Barcelona's annual Smart City Expo, which took place between 14-16 November, is one of the most significant global events in the smart city field. It's here where the big players get together to showcase new technologies and to discuss strategy. SCiM-MK sent Dr Alan-Miguel Valdez, who took a moment out from the exciting new tech and the autumn Barcelona sun to send his reflections back:
Hello, Alan-Miguel Valdez here, back from the Smart City expo at Barcelona. Several interviewees have told us this is the place to be for learning about the latest in smart cities, so we had to be there. This year there were 675 exhibitors and 18,754 attendees from 700+ cities in 120 countries. I'd say that smart cities from the UK were largely underrepresented, but fortunately MK was there, with council leader Peter Marland contributing to the panel on Disruptive Trends Transforming Urban Mobility
When I have visited similar events in the past, I usually spend most of my time at the conference, listening to presentations by experts and industry leaders. This time I spent my time at the trade fair instead. As part of our research, I wanted to visit the stands of the various smart cities, trying to develop an understanding of how the dozens of cities claiming to be smart were similar to (and different from) each other. We will need some time for proper analysis and reflection, but I would like to share something that caught my attention.
Judging from the exhibits at the expo, it looks like cities don't want to be just smart anymore. Now that hundreds of cities claim to be smart or experimental, smart alone may not be enough to raise the symbolic capital of a place. Most of the promotional materials I gathered at the expo are clearly designed to attract investment, with cities framing their smartness as a unique selling point. Since 'smart' by itself is not so unique anymore, cities need to offer something else on top, and in consequence projects are becoming "smart and social", "smart and sustainable", "smart and inclusive", "smart and connected", "Smart and clever", etc…This may be related to growing acknowledgement that 'big data' is not new, and not smart by itself, with people from ICT companies acknowledging that they had been using big data from a long time ago, long before "smart" became fashionable. It may be too early to tell, but judging from the number of stands devoted to it I suspect that robotics and automation will become the next new thing, the defining element of the next generation of smart cities.