The Main Wave: the Smart city
Smart cities, although presented almost as a de facto standard, through the strong endorsement of the European Union, and its commissioned expert (cf. Giffinger, for instance), in particular, constitute unclear setups regarding what they exactly convey and imply and how to correctly and precisely evaluate their performance. We can go into details in the rankings and mesurement methods concerning smart cities, but we must first envisage such issues as definitions and the concept’s ultimate goal. If, agains, we follow Giffinger (2007 : 11):
« A Smart City is a well performing city built on the ‘smart’ combination of endowments and activities of self-decisive, independent and aware citizens »
The two initial definitions given by the recent report to the EU »Mapping Smart Cities in the EU » (DG-IP , Policy Department A, Economic and scientific policy, 2014), one from MIT (2013), the other one by Schafers et al (2011), linked to the Future Internet Assembly, similarly, linkg a series of technologicla and social factors that are optimised in the smart city paradigm. In any case, definitions are more about what smart cities ought to be rather than what they are. This is sot rue that the above-mentioned EU study on smart cities, trhere is a provision theorising and even measuering through a sophisticated formula, the so-called « Euclidian » gap between the ideal goal (of smart cities) and what can be observed in reality. The study goes on examining 9 other definitons (op. cit. : 25), concluding by its own : « A Smart city is a city seeking to address public issues via ICT-based solutions on the basis of a multi-stakeholder, municipally-based partnership » ; before pursing with Giffinger’ six smart components (see below), as a safe threshold.
This looks like a wonderful world and we can seriously doubt that, under these conditions, there is any smart city in the whole world. In reality (and therefore against Giffinger’s extremely idealized view), we see at best the « all smart » components of the Giffinger metrics, for instance, as proposed in « http://www.smart-cities.eu/model.html », framed in a difficult-to-compare multi-dimensional deployment of several heterogenous features, equipment and capacities, filtering only positive inputs (this is a major problem) and basically failing to absorb any systemic issues and complex challenge requirements in the process, except for some weak tie indications of lesser importance. As the various reports and publications of www.smart.city show (e.g., Giffinger et al. 2007), the concept claims to involve several societal dimensions (six « smart » capacities), each one being the aggregate of several specific indicator :
Comment : the least we can say is that there is lot of « smartness » involved in this framework. Either smartness is a low currency and should not deserve so much attention, or it is justified as a lot of players (cities) manage to attain this level of excellence (belonging to the club of those cities whose smartness can be scored and remarkably so!). IN reality, there would be a lot to say on the trivialisation of the term « smart », in this case as in general, in the whole smart city debate.
However, this starts to be really interesting when opening each one of these Ginfinger’s colorful boxes :
We could argue, like « IESE-Cities in Motion » (http://www.iese.edu/en/faculty-research/research-centers/cgs/cities-motion-strategies/), that some factors are not really taken into account by Giffinger, but our opinion is that, in this case, we should rather focus on such key issues and questions as :
1) what does some broad category like « environmental protection » or « sustainable resource management » convey and is the weight given to it giving justice to the systemic weight of these factors?
2) how to justify the eveness of the weight given to each factor within a particular category, in other words, how to imagine that a particular city capacity supposed to display intelligence can integrate, with equal relevance, local accessibility and a safe transport system (and if passing to a multi-city comparison level, how to assess whether weaknesses in some areas are really compensated by strengths in others ?).
Even key protagonist Giffinger, after stressing the benefits of city rankings (attract attention, support investors in their choice of location, be an important guide for the cities to judge their strengths and weaknesses and define their goals and strategies for future development, trigger learning processes), acknowledge a few deficiencies, acklowledges problems (in Giffinger and Haindl, 2009 : 705) :
– smart cities engaged in a form of « Beauty contest » and « recursive self-affirmation » (which trigger superficiality and stereotypes) ;
– as some cities mainly chase good scores, long-term development strategies may be threatened (excessive competition may lead to perverse effect and wrong choices, with deregulation issues and spatial shortcomings) ;
– when cities appear with high scores, we can observe « unreflected handling of ranking results » (only winners care, while their results are in fact too generalistic to be used for decision and action).
Schippers (2012) goes some step further insisting on the fact that that smart developments involve some risks (like privacy and equity issues) which should also be taken care of in the way smartness is measured and that as a general principle the term « intelligent » and « smart » are justified only when they clearly tie technological development and human development (which is not always so clear, as we have seen).
However, there are other problems worth mentioning.
