainable.

The debate has been centered around technology as the main (or only) booster of change, but decades of experience in Smart Cities show that urban planning, an understanding of the citizens’ needs, and the careful management of life supporting infrastructures –water, air quality, waste, etc – are as fundamental as the use of new digital tools. For potentially disruptive changes to occur at this scale, the public sector, the private sector and the civil society have to work together to ensure smart directions and solutions in the transition towards a Smart City.

We must put in motion an urgent and unstoppable process for reinventing the city.

Several cities are currently struggling with overpopulation crisis, bearing the consequential urban impact and scarcity of resources. Furthermore, the ever more prominent social and economic inequalities are at the root of many of the problems in the communities.

And here is where technology as a driver of reinvention comes into play.

Technology, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things must be tools of integrated Smart City planning, in order to better cope with the challenges of the current urban society. Interesting solutions are also emerging in the fields of BIM, virtual reality, and nano and biotechnologies. Science also contributes to the creation of resolutions through Big Data, which generates new perspectives and solutions for unforeseen circumstances, for the things not yet thought of, which are inherent to dynamic structures – such as cities, people and resources.

Together, in a result that is greater than the sum of its parts, these tools will allow the social and economic progress we wish to achieve on this day and age, while being able to enjoy them in the future we are building today.

However, as much as technology plays an important role to ease the operation of a Smart City, implementing all the new gadgets in its municipal infrastructure without criteria is everything but smart.

Smart Cities have to use technology in platforms that provide grounds for the city design, for community organisation, for finding new ideas and testing them, thus creating positive changes in their application. Smart Cities look for information from their citizens, history and culture, applying agile management methodologies and creating new models of sustainability and scalability.

Smart Cities use these planning bases in order to allow an optimal usage of space and resources, along with an efficient and ideal distribution of benefits. They should also aim at increasing the connectivity among citizens and between them and the public administration. Public facilities such as schools, roads and hospitals are thus improved, mitigating the various redundancies in the current system while saving time and money.

As technology evolves and allows for more careful analyses, Smart Cities can start being designed in a way that allows flexibility to changes and empowerment of new lifestyles, bearing in mind a more sustainable future. Smart Cities will, therefore, be environmentally friendly, resorting to devices that may monitor the purity level of air, a rational use of water, waste management, as well as other environmental and health-related factors.

Thus, Smart Cities will be able to reach a healthy stage only when they satisfy the social and psychological needs of the population.

A Smart City is a city focused on nature and humankind, backed by science and technology.

This is what makes it smart.

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