How urban data reveals the hidden life behind cities

Routes taken by a student in the XVI district of Paris, by Chombart de Lauwe. 1952

According to a recent survey by the EFPS (European Foundation for Progressive Studies) and the Felipe González Foundation, online privacy stands as one of the main worries for our young generation alongside gender equality and climate change.

Our personal data (our “digital fingerprint”) can be used, as Black Mirror demonstrates, to make our life impossible. It can also be used to do business with us, the consumer, and sell us goods which we never even knew we would want. Or, as we now know from the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, to try to convince us to vote against our own interests, that is, against ourselves.

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Innovation Districts. ¿Growth or Decline?

Translated from its Spanish version by Nicolas Cook

This week, I travelled to the Barcelona Real Estate Exhibition to take part in a session on the current status of innovation districts; the laudable urban concept which originated in the late 90s. My presentation was to take place on Friday 18th of October, the day of the General Strike. A wise friend of mine from Barcelona therefore recommended I take abundant reading matter for the trip, in case of long delays on trains and in stations. I was headed to the Catalan capital – a flagship of urban innovation – to share ideas on innovation districts, such a clear example of global knowledge flows. As my travelling companion, then, I chose Professor Manuel Castells’s “Space of Flows” (the latest volume of his key work “The Network Society”).
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Smart Univercities

Emily Carr’s University building in Vancouver’s Grandville Island (Canada). Source: The Province

There is little doubt about the positive impact that a strong collaboration between cities and universities can bring to our societies. Cities are a focus of many disciplines, ranging from astrophysics to medicine, and as such there is a growing interest in urban matters for researchers and academia. According to a 2015 report by Anthony Townsend for the NYU, it is estimated that by 2030 as much as $2.5 billion will have been invested by universities in researching the dynamics of cities. At the very least, we can say that improving urban life is a joint effort, and that universities – the hotbeds of talent – should be at the very kernel of every smart city’s operating system.

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When Bikes Are Powered, Not By Burning Calories, But By Innovation

Bike Innovation
My old Zeus at the Open Urban Lab

Bike industry in Spain is worth 1.6 Billion Euros, and is being powered by innovation. Going electric, smart training devices, new materials, security, Mobility As a Service, are all innovation paths fueling the sector.

Beginning in 2008 with the launch of the public bike system BiZi, cycling infrastructures such as cycling lanes have spread lately all across Zaragoza, making the city much more bike friendly than it used to be, despite its harsh weather, with hot summers and alternate long streaks of windy and foggy days.  This is part of the strategy to shift towards a smarter, greener mobility mix.

And in fact, biking is one of the paths that will bring safer, healthier and more sustainable cities, and that is why we are proud to announce that next Thursday, 13th Dec, at Zaragoza’s Open Urban Lab, we will be co-designing the future Spanish Lab for Innovation in Bikes and Cycling, part of the Spanish Bike Strategic Plan. A work we do for ConBici and Dirección General de Tráfico.

Note: This is part of a series of efforts to fuel the development of the bike sector thr innovation, beginning with the celebration, in September 2018, of the first hackathon of mobility visualization.  We hope that this will go on.

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Zaragoza: The Power of Citizen Innovation

Pedestrian boardwalk towards Zaragoza's Etopia Center for Arts and Technology

Pedestrian boardwalk towards Etopia by Leonid Andronov (Source iStock)

By Jon Glasco

(Originally published at Bee Smart City.)

Fifteen years ago, Zaragoza – the historic Spanish city situated between Madrid and Barcelona – pioneered a vision of a future digital district and knowledge-based society. Since then, the city has developed an impressive portfolio of smart city projects and new urban services. According to Daniel Sarasa, Urban Innovation Planner, one of Zaragoza’s unique strengths is its culture of citizen involvement and participation. This culture has its roots in the reawakening of democracy. In the late 1970s, the city of Zaragoza (like other cities in Spain) looked back on thirty five years of dictatorship – and looked ahead to an uncertain future. During the years of dictatorship, Zaragoza had grown in population from approximately 235,000 to more than 500,000, but the civic infrastructure and public services needed to support this urban growth were inhibited by an autocratic national government which maintained severe austerity measures.

With democracy regaining a foothold in the early 1980s, the citizens of Zaragoza knew that the recovery of their communities and the development of civic infrastructure would depend on them taking matters into their own hands. From this awareness was born a grass-roots determination and pride-of-community mindset to reclaim rights to the city and to build new infrastructure. This resulted in citizen-inspired plans and actions to build neighborhood civic centers, kindergartens, centers for the elderly, public libraries and sport centers.

In the early years of democracy, citizens and city planners in Zaragoza could not have imagined that, decades later in the early 21st century, the city would become a leader in making the transition from a technology-centric to a citizen-centric smart city vision. Trust in citizen-inspired innovation was embedded in Zaragoza’s culture, waiting to be nurtured and developed. >> Read full article

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Innovation Districts: From Barcelona to Dublin, This Is What I Know

Elections for Mayor are a-coming. With the aim of shaping my contribution to the approaching campaign, I have been reflecting lately on innovation districts. Ours, the Digital Mile (Milla Digital) is unfinished. One tends to think that all innovation districts are, by definition, unfinished. But, seriously, the Digital Mile must be one of the more unfinished innovation districts in the world, and I’ve known a few. Planned ahead of its time, built too late, never fully understood.

District layout at Poblenou and Barcelona's 22@

District layout at Poblenou and Barcelona’s 22@

I know that innovation districts are big real estate operations in the first place. Land owners, developers and construction companies are the first and primary beneficiaries. To shift the urban economics from construction to innovation we need bricks, glass and concrete. And a delicate urban planning, too. See the delicacy in Barcelona’s 22@ urban fabric, the first innovation district I knew back in 2002 and a place I have visited many times since.

In it, the legacy of Cerdà’s urban layout serves as a landing track for Castells’ discoveries about digital economy. Jane Jacobs would have approved: perfect block sizes, mixed uses, walkability. And a focused management structure, that soon shifted its efforts from urban development to economic development. The result: more than 100.000 new jobs (many of them high-skilled) and an overall impact of 15% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the city. Continue reading

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Dublin’s Declaration on Smart Districts

Dublin’s Smart Docklands District

Last month I was invited to participate in the Harvard Smart City Accelerator, which, organized by Harvard Tech and hosted by the great Smart Dublin team, took place at Dublin’s Smart Docklands, the thriving smart district of Ireland’s capital.

During three days we launched urban challenges, discussed on subjects such as economic growth, privacy or openness, learned from multiple stakeholders’ views, from industry to academia, walked the district under Irelands’ chilly winter and toasted with Irish beer for the success of our respectives innovation districts and strategies back home. Continue reading

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Zaragoza Smart Citizen Card: a tiny plastic card that fits 100 ideas

Just speaking on behalf of the Zaragoza Citizen Card’s outstanding team at the Cities in Transition International Conference

Let’s imagine how a tiny piece of plastic that fits in your wallet can both be a cashflow generator for the city and a tool for granting refugees access to the city public services. A piece of plastic that can be shared with a visitor through a mobile app or that can be used by a disabled person to pay for a taxi ride just the price of a bus trip. A card that encompasses 15 different other cards and that can turn as well into the digital passport to citizen partipation. Your all-in-one key to the city, or the future city social currency…

When the city hall becomes a facilitator, you can count on your ideas to be set in motion. We need everyone’s ideas to make a smart city, let’s move on to a zero waste circular economy of ideas! Let’s hack and co-create the Zaragoza’s Citizen Card!!

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