Citizens and cities centre stage as EUROCITIES amplifies its members’ voices at the Barcelona Smart City Expo

  • knowledge society

Citizens are the brain of the city. The more control the brain has over the body, the more efficient and powerful the organism. It is for this reason that the Barcelona Smart City Expo World Congress, as the focus which united its 600 stands, had citizen engagement and empowerment towards building smart cities.

Sharing Cities and GDC shared a booth with 11 other EU funded initiatives, working together to deliver smart city technologies for the benefit of city inhabitants. All these projects shared the booth with the European Commission and with all on-going smart cities lighthouse projects funded under the H2020 funding programme at the Expo.

In a large space where cities were scattered between the booths of private companies, this booth was a hub, where different city representatives could come together to showcase their achievements. With a film crew in tow, GDC tracked down city officers for interviews at the event, making sure that the charter’s signatories had the opportunity to spread their success across the airwaves.

Smart cities that put citizens at the heart of their strategies are the focus of the projects in which EUROCITIES participates, including Sharing Cities and Green Digital Charter (GDC). EUROCITIES is also involved in cross-cutting collaborations and projects led by the European Commission such as the EIP on Smart Cities and Communities, and the Smart Cities Information System (SCIS).   

EUROCITIES was in Barcelona to provide a platform for our members, highlighting the strides made in sharing smart city solutions to further green development goals. Throughout the three days, visitors to the stand were invited to thematic debates on common opportunities and challenges met by all smart cities and smart cities in the making. Over half of the 57 cities involved in lighthouse projects and related initiatives (SCIS, EIP, Espresso) are members of EUROCITIES, and 15 have signed the Green Digital Charter. Though these cities are mostly European, some also come from far flung regions such as Asia and the Middle East.

Working together to give a voice to cities

EUROCITIES was present and spoke at several sessions which was a good opportunity to show how cities and citizens are shaping their own cities with a holistic approach. Our core messages included the confirmed need for deeper exchange amongst the cities and with different stakeholders and a social dimension of actions (e.g. building retrofit of social housing), and replication of what works through projects similar to  GDC and Sharing Cities. The activities offered by EUROCITIES for replication such as peer learning and mentoring visits support a wider take up. For example, Sharing Cities engaging with over 100 cities to allow them to get insight into the practices of three demonstrating cities (Lisbon, London and Milan).  Bernadett Köteles-Degrendele  and Rebecca Portail spoke about the Knowledge Society Forum and the opportunity which lies in the working groups and projects, in a session titled ‘Cities working together to deliver smart solutions’ at the Barcelona Ajuntament booth. EUROCITIES, seen as a key city network, was invited to a session where in a debate Bernadett Köteles-Degrendele highlighted the unique strength of EUROCITIES in having a cross-sectoral approach to urban issues and its city led, citizen focused approach.

Heating up our history

EUROCITIES is all too familiar with the many challenges that face cities trying to meet their green development goals.

A beautifully preserved historical district is a trophy for any city, but, as Barcelona, Stockholm, Munich and Lyon know, it can also be a double edged sword. These fine old buildings can be monstrously wasteful, sucking up and spitting out enormous amounts of energy. Sharing best practices, and exchanging about similar challenges and issues was the core topic of each of the 10 sessions held throughout the 3 days at the booth.

Facilitating the sharing of best practices, story telling and knowledge sharing among cities is a great strength of EUROCITIES, allowing it to compliment the broader role of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP), which includes all partners involved in lighthouse projects, especially technology providers. Indeed, one of the latest initiatives of the EIP, the Smart Cities Information System (SCIS), itself a smart solution to disseminating smart solutions, will involve EUROCITIES in spreading urban knowledge farther and more efficiently than ever.


Better governance strategies

The development and implementation of such systems, however, depends on smart governance to be realised innovatively and effectively. EUROCITIES made sure that projects participate equally and propose topics for all sessions  in a bottom-up process.

The session themes ranged from concrete solutions such as electric mobility, district heating, waste collection to horizontal issues such as business models, replication and governance. Several city representatives (e.g. London, Stockholm – GrowSmarter project coordinator and EUROCITIES Vice-President, Munich, Lyon and Valladolid) sat together with industrial partners and openly discussed their challenges and solutions.

EUROCITIES moderated a session on smart city strategies and governance involving most smart cities projects and different partners (cities, NGOs, companies). There was also a focus on collaboration between government, industry and universities.

All projects agreed that the collaboration cities can have in the framework of a long-term, five year project is useful for them to work together, exchange good practices and having a chance to identify their strengths. They also agreed that a holistic, integrated approach is needed and the lighthouse projects help cities to rethink their governance structure, break down silos and work together with a problem solving attitude towards their ecosystem.

Digi-dos and digi-don’ts

A common theme throughout these presentations was data, and the importance for cities of getting ahead of the curve in analysing data and extracting knowledge to improve services while ensuring the quality, security and openness of collected information. Cities like London and Milan have developed data strategies which have proven to be very inspiring for other cities in the Sharing Cities project.

Data needs to be tailored to its audience, so that citizens using an energy app will require data that is collected, treated and stored differently from the data local governments use to measure their key performance indicators (KPIs). Whatever the method, the key message that came through was that cities need to be in the driver seat when it comes to data, but that citizen engagement is a must both in terms of policy and practice.

The essential nature of KPIs came to the fore. With a careful balance of quantitative and qualitative styles of measurement, KPIs support better decision making on investment in both human and financial resources. Without key performance indicators, cities cannot function in a sustainable way, economically, socially or environmentally, because without these it is impossible to see whether real overall progress has been made.

Whether in the digital, social or economic realm, good governance must always include measures to ensure citizen engagement, wellbeing and inclusivity. It stands to reason that citizens should remain at the centre of city policies, and that EUROCITIES, through its projects, should have provided cities with a voice at the Barcelona Expo to expand on how they are using smart solutions for the betterment of their citizens. After all, citizens are the brain of a city, cities are the future of Europe, and EUROCITIES is the network of major European cities.