Thoughts on Beyond 2020 and Smart Cities

Beyond 2020I am currently flying back from Recife to Europe via Fortaleza (amazing view right now from the window) and trying to collect thoughts after the two days of Beyond 2020 event. Beyond 2020 is an event focusing on the urban innovation processes to ensure that technology supports citizens. The whole event discussed different aspects on how can we can create Smart Cities through Social Innovation.

What makes a city smart?

So called Smart Cities are key corner stone towards the sustainability of our world, but it’s not a new topic, certainly. It’s years we hear about implementing Smart Cities, and we often – if not always – think to scenarios, where the city gets automated, cars drive by themselves, and so on, thanks to Internet of Things and other “futuristic” technologies. In some cities these scenarios, considered almost sci-fi only few years ago, are almost a reality. A nice example are the self-driving busses in Sion (CH), few kilometres away from Martel’s offices.

Driverless bus in sion (Keystone)

Driverless bus in Sion (Keystone)

Several presentations at Beyond 2020 were focusing on the importance of Open Source (and technology) for the creation of Smart City ecosystems (which implies co-participation by citizens and businesses in the creation of services), but I don’t want to discuss these aspects here. Following the different presentations at the event, I started questioning myself:

Do citizen need sci-fi smart cities or do they need something different?

One of the key aspect of the discussion of the past two days, it’s the focus on social inclusion and the multi-disciplinarily and participative approach to the design of smart city services. In so many events, smart cities are discussed from a pure technological point of view or bureaucratic one (isn’t that cool that I can tell my citizen that our city is a Smart City?). I think this make us loose the focus. We strive at creating a better life for citizens, who have concrete daily needs. To do that, we can really start from simple things. We can work on rocket-science later on, when basic needs are solved. To this extent a city is Smart if it solves everyday life problem of its citizens.

City co-creation?

What I loved about the event was the clear “push” from the bottom, something we probably are not anymore very used to in Europe where we are already in our “comfort zone”: our city mostly works, what can you do more (of course in the south we complain a lot, but this does not mean we do anything in the end J). The recent issues EU is facing due to unmanaged inclusion of second/third generation Islamic immigrants make me think that we are doing it wrong. The Brazilian landscape in term of needs it is surely different from what we live every day in Europe, but it is really so different?

Coming back to Beyond 2020, as said what I really loved of the event was the atmosphere: hey guys! we are here to make Brazil better! (No space for cynical arguments: people have good will? Let them go a make the world a better place, without breaking their dreams! Many times dreams do not come true because of cynics and we do not want that, right?)

Highlights from Beyond 2020

Here are a couple of interesting remarks:

  • speakers-28I had a very interesting and long talk with Francesco Ferrugia (President of Futura Networks – the company organising Campus Party). The nice outcome of this talk (which I will try to make mine, if chances allow) is: go and teach technology to emarginated kids. Francesco told me about the new openings of FabLabs in Brazil in the context of so called “favelas” and how kids living in Favelas can do amazing things, and, moreover, how this empowerment (the ability to “create something”) make them feel they have talent and chances that are better not wasted in drugs and co.

My take (thanks Francesco for the hint): if we any chance for running a hacking lab with kids, I will pick up a school in a place like Zen (a “famous” suburbs in Palermo) or Scampia (a “famous” suburbs in Napoli).

  • speakers-12One of the presentations I enjoyed more, is the one from Claudio Marinho (Porto Digital). I love in particular this sentence from his slideset: “A smarter citizen (non at a “smart city”), a more lovable place (even though not so liveable), edgy rather than the middle-of-the-road, diversified, more tolerant with outsiders, more upload (more creative) than download. This may way to make cities.

My take: “more upload that download”, let the citizens co-create the city and contribute to it. This is key, which also mean that we need to design processes to facilitate and enable this co-creation in the most open way possible. I will reflect on this and try to define a sort of guideline (stay tuned on the blog!).

  • speakers-13Small and effective things. Kiev Gama presented a simple service developed through “civic hacking”. The service aims at facilitating the collection of waste oil, it’s a very simple one: either manually or with sensors it allows to notify collecting services that a waste oil container is full. Nothing magic. But something important. Waste oil is very hazardous and often, because of the complexity of collection process, we end up disposing it not properly. My home city in Switzerland does not even consider kitchen waste oil in the recycling regulations!

My take: keep it simple (I knew this mantra already, but you always forget in some point!)

All in all, I have to thank Margarida Campolargo for inviting us and Claudio Nascimento for the great organisation. I learned really a lot! Olinda (haven’t seen Recife honestly) is truly a place of co-creation and civic hacking. Even without the need of technologies.

Making Olinda more loveable thanks to street art

Making Olinda more loveable thanks to street art