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SCEWC 2019: Are smart city dreams becoming reality?

As this year’s event drew to a close, SmartCitiesWorld sat down with Ugo Valenti, Director of Smart City Expo World Congress, to get his view on what’s happening in smart cities.

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Ugo Valenti
Ugo Valenti

This week over 24,000 people flocked to Barcelona for Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC), the industry event for anyone working in the field. The theme this year was ‘Cities Made of Dreams’.

 

Ugo Valenti, Director of Smart City Expo World Congress, said the topic was intended to reflect the practical progress that is being made by cities, as well as some shifts in thinking.

 

He commented: “In 2011, when the event started, we had a dream about how to make the world a better place and how we could help cities become smarter and more sustainable. But at that time, it was mostly conversations but no reality.”

 

“Now we have seen those dreams that we had in 2011 are becoming a reality,” he said, citing examples such as Chinese cities which are using advanced data and mobility pattern analysis to cut congestion and commute times for citizens, and cities in Europe which are leading the way towards carbon neutrality.

 

“So we want to keep on dreaming and start creating now the cities that we will be living in by 2030, and the cities that we deserve to live in by 2030,” Valenti said.

 

Valenti doesn’t believe that the nightmare visions of smart cities are playing out.

 

He added, too, that he doesn’t believe that the nightmare visions of smart cities put forward by some are playing out.

 

“The scenario from Blade Runner 30 years ago is not happening in reality. I mean, of course, small things happen but the nightmarish dystopian scenario hasn’t happened. I’m not utopian but I’m optimistic," he said.

 

Growth

 

This year’s three-day event brought together more than 700 cities from 146 countries, as well as 1,010 exhibitors and over 400 speakers. The number of registered attendees was up 15 per cent on last year.

 

Valenti said this growth reflects that more and more cities and companies globally “believe in change for a better world” and that as cities increasingly take on roles that were traditionally played by the government, a platform for them to come together and work towards shared goals is essential.

 

“They didn’t have a proper place to do that previously only at a very high political level. Here, they can do things at the more technical level, which is where things really get done,” Valenti said.

 

He also noted that the focus of the event has shifted "dramatically" from the early shows which came from a technological perspective towards one where the citizen is at the centre of the conversation.

 

“Technology is a means to an end and not an end in itself,” Valenti said.

 

Urgency

 

Despite the progress that is being made in cities, Valenti called for greater urgency in some areas, including mobility.

 

“We have already seen some huge problems with [ride-hailing] and scooters. When autonomous driving comes, the problems will multiply by a hundred,” he said.

 

“Cities need to be prepared for that. We are still in the technology part of the discussion, but not yet addressing the legal issues or the implementation. I believe we need to push.”

 

“We have already seen huge problems with [ride-hailing] and scooters. When autonomous driving comes, the problems will multiply by a hundred."

 

He added that on climate matters: “We really should speak less and act more."

 

Be the change

 

With this in mind, the Expo team is trying to lead by example when it comes to some of the themes of the event, such as sustainability, inclusion and equality.

 

“Everything we build here is circular, we re-use all the materials,” Valenti said. “Whatever cannot be reused is recycled. There are no single-use plastics.”

 

“I believe we have done a hell of a job on this because it’s not easy,” he continued. “I am pretty sure that if we, in the events industry where this is very difficult, are able to achieve it, everybody from the cities to the companies and ourselves personally can build on that.”

 

The SCEWC team has also had a big push on balancing gender equality at the conference. This year, 40 per cent of speakers were women, as were four out of five keynotes.

 

This year, 40 per cent of speakers were women, as were four out of five keynotes.

 

The event provides sign language interpretation in auditorium sessions and there is a prayer room and a nursery.

 

“What we want to see in our cities, at a different level we are bringing it to the event,” Valenti said.

 

2020’s event will mark SCEWC’s tenth anniversary. Valenti said the edition’s theme is still not set in stone but is likely to be angled towards what smart cities looked like ten years ago compared to now and what we can expect cities to be like in ten years’ time.

 

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