Even Giffinger (2005 a + b, 2008, 2009 b), the smart city ranking expert by excellence, knows well the deep qualities involved, in the broader system in which cities take place, which should also be part of the evaluation ; just to follow some of his work, typical blinds spots of smart city rankings are:
– the effectiveness of inter-city cooperation,
– the highly qualitative notion of « territorial capital », such as envisaged by Storper (1995) and Camagni (2002, 2009),
– how cities are part of territorial dynamics (including inter-city competition), as well as the metropolisation issues, an old topic, but which seems to be still very relevant at the age of smart cities.
We hardly see any of that in smart city rankings.
As a general comment, if we follow for instance Deakin (2013) in his presentation of the indicators which can make a city more or less smart (he uses for that the Triple Helix Model reference and a neo-evolutionary perspective), we clearly see the difficulty for this type of measurement to be robust and consistent, in fact far from enabling any expert to assume the complexity gap this « always positive » methodology involves. It’s hard to believe, but no « minuses » are ever taken into account, and on this point, on the danger of forgetting negative forces in measurementand rankings, it is worth mentioning the work carried out by Misuraca, Codagnone and Rossel 2013), which strives to emphasise the importance of negative factors to reach a satisfactory and realistic evaluation standpoint. Let’s see for instance a ranking shown by Deaking (op. cit.), where as a matter of fact, there is no provision for negative factors (we take here the Deakin example, but this inclination is quite general) and, beside the low realism of these attempts, this may lead to difficult-to-interpret results :
Comment : The first feature which attracts attention is that, all considered, smart cities mainly excel on intellectual property, but this capacity seems to be inversely connected to the knowledge and knowledge economy factors !
If we compare 9 cities and all factors, the image we are confronted with is quite puzzling !
Comment : Here we are clearly facing the decathlon issue : how to compare and give weight to almost uncomparable performance domains ? Do you jump better than you run and if it’s the case, how to be sure that your talent profile is correctly reflected in the overall appraisal ? In decathlon, the rule has been fixed and maybe it just ends in filtering in the kind of athletes fitting the retain wining combination, but in our case, it does not go without obvious difficulties.
In reality, there is at this moment not serious explanation or theory that would explain how ICT equipement and users’ capacities may trigger democratic values and/or innovation propensities, for instance.
Let’s stress that some organisations have gone very far in emphasizing this linkage, to the point of reverting priorities, economic potential being a first evidence base of smart cities for them. Thus, the Brookings Institute, in collaboration with ESADE (2013), advocates, in a clear move to re-capture the smart city rationale on the economists’ side, priviledging the following key indicators :
- Smart Cities begin with an economically-driven, technologically-focused vision (leader : Edmonton and its vision 2040)
- A successful city vision must address three key economic drivers
- Cities must reform government to successfully implement their economic vision, including with an enhanced neighbourhood-level communication
- Cities must balance the relationship between project scale and risk tolerance
- Cities require stronger networks and improved communication tools
On the Brooking approach, it’s worth reading the critique by Wired :
« Implicit in the Brookings’ paper is a belief that if only cities were smarter businesses, they’d be better. Technocratic thinking having brought so many benefits to our cities is threatening to swamp the socio-civic underpinnings they depend on to remain livable. I’m being rhetorical here because wherever there are people, there is social exchange, but is it society? And if a city is a business which type is it? Enron? Apple? Blackwater? Google? Businesses the economic size of cities are complex entities with one primary goal. They maximize shareholder value. Citizens are not shareholders. In fact, one sign of a healthy city is where the smallest, least powerful “investors,” if I can borrow the analogy to make a point, are treated almost as well as the most powerful. Businesses are, on the other hand, not democracies. Employees don’t get votes, especially at the lower echelons. They’ll also downsize at the slightest faltering in their quarterly earnings. Try doing that with a city. »
This looks like a violent critique, but in reality, the Brookings approach only pushes to its utmost consequence a trend already quite visible in most smart citiy indexes : the inference that more ICT and governance is generating business innovation.
There has been little change in the smart city perspective. The only recent touch having emerged in the smart city movement (and with it, in the intelligent city and the intelligent community rhetorics) has been to add to this basic arena the cultural layer, betting on the combination of good e-governance, good business conditions and cultural sensitivity, enabling artists to stimulate the more traditional stakeholders of the smart city paradigm (this is how the Barcelona evolution was presented at a recent conference of the European network of living labs –ENOLL-, in Brussels, 2014).
