Eurbanlab: Cities will thus become bigger, more complex and dense

Eurbanlab coordinator

Prior to the Smart City Event we’ve interviewed Roger Toussaint who is coordinator at Eurbanlab. We asked him about this vision on the best smart city in the world, but also about the developments in his own city. Besides, we were curious to find out what he sees as the biggest challenges for developing a successful smart city project and how cities can attract private partners and convince them to invest? He also provides us with his vision about the future of smart cities.

What is a Smart City in your opinion, and what city is in your opinion the best Smart City in the world?EurbanLab

Historically, cities have been the engines of economic growth. Technological advances during the industrial revolution spurred economic development, but all too often with a loss of human health or environmental degradation as a result. The world’s population is expected to have doubled by 2050, and by then the vast majority will live in urban areas. Cities will thus become bigger, more complex and dense. This urban growth will make already challenging issues, such as quality of life or resource efficiency, even more complex.

In this context and the wider sustainability paradigm, the ‘Smart City’ concept was developed. It relies heavily on technology to alleviate economic, social and environmental issues in cities. Collecting information and using ‘smart’ technologies, should lead to more efficient, innovative, and sustainable cities; dramatically improving urban life through better health, greener living spaces, and more democratic modes of governance at the same time. Whether this firm and optimistic belief in the use of big data and technological innovations makes a city ‘smart’ remains questionable. We should not forget that we need human intelligence to ask the right questions and to make the correct interpretations. True Smart Cities realise that sustainable innovation and development comes from new ideas; ideas developed by unconventional inhabitants and professionals who think differently and colour outside the lines. This requires city officials to be open-minded and create a level playing field for new ideas to grow. Smart cities therefore work on supporting and using collective intelligence – instead of relying solely on technology – to alleviate socio-economic & environmental issues.

How do you see the (smart city) developments in your city?

Cities such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam are actively promoting the concept. A number of pilot-projects are being implemented and knowledge is generated. But because the concept is rather new, initiatives remain small-scale and largely dispersed. There is a need for increased cooperation between sectors to connect ideas, technologies and systems to create more integrated solutions.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to develop a successful Smart City project?

Over the past years many innovative and sustainable projects have been analysed in the Eurbanlab initiative. Key factors that we consistently see returning in successful projects, is leadership and cooperation. The success of sustainable urban (re)development projects was not so much determined by the use of the latest technologies or methodologies. Instead, the ambition, persistency and willingness to cooperate between layers and disciplines in the construction sector determined the success of projects. Where sectors in most modern cities are separated to increase efficiency, Smart Cities require a high level of integration between systems, sectors and disciplines.

Cooperation between private and public sector are very important in creating smart cities. How can cities attract private partners and convince them to invest?

The most important thing for the private sector and investors is a long-term vision and consistent policy from city leaders and governments. All too often, sustainable is hampered by inconsistent policies, changing governments or a lack of supporting rules & regulations. The market can develop and invest in innovative solutions for sustainability challenges, if the economic and political climate is favourable.

What is the most important success factor in involving citizens in a Smart City project?

In order to fully embrace the potential of the collective, citizens need to feel comfortable with the use of smart technologies, but more importantly maybe the safe and anonymous use of the information that is collected. Lastly, involvement should be easy, fun and accessible for citizens to be successful.

What about the future? What kind of smart cities we will have in 2023?

A Smart City should make use of big data in all facets of urban areas, from mobility to human health. To reach this, we need the concept to be integral to all that happens within the city. This requires a long-term vision and smart technologies to be implemented at scale. Some cities are able to do this faster than others, but most will require a longer term to fully embrace this developing concept.


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smart-city-event-logo_zonderjaartal1 During this event 800+ smart city professionals from over 30 countries share their vision and knowledge with each other. The event contains keynote speeches, interactive round table sessions, inspiring labs, excursions, dinners, breakfast meetings and lots of networking opportunities the Smart City Event is the place to be. Curious? View the website!

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