"We shouldn’t treat this as a moral obligation but as a means of survival”
“We have to transform our cities to make them more efficient, more sustainable and more habitable for greater numbers of people”
“We want Smart City Expo World Congress to be the number one international reference event in the Smart Cities field”
SCASC.- It is clear that Smart City is a real phenomenon in our society and there are more and more events in this field every day. Is this good or bad for the Smart City Expo World Congress?
RP.- There is real interest in Smart Cities and their development, which has increased enormously in the past two years. This is mainly because of the fact that it is not a passing trend but a new approach to one of the biggest challenges we are all going to be facing, as a society, in the coming years. Various experts and institutions have confirmed that the world's population is starting to concentrate in cities and that this is increasing all the time. This situation means we have a clear need: we have to achieve a transformation of our cities to make them more efficient, more sustainable and more habitable for greater numbers of people. We shouldn’t treat this as a moral obligation but as a means of survival.
Fira de Barcelona was one of the first to realise that an event was needed where anyone interested in this new situation could meet to exchange ideas and generate new ones, to propose solutions to existing problems and also to do business in a new sector. This has allowed us to become the number one reference with an international event. While it is true that they have started to organize many meetings and sessions related to Smart Cities in recent months, we feel this is a good thing because of the mere fact that the number of debating forums will result in significant benefits to society, while facing the challenges ahead.
SCASC.- Which important people will be present at the congress?
RP.- The programme isn’t closed by any means; we are working to complete it as soon as possible but the profiles of the speakers mean that we often have to make last minute adjustments to the programme. We can reveal the names of this year’s three keynote speakers in advance, however, and they are: the economist and urban development specialist Richard Florida; Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute, a scientist and environmentalist who has advised governments around the world on changing their policy goals towards environmental sustainability; and Kent Larson, director of the Changing Places research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which studies the necessary changes and transformations in urban areas and urban mobility, to successfully address the future.
SCASC.- It seems that Spanish cities lead the Smart Cities rankings. Do they also want to attend and present their projects?
RP.- Spanish cities have been the first to support a smart approach to their future projects. Cities such as Santander, Malaga, San Sebastian and Barcelona, to name the most relevant cases, took for this approach several years ago and this means that in some respects we have an advantage over other countries. In fact, Forbes magazine dedicated an article to this phenomenon a long time ago, and warned that American cities should follow our example. Many of these cities participate in the Smart City Expo World Congress both as speakers at the congress and also as exhibitors. I think it's worth explaining that the role of the top Smart Cities, which represent the event, can be seen by parallel events including the general meeting of the Spanish Smart Cities Network (Red Española de Ciudades Inteligentes - RECI) which are held under the Smart City Expo banner.
SCASC.- It is clear that Mobile is the trade fair giant, but how big can Smart City Expo become since it is organised entirely from Barcelona?
We want Smart City Expo World Congress to be the number one reference with an international event in the Smart Cities field. In our first two years we have already become the biggest event in the international calendar and that is basically due to two factors: having been able to create an event like this before anyone else, but, above all, carrying out a well done job, affirmed by the quality of the congress’ programme.
Our objective is to continuously excel to make each edition of Smart City Expo better than the last, and to do that we count on the presence of cities and visitors from around the world. Our last event had more than 7,000 visitors, but our goal is for all those industry players who have not yet attended to do so, either this time or in the future.
SCASC.- How many participants, representing which countries, are expected at the event?
At the last event we had more than 7,000 visitors from 82 countries and we intend to keep growing. As I mentioned, our goal is to bring together the key industry players from the Smart Cities field and to get those who have not yet decided to reserve the last weeks of every November in their schedules for Smart City Expo World Congress, to come to Barcelona and attend.
But the presence of official delegations from developed and developing countries is also very positive, and several delegations from countries such as Argentina, China, Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Israel, Malaysia and the UK attended the last event. This year, and with the strengthening of Smart City Expo World Congress, we imagine that the number of delegations present in Barcelona will be at least double. The cities and governments we met around the world between March and September, during the road show, have confirmed they will attend the upcoming congress.
SCASC.- The BcnRail and EVS27 (The International Electric Vehicle Symposium) exhibitions will be held in Barcelona simultaneously. Do you see this as competition or as complementing Smart City Expo?
RP.- We see synergy without a doubt; because the location and the dates for three related international events coincide, it can only benefit all three sectors. For Smart City Expo World Congress to coincide with the leading electric vehicle event and one of the leading international rail transport events, which are both key elements for sustainable mobility, cannot be anything but beneficial. Whereas, for EVS27 and BcnRail to coincide with the number one international event in the Smart Cities field, which brings together cities and government representatives from around the world, is without doubt a great opportunity to make contacts and to promote projects.
SCASC.- You are an industry professional but Smart City Expo is your first event as its director. What have you found easiest and what difficulties have you encountered?
RP.- The things I have found easy are the obvious aspects of integrating into an organisation that has spent years successfully organising all kinds of international events: the experience and dedication of everyone that is part of the Fira de Barcelona team makes everything much easier. I should also mention the involvement, commitment, willingness to help and the facilities of Barcelona City Council (Ajuntament de Barcelona).
If I had to mention any difficulty, it would perhaps be that certain things could be better arranged or organised in advance. Both the Fira and I like to prepare work several months in advance in order to finalise every possible detail in time, but on many occasions the economic environment has made things difficult and many decisions have been delayed. However, I am convinced that we can manage to reduce this with the experience gained when the economy improves.
SCASC.- What impact does the Expo have in terms of national and international media?
RP.- Over a hundred national and international media outlets attend Smart City Expo and that guarantees our exposure locally and overseas, which without doubt is very significant in the positioning and projection of the event. Appearing in the international media such as the Financial Times is of great importance, but so is having a good relationship with the general and specialised local media and we intend to continue collaborating to the fullest with all of them.
SCASC.- Finally, what significant involvement is there from the public and private sectors?
RP.- The full involvement of both sectors in Smart City Expo World Congress has been clear from the beginning. The central Spanish government, the regional government in Catalonia (la Generalitat de Catalunya) and Barcelona City Council (el Ajuntament de Barcelona) have thrown themselves into the event from the start and so many different municipal associations and federations are involved. Institutions such as the World Bank or the United Nations – through UN Habitat– have also been with us since 2011.
As for private businesses, the largest and most important companies from the various cities, who have already been Smart City Expo partners, have mostly confirmed their presence at this event. This is evidence of unequivocal support for and commitment to the Barcelona event from the private sector.