In fact, the strand of the « smart/intelligent city » trend which is closest to the Brookings Institute view is the Innovative city network and its index , clearly emphasising the innovation indicators as being key to lead this particular ranking (no small or even mid-size city can seemingly be part of that club !). For a European form of the same perspective, <read more>
Smart cities are the heirs of digital cities, which coined the pioneering efforts of a handful of cities of the pre-Internet era (Aspen, Amsterdam in the 70s and 80s) to construct the first services and valuable information access based on the then emerging ICTs. With the explosive coming of age of the Internet and myriads of corresponding web services in the 90s, « more of the same » could be provided, with in addition more interactions, hopefully ending in promising forms of empowerment to the citizens, inhabitants and service users. Gradually, smart cities have tried to incorporate the governance issues in the picture, then economic needs and sustainable issues, and more recently, cultural potential, making smart cities overlapping more and more with other claims, labels and networks: « intelligent cities » and « intelligent communities », but also to some extent, « creative cities » (for the cultural side, recently emphasized as being the utmost catalyzer of smart cities).
In the present context, the eGovernance/eGovernment paradigm remains the smart city movement’s key driver, with clear research and publishing efforts from the State of New York University at Albany, Center for Technology in Government, together with IIST and the United Nations University , in particular in their yearly ICEGOV conference, as well as the already strongly established cities and dedicated conferences of the Eurocities network, with already several studies stressing the value of the smart city endeavors (Rodríguez, Batlle, & Esteban, 2007). The first players mentioned, just like the World Bank, are engaged to promote the role of open data as a new trigger for both political and administative transparency and business drive enhancement. The second category of players (Euro-cities), are slightly more concerned with city government and experiments ((EUROCITIES, 2009, Misuraca et al, 2010). However, they constitute differents strands of the same heavy trend. Worth considering for the follow-up of this broad movement, the recent evaluation carried out on behalf of the European Union (Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department A, Economic and Scientific Policy, 2014).
However, again, in this smart governance perspective, blind spots to unpleasant effects of ICTs to make cities smart or not, are numetrous. ICTs have changed the world, society, lifestyles, the yield of performance, but also the level of risks, with undesired aspects and dynamics :
– private sphere threathened,
– digital divides,
– infrastructure vulnerabilities of all sorts,
– increasing ICT-linked carbon and hydric footprint,
All in all, smart cities show very little smartness in confronting these various problems and glorifying themselves as highly achieving urban players while the world is clearly not going any better, including in the so-called smart cities, may at some point produce a reverse self-ironic effect.
This may be especially true when considering that the last craze is about the use of social network by city players, as a means to increase citizen participation and more recently about Big Data (New York being now proclaimed as the great urban lab for the most recent stage of urban productivity, just as it happened alreacy with the lighting and electricity distribution at the end of the 19th Century (same level of open issues to be solved, then, see for that Lane et al. 2014). The down sides and hiddent risks of this new period are to a certain extent taken care of but also, at the same time, increasing. In fact, in most smart city studies and efforts, they are not envisaged seriously, they should.
Finally, one should not overlook the weight of big business players in this evolution, CISCO, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, IBM and else, all apparently dedicated to the enhancement of city functioning. They are never far from either city decision-makers or ranking measurers and their various supportive organisations.
Other labels worth mentioning : « mesh », « flexible » and « innovative » cities
Mesh cities, a concept linked to the Magazine WIRED, attempts at combining « smart » and « green » strands of contemporary urban challenges and therupon, promote options and help contemplate future visions and issues. Let’s stress, however, that this constructive and positive intention is often strongly technophilic on how we might shape our future cities, asking questions like how to integrate Asimov’s robotic laws for instance, and assuming as solutions, building on technologies in the making that have involved very little holistic assessment so far. This does not disqualify they general trend of what « mesh cities » suggest, but require a precautionary distance to be maintained on each claim as well as on the general philosophy. Having said that, most of the proposals are legitimate topics, likely to trigger valuable reflections, studies and experiments. Who is the subject of these solutions in the making and with what kind of socially sound support is most of the time still an open question. « Mesh cities » generate a framework for new proposals and original solutions to come up, as innovative combinations of existing technologies or completely new ones, to support our efforts when it comes to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenge. We only insist on the proviso of having to establish how these technological solutions will be developed, produced, used, mastered and regulated and with what kind of side impacts to be taken care of, if ever to be positively part of our future, for everybody, not just big cities of the Northern Hemisphere.
The technological fix paradigm still fascinates, it must be supported by correlated discussions on usages, mis-usages and the mastery of undesirable side-effects. Even with this slight idealism attached to « new technologies as solutions to existing problems », « mesh cities » have at least the merit to pose, as starting point, the need to consider with equal attention smart and green component of what cities may have to convey in the years to come. Let’s just say, however, that this may just be not enough.
A typical link between smart and green cities is the emergence of smart grids to optimise energy production, distribution and consumption.
