The Smart City Expo & World Congress was held in Barcelona from 19 to 21 November. This event, already in its third year, is in addition to many others on smart cities in our country and the rest of the world. This abundance is a clear demonstration of the great appeal that smart cities have for politicians, urban managers, companies and different kinds of groups. However, despite this deployment, what is really behind the idea of a smart city is still quite vague.
Some thus maintain that the huge progress in technology is providing solutions even before the problems to be solved have been identified. Therefore, according to those who defend this opinion, smart means to identify the problems which can be solved by the new technological products and services already developed. In a way the large amount of smart city pilot projects currently being developed in many cities supports this hypothesis.
There are, however, also groups calling for the smart city to focus on solving the direct and real problems of the citizens, many of which arise from the current social, economic and environmental crisis…
In short, there are different opinions on what the term smart city means and represents, and all of them probably contain some truth. As I see it, though, there is in any case a very clear consequence to all this: technology and the new social habits are going to lead to cities being managed in a radically different manner to the current one. We do not know exactly when this change is going to take place. But it will inexorably occur. What is the origin of this change? The same as the one that is shaking the foundations of the model of world economy of the last centuries: the exponentially growing capacity to manage information, together with an also exponential reduction in the costs associated with this management, in addition to the extraordinary capacity for dissemination and action currently offered by the social networks.
Indeed, these three factors (ease with which information can be managed, cost reduction and new social and participation habits) are especially going to affect the way we manage urban services. We are certainly going to move from a classical model of independent and hierarchized management of each of these services (transport, energy, telecommunications, water, waste…) to another one based on management of the city as a whole, with a strong focus on sustainability and maximization of the resistance to emergencies. That is to say focused on improvement of the city’s sustainability and resilience, given that urban emergencies tend to be the cause or consequence of phenomena of interaction between different services. At the same time, we are also going to pass from the classical administrator-administered model to a much more transparent, participatory model with a less clear distribution of roles. With this model, technology will make it much easier for citizens to access information on their city at a very low cost (open data), and will also offer the possibility to become a sensor of urban reality (crowdsensing). They will thus generate information directly which is very useful for urban managers and also for their fellow citizens, as already occurs with traffic information, for example.
It is not yet clear how this new integrated city management model is going to work and to be organized, who its main actors and figures are going to be, the distribution of roles that they are going to play, or even the distribution of the corresponding responsibilities. What is clear is that this model will gradually and continuously be defined more clearly and be introduced.
In Aqualogy we believe that this trend is a great opportunity to improve the city’s management, and thus its quality of life. And we want to play an important front-line role in this transformation. Indeed, as experienced and main actors in the management or a basic and essential urban service, there is much that we can contribute and also much to be discovered. In this spirit, we have created Citiness, a concept which refers to the essence of the city, you could say to the very quality of being a city. This concept includes first the aspirations and desires of the citizens who, with their talent and dedication, make cities big. It also includes a competitiveness factor, as the more attractive a city is for talent and the motors of the economy and sustainable development, the greater its capacity for development will be.
Thus, through the lens of Citiness, the challenge of smart cities is to place technology and innovation at the service of citizens and other urban actors and managers, in order to promote a pleasant city to live in which is economically, socially and environmentally competitive.
Citiness is not, however, a theoretical concept. It is a powerful idea in the practical application of which Aqualogy offers its more than a hundred years of experience in the management of urban services. It complements this with different open innovation initiatives, in order to gain activity and positioning in the context of the integrated management smart city. The Citiness approach is thus intended to shape solutions from an integrating perspective, in which technology and the digital economy can contribute greatly.
A collaborative model is essential in order to obtain results in this context, because we are no longer talking about a specific urban service, but rather an integrated urban management objective, which requires the contribution of various kinds of people and technologies with very different specialities. It is thus an especially favourable sphere for entrepreneurship and open innovation. Therefore, among other initiatives, Aqualogy has established the venture capital fund Vento (Venture Opportunities) together with the CDTI (Centre for Industrial Technological Development), with an investment objective of €26m over 5 years in technology start-ups, with products already marketable and focused on the water cycle, the environment and smart cities.
With this instrument, Aqualogy hopes to promote the growth of technology start-ups, not just with financing, but also through its strong presence and broad experience in the functioning of cities and the management of urban services. At the same time, Aqualogy will obtain practical knowledge from these start-ups in other sectors not usually related to its activity, in addition to real experience of entrepreneurship, key factors to confront this new stage of innovation in city management.
Citiness and Vento are thus two practical and complementary realities of Aqualogy to progress toward achieving the cities of the future, more habitable and sustainable, with greater quality of life and more competitive in order to attract talent and promote their economic, social and environmental development in a sustainable manner.