On 19-21 November, more than 24 thousand visitors from all over the world convened in Barcelona for the ninth edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress. This year’s hot topics covered a wide range of areas, from 5G to Digital Twins, from micro-mobility to Intelligent Transport Systems, from rural-urban links to data governance and digital rights. If you missed it, here are the three main takeaways according to PoliVisu whose team spent three full days at the event. PoliVisu shared the exhibition space provided by the Open & Agile Smart Cities Network with a number of other EU projects, among them Select4Cities, DUET and SynchroniCity.
(1) Transports systems are capable of producing innovative solutions that address long-term needs of smart cities. However, these solutions require an appropriate regulatory framework that balances innovation with wider concerns about safety, sustainability and equity to achieve a seamless, multi-modal and integrated mobility of the future.
Urban transport systems are constantly changing. EVs, micro-mobility, connected and self-driving cars are gaining traction in cities all over the globe. But these innovations are not without issues. For instance, e-scooters offer a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative to motor vehicles. Because they take up less space than cars, many urban planners also see e-scooters as a key element of the future transport system. But for all their benefits, e-scooters have attracted a lot of criticism. Some call them a menace to pedestrians while others like to point out that they not only clog up streets but also endanger their riders’ lives. The challenge for government is therefore how to regulate new forms of transport in a manner that upholds public safety, as well as environmental and social standards, without stifling the innovation.
(2) Today, there is a widespread expectation that policy making should be more agile to keep pace with societal changes driven significantly by the rapid development and deployment of emerging technologies. As governments strive to keep pace with the 4th Industrial Revolution, it is important not to lose sight of simple tools to connect with citizens.
Cities are complex, multi-faceted systems that in this day and age advance very fast. Public administrations need to keep up with the current pace of innovation to ensure their policies remain fit for purpose. Technologies such as blockchain and cloud computing offer governments a means to burnish their innovation credentials and address a growing demand for more efficiency and transparency. However, while these tools are important, policy makers should not lose sight of simpler tools. Specifically, they should invest in public facing technologies that are simple enough for an average citizen with basic ICT skills to use/understand. Examples that fall under this category include various GovTech solutions that range from Open Data platforms to web-based traffic visualisations.
(3) While ongoing innovations in Big Data, IoT, AI, cloud and edge computing certainly make transport system more ‘intelligent,’ the question remains whether it has become more inclusive. In reality, the growing dependency on digital devices and real-time communications can exacerbate inequalities between the haves (people with skills, devices and access to internet) and the have-nots. The digital ecosystem also entails new risks arising from data breaches, cyber-attacks and service disruption. Thus there is an urgent need for decision makers in the public, private and third sectors to mobilise societal resources to manage the transition to a digital mobility ecosystem, one that is safe, inclusive and sustainable.
The benefits of ICT innovations are clear: greater efficiency, increased productivity, more agile economy. Mixed with these benefits, however, is also a widespread fear that incessant digitization will exacerbate the digital divide between digital natives and digital newbies. With over 40% of the world’s population without internet access, services which are primarily offered online (‘digital first’ approach), could further isolate those without access and/or appropriate skills, thus increasing the risk for vulnerable groups to fall further behind our rapidly progressing digital society. Another challenge related to increasing digitization concerns cyber security. The ubiquity of cloud computing and a general trend towards integration means that more systems are now online than ever before, which makes them vulnerable to sophisticated cyber-attacks. If these challenges are not duly addressed, the kind of future we were promised might not be so bright after all, with many more losers than winners.
To conclude, it’s hard to find an area where the Fourth Industrial Revolution hasn’t left its mark. From mobility to energy and environment, everything these days is affected by changes in data and ICTs that continue their relentless pace year after year. Because of that, decision makers increasingly rely on evidence-based knowledge and advanced data driven tools to leverage new technologies which can help unleash sustainable and equitable opportunities for their cities. PoliVisu is pleased that its Toolbox goes some way to addressing this need. Visit our Toolbox to see how PoliVisu is helping cities in France, Belgium and the Czech Republic to become smarter, more sustainable and citizen-centric.