Smart grids should help smoothing energy consumption peaks, increasing security and reduce costs by some facility sharing and above all, end-consumer enhanced behavior (but in reality too often little motivated for strong behaviorla changes and reluctant to subsidize local meters first), including in an increasing number of cases, end-consumer being capable of feeding the network with local energy excess.
However, first evaluations tend to downgrade the expected performance and return on investment of such mesh-ups as transaction costs, learning costs and governance costs in this multi-stakeholder scheme diminish the overall pay-back of smart-griding. This shows how complex grand challenges matching technological fix and green expectations will be. This does not mean, of course, that we have to stop experimenting and learning.
Flexible cities, stem from a concept promoted by Oxford University within the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities (http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/institutes/cities). It involves a strong inter-disciplinary approach on urban issues with special attention given on policy and change linked to the city now and in the years to come (the real challenges). On this basis, it promotes innovative projects on such domain as « Urban climate governance », « Global migration and cities of the future » or « Visioning and Backcasting for Transport Futures in Chinese Cities », just to name but a few. The « flexible city » is an interesting concept in as much as it attempts at playing outside of the conventional ways of addressing the emerging technology impact on the city, with an open-ended approach and multi-stakeholder sensitivity.
Innovative cities : Most often, the « innovative cities » claim or any emphasis of the kind is just another blend of the smart city movement trying to bring original light on specific achievements, of courses raising interesting issues along the way, in parbticular on how cities can attract and facilitate innovative enterprises being part of their strategic growth. We have seen, however, that is not an obvious extension of the smart city progranmes, even if claimed so. Still, there are some networks mor clearly identifiable as « innovation-oriented », meaning by that that they want to stress the importance of innovative firm and lab concentrations as an expression of global inovativenss. This is for instance the case of the « Innovation Cities » Program (http://www.innovation-cities.com/), prividing a ranking (the Innovation Cities Global Index 2012-2013, http://www.innovation-cities.com/innovation-cities-global-index-2012/7237), which unsurprisingly emphasizes the leadership of Boston, New York and San Francisco Bay area, with as only non North American exceptions Vienna and Paris (?!) in the top five scorers, followed by a huge number of European and Asian cities. A brief comment on this list : Switzerland, which always appers on the top 3 countries in most of the innovation rankings of these last 15 years, has no city in the top 50, probably because they are too small to even being considered or because of some other unknown reasons. There is a variation of the Innovation Cities Program with « The Most inventive cities », identified by Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2013/07/09/worlds-15-most-inventive-cities/), but taking into account, to be fair to that particular ranking attempt, to multiple criteria and not just innovation-centerd company achievements. The other element worth mentioning in this perspective is the spontaneous self-promotion of some cities as being particularly innovative, as is the case of Bologna for instance (http://www.innovative-city.com/fr/). Beside this ranking business, it is important to consider the value of innovations of lal kinds in the urban enhancement context and a large part of our own efforts, with tis platform « Shaping the cities of tomorrow) will be dedicated either to stress this type of contributions or help supporting entrepreneuring endeavors in that direction.
A general pattern, with clear limits, leaving room for all sorts of creative and responsible endeavors
All the labels meant to attract attention on how to go about cities and their challenges entail a somehow similar pattern : real and recognized problems to be tackled, some achievements and metrics to rely upon, more or less technology according to the label, but always some technology to solve problems and upgrade city life, and claims to address highly qualitative issues, social ones, envisaged as either causes or effects (depending upon the type of issues), but always related to concrete and measurable features (hence the « smart qualification »), which in reality, when given careful attention, are not so obvious. Moreover, only a fraction of all the claims presented in this introduction involve bottom-up actuations, endeavors of the inhabitants, citizens and users of the cities (creative cities constituting of course a counter-example where expert tend to pay attention to grassroot initiatives) ; as a matter of fact, most of the labels tend to be associated with top-down decisions, policies, impacts and reported outcomes (e.g., Giffinger and Haindlmaier 2010, Giffinger and Kramar 2012).
This bias for government leadership rather than multi-engagement leaves room for another perspective, as we all live in the same world : what can we do, whoever we are, to shape our urban environment for the years to come, tapping upon all these excellent references, but also designing our own tracks, making choices in our own terms, possibly aware of what rankings and fashionable indicators suggest, but at the end of the day shaping our own cities of tomorrow ? This rather bottom-up, multi-faceted and actuation- and entrepreneur-centered is what makes the unique flavor of this platform (Shaping the cities of tomorrow), open to all initiatives which may enrich the worldwide, collective catalog or both local and global projects, experiments and documented solutions. Shaping the cities of tomorrow is a platform for knowledge sharing and a toolbox for harbouring and valuing a broad variety of urban innovations, either already existing or upcoming.