Designing the Hubble of cities


‘Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science’

Edwin P. Hubble

Cities are one of the most complex ecosystems in nature, one of the closest to us, humans, and one of the least understood. The different urban disciplines (architecture, urban planning, social sciences, traffic engineering, telecommunications, urban economics…) have been traditionally devoted to study the city as a collection of either physical objects or human livings.

It was Jane Jacobs who first pointed out the misalignments derived from the ‘narrowness’ of these approach, providing a broader understanding of the relationships that govern the mutual feedback between humans and objects in cities. A public space entomologist like Jan Gehl followed and performed sound observations about interactions between people and ‘physicalities in cities’. Gehl’s empirical discovery ‘first life, then spaces, then buildings’ anticipates the thought that places are a result of interactions, and not the opposite. Manuel Castells introduced the concept of flows as a governing phenomena to study thoroughly for a better understanding of cities. His influential socio-economic perspective of the city-verse as a ‘space of flows’ is at the basis of the new science of cities that contemporary pioneers like the geographer Michael Batty is trying to build. Continue reading


What if Google collapsed?

basuraElectronicaGoogleWell, in the first place, in case of a Google collapse I probably wouldn’t be publishing this post through the ‘Google friends’ WiFi network from the Starbucks I am sitting right now…

Google going into chapter 11? Can you think that? And even… I am thinking of some examples of high tech giants of the past and how they collapsed, some with thunder, others slowly fading in silence. I still recall the case of Nortel (Northern Telecom), the all-mighty Canadian ATM leader (for newcomers, ATM stands for Asynschronous Transfer Mode, probably the best thought communication protocol ever and one of the less succesful), whose shrinking stocks ended by turning into dust not so many years ago.

Here are some of the biggest bankrupcies in history. Job losses aside, when an airline company shuts down, passengers stop flying, assets (airplanes, buildings,…) are auctioned. When the telecom provider Worldcom went into chapter 11 clients just flew or were migrated to ther providers, its transmission equipment engrossing the second hand markets (and spirally contributing to the ruin of suppliers like Lucent or Nortel). If Coca-cola vanished, someone would probably buy the brand and the secret recipe. Our life wouldn’t change so much, many drink Pepsi after all…

But… what if Google broke down? Continue reading


Ponga un CIO en su ciudad

(Como parte de mi intervención en Jornadas SmartCity del ICEMD-ESIC)

He tenido el honor de trabajar durante 12 años por mi ciudad, Zaragoza, y he podido hacerlo junto a un gran alcalde, Juan Alberto Belloch, en uno de los momentos más excitantes de la historia reciente de la ciudad; en una primera etapa (2003-2007) como Concejal de Ciencia y Tecnología, entre otras responsabilidades; como Director de Ciencia y Tecnología desde 2007 hasta julio de 2015.

Lejos de hacer un balance particular de logros y frustraciones durante este extenso periodo, en el que ha habido de todo (ahí queda para la valoración individual de cada uno, mucho más objetiva ésta, aunque suene contradictorio), prefiero exponer dos o tres ideas de carácter general y que bien pueden asociarse a cualquier ciudad de tamaño medio.

Una legislatura de gobierno da para bien poco, sobre todo si se pretende iniciar un camino inédito. Tres legislaturas es, quizá, un poco más de lo que consideraría razonable para dirigir y ejecutar un proyecto de ciudad; por frescura en el desempeño, por incorporar nuevas ideas desde diferentes perspectivas, el relevo es esencial. En el ámbito de la modernización de la ciudad esto último se me hace todavía más evidente.

Lo que se entiende por “modernizar la ciudad” puede cambiar sustancialmente de significado en función de quien lo expresa. En mi opinión modernizar consiste en utilizar todas las herramientas a nuestro alcance para vivir mejor en términos generales, lo que nos conduce ineludiblemente al uso intensivo de tecnologías de la información y de la comunicación (TIC), puesto que son las herramientas que tenemos a nuestra disposición hoy en día. Como punto de partida, la ciudad que conocemos es digital de forma creciente e inapelable porque lo es también la organización que presta los servicios de ciudad, el ayuntamiento, bien sea de forma directa o a través de concesionarias.

Sin embargo, se hace cada vez más evidente que la condición digital “genética” no es suficiente para hablar de esa ciudad modernizada. Continue reading


Sharing big data: the next frontier in civic innovation

SharedSpaceIn an era of increasing urban concentration, the multiple risks that our society faces at the environmental, social or economic spheres can be better addressed by adopting innovative and well-informed urban policies. Those policies can not ignore the potential offered by the set of processes and technologies grouped under the generic ‘big data’ buzz-word.

If we take an historical angle, after the ‘big bang’ explosion of data, the new ‘dataverse’ is experiencing a quick inflationary phase. An inflationary expansion that is everything but homogeneous. Clearly, Internet businesses are leading the way fueled, first, by the inherent use of big data related technologies, some of which are even powering the development of the general concept of big data itself, and, second, by the highly competitive and innovative markets in which those companies operate.

However, the use of big data that those Internet giants make is only serving the purposes of their internal business development. In some cases, those companies are disrupting local economies in areas such as transportation or accommodation while bypassing local regulations. Über is a good example of a new paradox. The serious blow that they afflict to the community of local cab drivers not only affects self-employment in the city but also leads to a reduction in the overall local tax collection. To aggravate the bleeding, their systems may very well use, for instance, the data about road outages that the city hall releases in open data formats for routing optimization purposes, while the company locks the vast amount of valuable information gathered through their daily trips around the city. Continue reading