“There isn’t a city in the world that isn’t interested in the Smart City revolution”
” In general Spanish cities are better managed than many others in the world, and because of this there is a great opportunity for our companies: the opportunity to export knowledge.”
Every good idea needs an ambassador, especially if you want to export or promote that idea to other parts of the world, and the Smart City Expo World Congress is no exception to this rule. If the first edition was the staging of a proposal and the second edition was its confirmation, the third edition is the consolidation of them both at this trade fair, a one of a kind, which will gradually become a meeting point for visionary parties interested in Smart City technology and solutions.
In this issue, and with the third edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress approaching, SC Actual Smart City chats with Lluís Gómez, director of the Smart City Expo and the person responsible for all its international promotion. This includes a Road Show that has taken him to dozens of countries in recent years, getting to know projects and various Smart City technologies from around the world. No one better is placed than him to fill us in on the global development of Smart Cities, the opportunities offered by this way of viewing a city today, and what we can expect at the third edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress.
What is the Smart City philosophy’s biggest current challenge?
In the short term, our challenge is to make sure that the ideas are tangible. We have to go step by step, implementing projects and standardising their use in cities of all sizes. That is our current big challenge: to get more specific in small developments in order to achieve more global progress in the long term. There are many pilot projects and several of them are becoming projects that are possible to start naturally, not only at a local level such as a particular area of the city, but in its entirety. Therefore, the long-term objective is that these sometimes small local projects can grow and be used on a large scale in several cities.
Smart City technologies currently seem to be more strongly implemented in medium-sized cities such as Malaga or Santander. What will it take for big cities like Madrid or Barcelona to decide to make this leap?
I think that leap is already happening. Maybe the problem is that in a big city it is more difficult to present an overall project, but I think that Madrid and Barcelona are already on track. I specifically know the Barcelona projects in detail and progress is being made in many different areas. If you visit any number of municipalities, it can be seen that they are already using these technologies. Again in the case of Barcelona, it is already a Smart City in terms of mobility, waste treatment and the use of electric vehicles. I do not know Madrid’s case quite as well, but I'm sure they also have implemented similar projects. These technologies are also very profitable in the medium term, (for example, the case of LED lighting, which was very expensive years ago, but which today is extremely advantageous) and recoup the investment very quickly.
How can Smart City technologies and applications help to overcome the effects of the recession? We have spoken about saving energy, but what other possibilities do we have?
There is a big opportunity in the field of economics, which I would call the ‘economic promotion opportunity’. In general Spanish cities are better managed than many others in the world, and because of this there is a great opportunity for our companies: the opportunity to export knowledge. Clearly, companies should not stop working in our country, but a company that has been able to implement one of these Smart City technologies in Madrid or Barcelona, for example, would have a huge marketing and promotion opportunity with regard to cities in Asia, Latin America and other regions around the world. There are cities in emerging countries with more than 20 million inhabitants which are growing very quickly, and they will need solutions that we already make use of every day in our cities.
This means that Smart City technologies are not only a great opportunity for efficiency and savings, but are also vehicles for creating value for companies and cities.
They are, and they are very powerful, both for Europe in general and for us in particular. We are living it, right here when we started promoting our first Smart City events, as Barcelona is already an internationally recognised model in this field, and that really helped us to have a successful event. When a company can include that has developed this type of project in any Spanish city in its portfolio, it will open many doors. In addition, at a national level we have a huge need to internationalise ourselves, export what we can offer and make ourselves known to the world, and Smart Cities can be the perfect vehicle for this.
How much could the Smart City market and sector be worth in Spain and globally?
It is difficult to give an estimate of this kind, especially because I see a lot of continuity and many long-term opportunities in this sector. The needs of a city cannot all be met in four, ten or twenty years. We also have the disadvantage of being nonconformists: if we manage to get mobility in Barcelona to an impressively high level, after 15 or 20 years we will have become used to this and will want something even better. The Smart City is a concept which is constantly moving forward, we will never know when to stop improving what we have and it is a continuous opportunity. Maybe it will go by another name, such as City of the Future or Smart Cities, but it will continue to spread. But leaving future projections aside, and from my experience in visiting more than 28 cities around the world this year alone, I see that the Smart City is a revolution and that there is no city in the world that is not interested in implementing some of its technologies. But the sector’s valuation, in terms of millions of euros or dollars, is difficult to estimate.
In your role as Director of the Smart City World Expo, and as head of the entire international sector, you have travelled around the world: Asia, Latin America, the USA and Europe. What do you think we in Spain can learn from other countries’ Smart City ideas and practices?
At the moment, everyone is learning from everyone and there is no single Smart City which is better than all the others; each one has some good ideas tailored to its own operation and identity. But there is something they all have in common, and is that they give their best results when companies, institutions and people work together and collaborate to get the most out of these solutions. This should always be a key point to learn when starting a Smart City or devising a new solution. To give a more concrete example, I find the collective mentality in many Asian countries very attractive, where it is understood that these technologies can improve the whole society’s quality of life. This can also be seen in Latin America, where there are cities with many structural problems, which requires the government to communicate in a much more active way with the people. We have to learn from these mentalities of collective consciousness looking forward.
