“Smart cities take advantage of new technologies to improve life”

The World Urbanization Prospects of United Nations states that managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. We meet with Javier Villamayor, main responsible of the Smart City project in Tarragona, and ask him about what becoming smarter means for a city.

By Aida Jurado and Neus Llaó

According to the United Nations report “World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas”, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This proportion is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050.

“Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda,” said John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) Population Division.

Therefore, Smart cities are appearing all around the world: Singapur, Barcelona, London, San Francisco, among many others are trying to improve their citizens quality of life. And so does the city of Tarragona.

 

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The Mayor of Tarragona, Josep Fèlix Ballesteros has based its mandate in two major projects: the Mediterranean Games and the Smart City Project, though the Smart City plan is long-distance, beyond 2017.

The Main lines of action of the project are to promote the water culture based on sustainable and responsible use, to design a new strategy for sustainable mobility, to promote health and nutrition using public space, to value the heritage and tourism as an economic engine of the area and apply new technologies to enhance their growth and to promote saving energy and efficiency.

However, some of the most ambitious projects have generated problems - Vertical Garden in Tabacalera, or Miracle Eco Park - either because they have not come out as expected or that simply have not been done.

The policy of smart ­­­­projects seems to have passed into history and now everything is based on applications for mobile phones. One thing to keep in mind is the data privacy of citizens, an interesting aspect when we talk about this issue. It is curious, however, that one of the drivers of the smart concept in Tarragona, Santiago Castellà, says that the Foundation Tarragona Mediterranean Smart City that was created specifically for this objective, does not have decisive power or executive projects in the city.

The Foundation is quite opaque. Not only around the public information but also around the account status. This lack of information has also been evident in the global Smart City project and has caused that this concept is nowadays completely unnoticed for the citizenship. Will Tarragona enter the selected club of well-know smart cities around the world?

We meet with Javier Villamayor, main responsible of the Smart City project in Tarragona, and ask him about what becoming smarter means for a city.

What are the challenges that cities have ahead?

A very good question. I would say that cities have some challenges and the planet, others. The main challenge of the planet is that every year more and more people live in cities and less in the countryside. That means that cities grow and then need more resources not only economic, for example: if many people live in cities means that there is more need of drinkable water, better communications and public transport infrastructure or green areas. If the majority of the population is focused on the cities, they can destabilize the planet. The growth of cities is unstoppable and this century is known as the century of cities as they have greater prominence. The challenge of a city like Tarragona is how to take advantage of technological change, new technologies to improve life.

 

The main challenge of the planet is that every year more and more people live in cities and less in the countryside

 

What do you think are the pillars of Smart Cities?

At the end there is a clear pillar that is how technology serves to manage services of all kinds, because we now an instrument that we did not have before, the technology, to make the city better. If we are able to use technology for good and to improve the life of cities, people will be happy and satisfied, but if we do not use technology for good, all we do is sell things. People wonder why everyone needs to have a smartphone. Well, it is important because you give useful information to the city, but you also get it. For example, if I want to park my car, I can find where the nearest parking is. Or you can find out what’s new in the movie theatres. Imagine that you are walking down the street and you see a broken bench. The city has an application called Epp that allows you to take a picture and send it with a comment to the City Hall. We receive it in the central and it is distributed to the appropriate department. It is a very bidirectional instrument.

 

“Smart cities take advantage of new technologies to improve life”

 

What are the strengths of Spanish cities and which of these are at the top and why?

There are three or four cities that are doing things very well. Malaga, especially in technology; Barcelona is also doing very interesting projects linked to mobile telephony because they are the mobile world capital. And there are other smaller cities that are doing very interesting projects as Vitoria, in sustainable management. There is one very important thing about cities that is beyond the smart city: the compact city, the diffuse city. The compact city is a city like ours, where people live, enjoy, work, study in a nearby radio. In a compact city you have shops or schools near your house, you have everything in about two miles radio from my house. In the United States there are diffuse cities: cities like Indianapolis, Chicago or Boston, where you live in a house and you have to drive your car and waste your time to go everywhere, to the supermarket, to the school... In our city people can walk everywhere since it is small but in other cities they have pollution problems because of the cars.

Why do you think people do not know the term Smart City?

It is a label, what is important is not the label itself, but the change that is occurring in the city. There are increasingly larger cities and less people living in rural environments in the planet. And that implies a change in people’s behaviours because more and more people are going to study and to work to a city and that generates opportunities but also difficulties of management. Call it smart city or not, it has little importance, because what is important is the change that is occurring.

 

Créditos