Urenio Watch Watch: Intelligent Cities / Smart Cities

Smart Cities still need a Human Touch

Toronto and Barcelona are currently implementing ambitious smart city initiatives. The two cities represent very different interpretations of the smart city vision, and the evolution of these projects will provide important lessons, informing policy makers around the world.

In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs, an offshoot of Google, is developing a 12-acre waterfront district known as Quayside, using innovative design and the latest digital technologies to create a radically new kind of urban community that it hopes to replicate elsewhere. The focus is on creating jobs, building cheaper housing and using technology to develop the first “climate positive’ community in North America. These plans, however, have triggered concerns among academics and activists who fear that Google may infringe citizens’ data right and subvert democracy.

Barcelona, on the other hand, is pursuing a different smart city approach, explicitly aiming to assert its citizens’ “digital sovereignty’ by emphasising civic participation, social impact and public return. Rather than designing the technological infrastructure first and then figuring out how best to use it, as in Toronto’ s case, Barcelona is applying existing technologies to solving everyday problems like pollution, affordable housing and transport. Central to this is an online platform, Decidim, which enables citizens to participate in decision making, initiating and shaping policy. A central premise of this is that the data belongs to the citizens themselves.

The evolution of the two projects during the following years will provide crucial lessons for policy makers as the two approaches of invention and reinvention -building something afresh and reimagining existing institutions- are compared in practice.

This is a Watch summary of an opinion article in the Financial Times by John Thornhill. Please see the original article for more details on the topic.