What is a tomorrow’s city?

We were fortunate enough to host Benjamin Barber in Rotterdam on several occasions. He devoted his working life to empowering citizens for democratic self governance. He was convinced that this would provide the best answer for the democratic consequences of defining trends of our times: globalisation and urbanisation. He believed that cities could become a counterweight to globalisation through bottom up citizenship. This belief in urban – centric democratic cosmopolitism was the rationale behind his latest book Cool Cities, published the day he passed away. Climate change is the most urgent challenge facing mankind. The problem is not the science but the political will to act. The challenge facing cities and citizens is to summon the necessary political will to do the things we can already do; electrical mobility, new waste treatment technologies and recycling, municipal resource based taxes, but have not yet done.

Cities must strike the right balance between economic, social and environmental sustainability, this is a systemic challenge aiming at a long term transition . Technology does play a role too: autonomous vehicles, self driving taxis, delivery by drones, machine learning techniques for public safety and environmental control. The challenge is to deploy technology in such a way that it improves people’s lives and lead to inclusive urban development. Connectivity and internet access are important to facilitate acces to information and promote digital inclusion.

The circular city manages waste, resources and energy in a smarter and more efficient way. It has a built environment that is flexible and modular with minimal virgin material use, healthy materials that improve the well being of its occupants and buildings will be used -as far as possible- to mimic natural cycles with closed loops of water, nutrients and energy. Energy systems are resilient, local and renewable and urban mobility is accessible, affordable and clean. Production systems encourage “local value loops” with more diverse exchange of materials, goods and services. An urban bio economy where nutrients are returned to the soil, minimising food waste. Urban farming systems will enable the city will be able to supply some of its own food, reusing food waste and sewage in closed and local loops to produce vegetables, fruit, and fish.

We have a general idea of what is meant with smart and circular city. Concepts that may be somewhat over hyped through an avalanche of publications from consultants and think tanks, conferences and vendor driven solutions and rankings. If we take, however, a Coll headed look at the operational use cases of smart cities we can identify a few examples of how smart drives the quality of life of the urban dwellers. Nominet categorised the smart city projects. Data platform initiatives come first by a wide margin, environmental monitoring second and citizens engagement third. A long tale of miscellaneous projects include energy management, parking, safety and disaster management. These more operational tasks offer opportunity for deployment of digital technologies, similarly to the operational excellence opportunity of industry, where objectives like citizen engagement and quality of life are less likely to be solved by digital technologies.

A city could apply a needs based analysis and then base the priority use cases on this analysis. For example, people want clean air and water, feel safe and secure from environmental and human threats and live in health and economic security. This needs based analysis can be plotted against the technology readiness and implementability ( finance, adoption, seamless integration ) of the solutions. As an example connectivity and city scale IoT networks are a near term opportunity, enabling use cases and business models in smart mobility, distributed energy, environmental quality and smart buildings.

The Clean Tech Delta event on October 26th will explore the relationship between smart and circular city and demonstrate short and near term opportunities for cities.