Zaragoza Sources the Code to Citizen Co-Creation

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Co-creation workshop of the open mobility challenge “Bicisur”

Back in 2003, a group of local geeks and open source advocates met with Zaragoza’s future mayor Juan Alberto Belloch who, after being the last all-mighty minister of Justice and Interior in the last of prime minister Felipe González’s cabinet, was running for office for his second term. After a short immersion in the open source community, Belloch “fell instantly in love” with Linux philosophy and quickly made open source-based innovation one of the axes of his political campaign. His plans included turning the northeastern capital of the Spanish Aragón into the “Redmond of the European free software world,” for which purpose his team projected a 102-hectare innovation district, a city-wide free public wireless network and an ambitious campaign of digital literacy, with the city hall leading and paving the way by becoming one of the most advanced European administration in systems migration towards open source software. In an article appeared in Wired in May 2003 he declared “this open source battle might not be easy, but ‘open’ is the way it must be.” Sigue leyendo

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Sofia. Strengthening the innovation muscles

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Photo by author

On April, 19th we were invited on stage at the Webit Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, where we shared some of our experience and ideas about urban innovation on an agile talk at the “Smart Cities” track of the event. We hope we were able to transmit some of our passion about the potential of cities as engines of innovation, democracy and prosperity, and to show a glimpse of real projects and available tools towards the vision of connecting local people, ideas and talent with urban infrastructures. Sigue leyendo

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Open Data and Smart City KPIs

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Photo by notrashproject.com

There are many initiatives to measure the “smartness” of cities and a jungle of smart city indexes that establish annual city comparisons. Open data can help fulfill the transparency gap in this field.

Sustainability, prosperity or democracy are three of the main challenges of today’s societies. Societies that are, essentially, urban, therefore making the study of urban data one of the most promising fields of progress nowadays. Of course, many of the answers to the challenges above can be found in cities. After many decades of mistrust, today most policy makers know that cities are great problem-solving tools. In fact, with near 60% of the world population inhabiting urban soil, there is little hope for the general progress of mankind outside the three pillars of sustainable, participatory and prosperous urban development.

A fourth element, innovation, adds to the former three to stand for the aforementioned process of problem-solving cycle in which cities are embarked. Sigue leyendo

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Marshall McLuhan. Understanding media (and cities)

McLuhanI first new about Marshall McLuhan in 2011. José Carlos Arnal, former Director of the Zaragoza City of Knowledge Foundation, had introduced me to Mariano Salvador, a young local journalist who had just co-organized a remembrance exhibition about McLuhan at the Pratt Center in New York City.

I had no idea at the time that, under such resonant name, terms we were already familiar with, like “global village” or “the medium is the message”, had been coined and so acutely described. Those were the times when we were a small “guerrilla” of avid learners pushing for a shift in the economic model of our city, Zaragoza (Spain), and insanely committed to the launching of the city’s innovation flagship: Etopia Center for Arts and Technology. When Etopia Center finally opened two years later, in June 2013, a 600 square meter media façade wrapped around one of its three gigantic cubes illuminated with digital artworks the departure side of the city’s central station.

I stumbled upon McLuhan’s book Understanding Media on that very same summer of 2013, buried in a heap of books at the old, wood-and-dust smelling Venice’s Libreria Aqua Alta, just a week after having imparted a workshop on open place making with M.I.T. professor Michael Joroff as part of the inauguration activities of Etopia Center. I was so into the reading of place-making urbanists like Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl at the time that I decided to put momentarily McLuhan aside. I stubbornly wanted to understand cities. Understanding media could wait.

Here is what I was missing. Sigue leyendo

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Sharing big data to deploy smart energy services

londonEnergyBusesBNOn Jan, 29th 2015 we spoke at the “Smart energy UK & Europe Summit” in London, where we had the chance to discuss and develop the idea of advancing towards a “data sharing economy” at the urban ecosystem. What we were presenting, basically, is how a new kind of organizational relationship between urban players could eventually lead both to the creation of new social, scientific and economic value at the local scale, and to the development of new business prospects in those industries willing to play the game.

Cities have faced challenges in history with innovative ways of transforming the materials at their reach into innovative solutions. Whether we are talking about limestone, wood, brass, concrete, copper, or electrons, engineers have effectively used technology to provide security, access to drinkable water, sanitation, wired communications, or energy to households and people. Today, data is the new material upon which we can continue to develop innovative solutions to deal with the “bugs” or impracticalities (in Jane Jacobs’ words) of urban life. Sigue leyendo

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The art of city making. Charles Landry

artOfCityMaking“The art of city making”, by Charles Landry, is a brilliant attempt to understand cities with the declared and simple objective of making them better. In its pages, the reader should not expect to find a step-by-step recipe of how to make cities from scratch. The book is targeted at those readers concerned, instead, with reconfiguring existing cities so they can fulfill their role of solution providers for its own people and, ultimately, for the world.

In an increasingly urbanized planet, understanding cities has never been so high in the agenda. Cities are the result of a multiplicity of relationships, flows, interests, layers, forces, all intertwined in intricate networks where phenomena from a variety of domains like psychology, physics, sociology, culture, politics, or biology combine to make every city unique.

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Making the urban innovation spiral happen. Why, how, where

smartravelPortugalBNOn 4th, December 2015, we spoke about “the urban innovation spiral” at the Smart Portugal event in the beautiful medieval city of Bragança, province of Tras Os Montes.

As many urban practitioners, we are increasingly interested about cities as solution providers to problems. The aqueduct of Segovia (Spain) is an example of how cities, in the Roman era, solved the problem of access to drinkable water thanks to a smart invention. Today it attracts hords of tourists while giving a distinct identity to the city. In the middle ages, city walls, like Lucca’s (Italy) gave shelter to people threatened by insecurity and pillage. In the 21st century, that wall is one of the city’s main attractions, its upper promenade offering a shady tour of the city in the hottest days of summer. But overall, in the past as well as in present times, cities have represented the quest of prosperity. Few names illustrate this pursue better than the name of “La prosperidad”, a Madrid neighborhood originally populated with migrants from southern rural Spain under the dark times of Franco’s dictatorship.

World urbanization rate grows in parallel to the decrease in illiteracy level and life expectancy. Those are fundamental, aggregate indicators. Literacy is highly correlated with our future. Life expectancy speaks mainly about our past. But, while urbanization fixes the bigger picture (famine, extreme poverty or violence, access to sanitation), it creates bugs: inequality, obesity, isolation… Many refer to the process of addressing these bugs through technology as the transition to becoming a “smart city”. Sigue leyendo

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