5 minutes with a Barcelona smart city expert

Cities all over the world are opening up to the vast potential of smart technologies and what they can do for urban efficiency, sustainability, and the happiness of people living there.

While general consensus is that Singapore leads the way in this respect in Asia, in Europe, there are several contenders for the smart crown, one of which is certainly Barcelona. The Spanish metropolis has long held a reputation for being a pioneer of urban digital innovation, manifested partly due to its hosting of the world renowned Smart City Expo World Congress.

Property Report spent the day at District Summit 2018 in Bangkok this week and caught up with speaker Alberto Martín Torras of the Smart City Expo World Congress.

What makes Barcelona smart city unique?

I think it’s probably the fact that we take a holistic approach. There are many cities around the world that claim to be smart but tend to have a narrower view of what this means. Our smart city strategy aims to be global and considers all aspects of city life, including mobility, governance, sustainability and engaging citizens. I think that’s what sets us apart.

You mentioned in your presentation today that you are not a fan of smart cities being built from scratch, can you explain why? 

For a city to develop it takes time. A lot of the cities in Europe have centuries of history behind them and that’s what has given them personality and identity. Developing a city from scratch is unrealistic and these projects will always be missing something.

To an extent new districts are inevitable – cities grow and sometimes need to accommodate massive amounts of incoming people, so there may not always be time to let the soul of a place develop. There is a threat that we could end up with a lot of bland places, but as usual it’s about finding the right balance.

Are there any smart initiatives that Barcelona tried to roll out, but failed?

We talk a lot about engaging citizens and giving them a voice and in the past Barcelona was very proactive in organizing polls for people to vote. That didn’t work well in the early stages, I guess because it was so pioneering we hadn’t quite thought of everything, so there’s some work to do in that area.

What is your biggest ambition for Barcelona as a smart city?

We use a lot of big words sometimes in this industry, but at the end of the day the work we do is about ensuring people have a good life. The claim we’re using at this year’s Smart Cities Expo World Congress is ‘cities to live in’, so our biggest ambition is for Barcelona to be a nice place to live. It’s as simple as that.