Barcelona is Spain’s poster child for the seemingly endless enthusiasm for Smart City initiatives among those in the Internet of Things space. And why not? Industry players stand to make money and city governors can earn kudos for creating budget efficiencies while appearing technologically ‘with it’.
However, some technology experts are wondering if the echo chamber of smart city enthusiasts is drowning out the average citizens’ basic question about smart cities: What’s in it for me?
A recent Computer World article looked at Barcelona’s strenuous efforts to make it one of Europe’s smartest smart cities.
Since launching its smart city push three years ago, Barcelona has instituted smart parking, smart streetlights, smartphone tourism apps and sensors monitoring air quality and noise along its major streets. This adds to a city beach bedecked with self-powered lighting units and the network of free Wi-Fi access points for Barcelona’s parks, beaches and other public areas that will eventually total 1,500 hot spots.
Yet some industry experts have questioned whether Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau is fully committed to continuing the smart city strategy, with many city residents now publically challenging the projects’ tangible value. These technology analysts say that Barcelona is an example of a broader concern about leaders of the world’s biggest cities who are not answering citizens’ questions about the relevance and value of these IoT projects to their lives.
“They asked, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” said Bettina Tratz-Ryan, an analyst with Gartner analyst. “We have a lot of smart city tech pushed by vendors everywhere, but cities are asking for citizen engagement [along with smart city projects] and want to avoid test beds where they won’t see any benefit.”
Barcelona makes infrastructure smarter but less visible
Pushing politicians to adopt ever more smart technology are city managers who look to improve infrastructure efficiencies of their cities for things like street lights and water mains. But much of this technology remains invisible to the average citizen.
However, some elected leaders are beginning to see the importance of more above ground smart city technology that can improve direct services to businesses and citizens.
For example, Amsterdam is implementing smart technology to strengthen the city’s environment and public engagement, while Atlanta is looking to improve public safety through installing more surveillance cameras. Both Kansas City and Boston are pushing to expand Internet broadband to a greater swath of its businesses and residents to boost the technological capacity of its citizens.
“There are different motivations for smart cities,” said Tratz-Ryan. She highlighted Singapore as a city that is adding intelligent technology to many private and government services. “Singapore is in fact seen as a smart city test bed for cities like Dubai and Paris.”