El urbanismo sentimental

The English version of this article can be found here

Hace algún tiempo – acababa de ver la película “Interestelar”, que mostraba cómo la humanidad escapaba del colapso climático mediante un artefacto de la física teórica llamado “agujero de gusano” – escribí que la manera más sensata de evitar el “armaggedon” medioambiental era poner en práctica cuanto antes un urbanismo inteligente, ese que preconiza ciudades de una cierta densidad, usos mixtos, espacio público vivo. Un urbanismo inteligente es un urbanismo racional o, si se prefiere, ilustrado, que pone las bases de una movilidad sostenible, de ahorros energéticos en nuestra manera de hacer y gestionar los edificios, y de una economía menos intensiva en uso de materia y energía, más circular.

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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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El valor de las universidades en las ciudades inteligentes españolas

Laboratorio Wetlab. Fotografía: Labs César

Durante mi primera estancia de trabajo en España, varios años atrás, uno de mis compañeros en Madrid me habló del rol esencial que las universidades españolas desempeñaban en las comunidades locales, produciendo valor más allá de las fronteras físicas de los campuses, no sólo a través de la transferencia de conocimiento, sino, también, como motor en diversas áreas. Hoy en día, las universidades españolas tienen la oportunidad, y la responsabilidad, de asumir un papel igualmente esencial en los ecosistemas urbanos inteligentes y en los procesos de innovación urbana.

A pesar de que nos es fácil encontrar universidades españolas dentro de los rańkings de las 100 mejores universidades a nivel mundial, los datos que ofrece la Conferencia de Rectores de Universidades Españolas (CRUE), confirman las fortalezas de la investigación española y de la “transferencia del conocimiento”. En materia investigadora, la producción científica española ha crecido un 50% en los últimos diez años, alcanzando un 3,4% de la producción científica mundial, dos tercios de la cual se produce directamente en las universidades (lo cual convierte a España en el noveno país productor de ciencia a nivel global). En cuanto a transferencia del conocimiento, el porcentaje de patentes obtenidas desde el sector universitario convierte a España en el segundo productor de patentes. Continue reading

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Patinete eléctrico: ¿el futuro de la movilidad urbana personal?

Edificio ocupado hasta 2012 por el Harvard Square Theater, en Cambridge (Massachussets), ahora vacío.

Harvard Square Theaher, Cambridge (MA, EE.UU). Fuente Backstreets.com

“Esta noche he visto el futuro del Rock’n’Roll, y su nombre es Bruce Springsteen”

Jon Landau, 1974

La frase la escribió el crítico Jon Landau en una célebre columna musical en la revista Real Paper tras asistir a una de las legendarias actuaciones en directo del sudoroso músico de Nueva Jersey quien, menos de un año después, con su aclamado disco Born to Run, ocuparía el trono del rock (vacante desde la incomparecencia de Elvis) hasta bien entrada la década de los 80.

Una tarde de Agosto en la ciudad creo atisbar del futuro de la movilidad urbana. Sentado en una céntrica terraza cuento pasar bicis y patinetes eléctricos durante unos minutos. Pasan tantas bicis como patinetes. Por supuesto, la observación no tiene ningún valor científico, pero apoya una impresión: el boom del patinete eléctrico es inminente, si es que no se ha producido ya. Y eso que, como ciclista urbano desde mi época de instituto, reconozco tener ciertos reparos hacia estos objetos. Pero mis reparos son más lírico-filosóficos que prácticos (aprecio el placer de una bajada sin pedalear porque he hecho antes el esfuerzo de la subida) o estéticos: la bicicleta me parece un objeto subjetivamente bello. Sin embargo, reconozco que el patinete eléctrico parece nacido para triunfar. Continue reading

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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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Zaha Hadid’s Pavilion Bridge: Linking Architecture and Smart City

Original photo at roomdiseno.com

It was made public today that Zaha Hadid’s Pavilion Bridge in Zaragoza will host a center for showcasing progress in electric mobility. According to the local media, the project is a joint agreement between Aragon’s main savings bank, Ibercaja, the administration and the motor industry, and will reinforce Zaragoza’s strategic position in the mobility arena.

Mobility is an essential side of any smart city strategy, as it is a smart citizenship. But, traditionally, the motor industry around Zaragoza, which accounts for 6% of the region’s GDP and more than 25.000 jobs, has stood with his back turned to the city. The situation will likely change when the Pavilion Bridge opens its doors and the citizens will be able to interact with the latest developments through its exhibition rooms.

But this is not the only divide that the renewed Pavilion Bridge is intended to close. On each bank of the Ebro river, two flagship urban developments still seem unconnected. On the north bank, the Expo site, formerly dedicated to water and sustainable development and now hosting many of the regional administration offices, is mainly fueled by the regional Government. On the south, the Digital Mile, an innovation district planned by the City Hall in 2003 that has stagnated for almost five years following the financial crisis. The crisis has also left its footprints on the Zaha Hadid’s Pavilion Bridge. Lifeless for almost 10 years as a consequence of Ibercaja’s struggles to digest the real estate crash, it wil now require more than just a coat of paint to shine again as one of the landmarks of the “new Zaragoza” that emerged with the Expo 2008. Continue reading

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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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