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The four ‘hidden forces’ of Smart Cities

By Jorge Catarino, Senior Partner and Architect

The transformation of the city as we know it into a Smart City goes far beyond the infrastructural changes, the adaptation of the buildings to new technologies and environmental sustainability. Just like ‘hidden forces’, the evolution towards a Smart City relies on a holistic combination of four criteria or sine qua non conditions.

First of all: opportunity. Opportunity regards the available deadlines to prepare, approve and execute a Plan, which are often unreasonable. One just has to take into consideration that, generally, the times of a planning procedure are longer than the time of a legislature (four years).

In this context, we find ourselves wondering why does it take significantly less time to assess a land lot than a Plan or why Plans are not easily executable?

The answer is clear: because mistrust is the rule. Mistrust prevails within the public administration system and this contaminates the relationship between ordinary citizens and central or local administration.

This lack of trust creates a state of suspicion between the central administration and the municipalities, as the former refrains from attributing the necessary competencies for deciding over of a Plan of a scale lower than the PDM (Land-Use Planning). Moreover, the municipalities themselves do not trust us, the applicants, even if the law allows for a simplification of procedures that should render municipal technicians responsible.

Lack of trust is a real obstacle to a timely response, resulting in the loss of economic opportunities at the expense of the city transformation, amongst others. And thus, the essential time to erect our smart cities is wasted. This is neither friendly nor smart.

A Smart City is also a coherent city. Nature has all the time to evolve and requires only the respect of Man. On the other hand, humanity depends on nature and the transformation that human beings bring about in the territory also needs its time.

It is true that, along with the gradual growth in population, mankind has become better able to respond to the challenges imposed by the evolution of urban society. However, it is also true that time has begun to run out – tempus fugit. Therefore, organisation and planning of both time and location is the way to counteract the lack of time.

Nowadays, in order to (properly)transform the territory, we have to rely on history, which helps us make choices by revisiting past experiences, and on procedural innovation, which shows us that there is still room for invention.

Cities have always evolved and adapted better when they are considered according to a global perspective. In our territory and in our cities we must urgently return to structured planning with a vision for the future. For years we have tried to solve planning through studies and subdivisions, and we have learnt that the sum of different parts seldom generates a capable solution. In other words, the planning of a friendly and intelligent city must be coherent as a whole.

A Smart City also requires a solid foundation, one which covers the whole territory. Cities have always evolved in order to provide us better living conditions. They started by taking care of our most basic needs, but now we demand much more our from cities. Nowadays we yearn for smart cities, i.e., cities that help us live with more quality time.

The evolution of digital technologies is all around and has the ability of bringing together a number of areas hitherto disconnected from each other – with our mobile phones we control cars, manage the heating in the house or choose the TV programmes. Technology is freeing us from the most basic functions, creating up more room for thought and production of knowledge.

Nonetheless, these changes, which simplify our lives, require a physical base and a setting in order to develop. In urban terms, the physical base is the territory, and the setting is the environment. The environment is therefore the key element for our sustainability and the territory is the solid foundation for implementation.

Concluding, the Smart City is an adaptable city. Adaptability is an essential criterion for success because, in a time and in a world in constant change, rigid solutions do not work – they are not user-friendly and are seldom intelligent. The underlying principle of smart cities has to be dynamic, finding easily implementable solutions at bearable costs. In these situations, planning must be transparent, foresee adaptations, remain coherent and guarantee the environmental principles of sustainability that support its genesis, its solid foundation.

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