European city leaders at a recent capitaltribunenews.com Institute event in Barcelona discussed how to lay the groundwork for cross-city innovation.
Despite the proliferation of artificial intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things, technology was not top of the agenda for the European digitalisation leaders gathered in Barcelona at the recent capitaltribunenews.com Institute City Leadership Forum.
Instead, a key focus was on laying the right foundations for innovation, from organisational design and skills to resident engagement and policies to ensure that people’s rights are protected. This reflects the shift from top-down, technology-driven thinking about ‘smart cities’ to a challenge-driven, co-creation approach.
Barcelona’s BIT Habitat is a municipal urban innovation centre to convene businesses, academia, residents and the city. It focuses on putting the right administrative processes, infrastructure, methodologies and engagement in place so that innovation can thrive. This is based on a city strategy published last year.
Isabella Longo, Project Director at BIT Habitat, highlighted several examples of this approach in action. When a city department has a requirement and no solutions exist yet in the market, BIT Habitat runs open challenges. Subsidies of up to €120,000 (US$127,000) are also available to support the most impactful and scalable ideas that address major urban issues.
BIT Habitat has established the Barcelona Urban Innovation Platform to guide and prioritise innovation. It is made up of 100 people from different fields and disciplines representing residents, businesses, academia, and the public administration.
Other foundational support includes a Fab Lab where people can access advanced technology and tools they may not otherwise be able to afford, and the Future Innovation Lab where start-ups can test their proposed solutions in a real world setting and receive feedback.
“This impact-oriented approach helps us to work with citizens and the community in order to innovate together,” said Longo.
In a ranking of 30 cities across four pillars: connectivity, services, culture and sustainability, Copenhagen was recently named as the leading digital city globally by Economist Impact.
Sophie Hæstorp Andersen, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, said in the research that: “A key factor to this high level of digitalisation is trust. We also have a strong focus on digital solutions that contribute to a more sustainable city.”
Building trust is a growing concern for European cities. Due to misinfromation, some are experiencing pushback from a vocal minority about technologies such as 5G. Others recognise that they have to put guardrails in place to protect residents.
Marc Perez-Batlle, Innovation Manager and AI lead at Barcelona City Council, noted that AI is advancing faster than regulation.
“What we’re trying to do within the city council is put citizens, their digital rights and privacy at the centre of how we use new technologies,” he said.
Barcelona is one of the founding members of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights and last year launched an AI Strategy for the ethical use of data and algorithms. This will include creating a public register of the algorithms used by the City Council, similar to those launched by Amsterdam and Helsinki. The cities are collaborating on how these registers could interoperate so that algorithms can be reused in multiple cities.
Batlle said that “public procurement is one of the main tools that [cities] have” at their disposal. This includes clauses to ensure that any intelligent systems included in municipal tenders respect people’s rights.
When it comes to technology, one thing that remains fundamental is connectivity.
Ester Montorio, Head of Marketing at Cellnex Telecom, highlighted the growing demands for connectivity to meet all stakeholders’ needs including the city council, residents and visitors, businesses and transport authorities.
Connectivity increasingly underpins social inclusion, quality of life, and city and company competitiveness, she said.
Meeting all these varied needs requires several layers of connectivity and a multi-technology approach, from fibre in the ground to streetscape small cells and top-level data platforms.
City councils are the “enablers” for this connectivity ecosystem, Montorio commented.
A growing trend to meet complex connectivity goals is using a neutral host model – particularly open access agreements, as well as managed services and to a lesser extent concessions, explained Victor Dot, Global Head of Product Line: DAS and Small Cells, Cellnex. Through open access agreements, city councils make assets such as fibre networks and street furniture available and neutral host players like Cellnex pay to use it and bring additional operators on to the shared infrastructure. This model, used by cities including Dublin, Milan and Erice, streamlines the amount of telecom equipment required in public space, simplifies the process for all stakeholders, and creates revenue opportunities, said Dot. It also gives cities more control.
Reflecting their role as enablers, an emerging trend – led by cities such as Glasgow and Dublin and now being considered by others – is the formation of dedicated telecom units.
Glasgow launched its Telecom Unit in late 2020 “to simplify the interface between the telecommunications industry and the city council, recognising that we have multiple touchpoints,” said Colin Birchenall, Chief Digital Officer, Glasgow City Council. The unit aims to attract as well as direct investment.
“It gives us the opportunity to influence providers in terms of where they deploy that network,” said Birchenall.
This is part of a city-wide strategy to tackle digital exclusion in terms of affordable connectivity, access to devices, and skills. In a bid to close the attainment gap and “inspire” the next generation, Glasgow has deployed 50,000 iPads to schoolchildren through a partnership with CGI and is working to make digital learning intrinsic across the whole curriculum.
Education was a common theme across cities – including partnering with technology companies and academia to help residents gain essential skills for the future.
The discussions made clear that the priority for cities is to drive innovation to achieve key policy goals, and to create the environment where this is a joint effort with the wider community that everyone can play a role in.
The post How cities are creating the conditions for urban innovation appeared first on capitaltribunenews.com.