Towards an “Intelligent” City

IESE hosts think tank "Cities in Motion: Urban Strategy"

31/01/2013 Barcelona


From the earliest city states established in Greece, Mesopotamia and Central America, to the uncontrolled growth of today’s megacities in emerging countries, cities have above all been places of cohabitation. Today, these population centers face new challenges, particularly on the demographic and environmental front. According to the United Nations, in the next 40 years the urban population will grow by 75% and cities - which occupy barely 2% of the earth’s surface - already consume 60-80% of energy and produce 75% of CO2 emissions. Faced with trends on this scale, the challenge is to create cities based on development strategies to produce what are now known as smart cities.

What is a Smart City?

It was in the light of these challenges that IESE yesterday held the first meeting on the Barcelona  campus of the research platform “IESE Cities in Motion Strategies.” This was recently established with the aim of creating an international network of experts and private companies with local administrations around the world to develop innovative tools that would help in creating more sustainable cities in relation to the ecosystem, the activities and the equality of citizens and their connection with their environment.

One of the most eagerly anticipated sessions was the think tank “Cities in motion: urban strategy,” which, after two talks, gave rise to an intense debate over the concept of a smart city, which model to adopt and what factors to bear in mind. The first talk, given IESE Prof. Joan E. Ricart, reviewed the findings of the first article published by IESE on this topic. The text, published in Nº 14 of IESE Insight magazine, describes a model of urban development that embodies a long-term, global vision over the processes and key factors involved in creating an “intelligent” city. According to this model, there are five fundamental factors: financial, human, social, environmental and institutional capital.

The special guest, Íñigo de la Serna, mayor of Santander and president of the Spanish Network of Intelligent Cities, devoted the second talk to the innovative initiatives recently taken in his city with the aim of turning it into a role model for smart cities in Spain. One of the initiatives is the online platform “the pulse of the city,” where citizens can post complaints and comments about what is happening in Santander in order to facilitate a rapid resolution of these problems. In future, the aim is to convert this network into “the real mind of the city, in which everything is connected, bringing together information about traffic, pollution and energy consumption,” the mayor said.

But going beyond technological and innovative examples, De la Serna emphasized the importance of developing a clear strategic plan based on the current reality in order to arrive at a specific objective. “It’s of no use if a company offers us the most advanced sensor technology and the town hall buys it without knowing what it is going to do with it. This is not how to make a smart city, it only creates mistrust and frustration among citizens.” 

The Debate: Long-term Policies

Participants in the think tank, who came from such sectors as energy, technology and the automotive industry, came up with a wide variety of comments and opinions about smart cities that gave the meeting a sense of immediacy and underlined the practical needs as well as the vision of those who will be involved in the transformation that cities need to undergo in the coming years.

Suggestions included the need to preserve the character of each city, to look at what changes could be brought about through the application of technologies and infrastructures, to avoid creating unrealistic short-term expectations on the part of citizens, to bear in mind the social and economic situation in which you are operating and to join forces and reach agreements between public and private actors in order to guarantee stability in the changes so that they would have long-term effects and would not be revoked at the end of one legislature and the arrival of a new government.