Seeing as we have mentioned the people, it seems that companies and governments are increasingly involved in the Smart City philosophy, but it also seems that individual citizens still do not understand this concept, outside the usual areas of recycling and sustainability. How can we make the individual citizen adopt and be attracted to the Smart City idea?
I think it's something that can end up happening partly by inertia, by the development of the city itself. That is, citizens will increasingly use these technologies to communicate more with the councils or to move around, or park cars, etc. But I think education is very important in this aspect, and the Smart City as a concept has to go into the world of education, to better understand everything about this small revolution that is sweeping the globe. In the same way we take schoolchildren on cultural visits to museums and the like, we should go in small steps so that children understand the day to day management of a city and that it is not a miracle but that there is great work behind it. After all, the current school generation will be the one fully living the Smart City concept that we are only now beginning to develop and for which we are, metaphorically speaking, laying the first stones.
How is the task of Smart City education developed for both young people and adults?
At Smart City World Expo we are more related to the business world and to governments so we are not very close to the educational field. However, we do support these educational and informative programmes, and we try to ensure that more educators visit Smart City World Expo with each edition. In short, we will be at the complete disposal of any educational institution that wishes to collaborate with us. I think this is important because if you look at other regions such as Northern Europe, there is almost no education about sustainability because it seems to be part of the people’s DNA and their way of being. When you grow up with these ideas, it becomes natural. So, again, I think it is important to educate in this way so that it becomes something logical and automatic, and because there are very many areas which can be improved. To achieve this maximum level of performance, it is necessary for the people to have internalised this education.
So you mean for the average person to understand the concept of ‘everyone’s city, built by everyone’?
It is also required by everyone. We have to demand that our governments and businesses become more involved in this direction and break the routine of doing things as they have always been done, although fortunately they are already making a lot of effort in this regard.
You spoke about northern Europe as an example of good environmental and civic education. Which country or region leads the way globally in Smart City initiatives?
More than regions, I would speak of blocs. There are countries that are differentiated by their levels of technological development, cities with a history of nearly 2,000 years of management, and other cities that have obtained these technologies more recently and are experiencing rapid growth. It is barely conceivable, for example, that Barcelona will double its population in the decades to come, but there are cities that could possibly double their respective populations. To manage cities with that level of growth is extremely complex. To get an idea, I was told the story that the Brazilian government was planning road works in a given area and, when they finished the plan, there was already a settled community of nearly 100,000 people there. Personally, I see Europe as a whole bloc, despite having spoken before about the north, as a great example of the development of Smart City technologies and solutions because if we only stick just to the north, there are solutions that could not be exported to some countries because of the cold weather, but if we expand to the whole of Europe we find warmer countries such as Spain, whose models can be exported to those areas. In this regard, Barcelona has become an international benchmark in urban transformation, especially for countries in Latin America. This also implies that Europe has a great responsibility to lead the world in Smart City advances and to export this knowledge and value.
Do you think that Smart City solutions might work immediately to help these developing and fast-growing countries in the management of their cities, or would it be more convenient to give them a certain grace period to that this growth stabilises?
That time cannot be given, because the growth rate of some of these areas means the concept of time seems to pass faster. Also, an advantage that many of these cities have in this regard is that they are already very aware and are taking many of our examples of efficiency and management on board. Therefore, the sooner these solutions are implemented, the better.
What has been the Smart City project or idea that you have liked the most recently?
It’s hard to say, because I see so many and I find it hard to choose one without diminishing others. But, for example, there was a project in Bogota that I liked, which was bringing Internet technology to less developed, almost marginal, areas of the city. Interestingly, there had never previously been a need for this technology, but it helped to boost small businesses and improve urban planning tremendously. I also saw isolated rural areas in Guatemala where medical personnel would send patient information to a central office which meant that a patient's diagnosis could be provided a lot more quickly and accurately.
Finally, what do you think will be the highlight of the next Smart City Expo, compared to previous years?
It is worth mentioning that Brazil will be the major guest invited to this fair, as it will host the next Olympics, but we must also highlight the size of the fair itself. The congress is spectacular, and there will be more than 300 speakers from 5 continents, with the highest academic standards, the presence of universities, companies and delegations from different cities. It is going to be a fair where the relevance of transforming a modern city will be highlighted. The participation of cities from around the world is also noteworthy, and the number of representations is going to be an increase on the latest edition, Argentina alone, for example, will have about 20 cities. The event is becoming an international benchmark and, indeed, for many Asian cities it is also becoming a meeting point for sharing know-how with European, Latin and North American cities.
Whether by country or by bloc, who usually bring the most representations to the Expo?
In terms of numbers, China is the largest, but generally the Asian and Latin American blocs are the ones that usually have a more prominent presence at the Smart City Expo. The presence of Latin America is partly explained because Barcelona has become a benchmark for planning and development for many cities from this region, and it is common to find reports about Barcelona when visiting local councils. We also anticipate that Israel will stand out this time, as it is strongly committed to this fair despite being a small country.