What does the term “smart city” represent to you?
It is important to set out from the outset that while some components may be present in all city environments, there is no such thing as a “smart city definition” that fits all realities. What it certainly must be is a territory that manages to combine economic and social development while preserving energy and the environment and thereby enhancing its citizens’ quality of life in a sustainable way. All of this, of course, by making the possible and cost-effective, smart use of available technologies, not as an end in itself but by tackling real social and economic needs. This is something that involves integrated planning and consequent actions in mobility, urban development, waste disposal, social services, housing construction and refitting, access to broadband, green spaces, just to name a few.
What were the key elements in turning Genoa into a successful smart city?
Working towards a smart city is an ongoing and potentially never ending process that needs a clear vision of the future by its administrators, not just in the present but with a long-term prospect. Therefore it is of utmost importance to be able to maintain the commitment going forward, notwithstanding political changes. In Genoa the process, started in 2009, has been kept alive and actually strengthened in 2012, even after the former Mayor has stepped down following a primary challenge. The framework in place, whereas the municipality launched an association which is open to all interested stakeholders, and most notably the research centers and small, medium and large businesses present on its territory, has clearly been a highly successful institutional “architecture”, allowing the city to win – the only one in Europe – all 3 smart city calls launched by the a European Commission in 2011.
Looking back is there anything Genoa should have done differently?
No innovative process such as the smart city one proceeds in a flawless, perfectly tuned manner. There is a lot of trial-and-error that must necessarily take place, and the objective of the political side must be to minimize the disruptions and the delays that such a path necessarily involves. If there is one single field that could probably have been – and still does, in my view – managed with greater effectiveness, I would point to the wider communication to the public, to the city’s citizenry: indeed, the fact that too few people actually fully understand the concept of “turning your city into a smart one” represents a definite obstacle to approaching your goal, ultimately, since it is only with an informed, involved and active population the you can get there by making the most of available resources.
What is Europe’s agenda in increasing the number of smart cities?
In the program period 2014-2020, the European Union has launched the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), which is an initiative supported by the EU Commission bringing together cities, industry, SMEs, banks, research and other smart city actors. It intends to: improve citizens’ quality of life through making cities more competitive and better places to live in, while also increasing competitiveness of Europe’s industry and innovative SMEs. It also aims at sharing knowledge to prevent mistakes being repeated. Finally, it supports all actors in order to find the right partners and solutions. So, it’s about achieving social, environmental and economic sustainability for our cities, and reaching our common energy and climate targets.
Can the smart city concept work in the Balkans?
As long as the vision for a smart city is clearly defined; as long as it is “homegrown” and not obtusely copied from some outside example, and its concept rendered acceptable to the broadest population of the territory; and thus its representatives across the political spectrum, there is absolutely no reason for which the process cannot be applied anywhere, and in particular in the Balkans. The most important aspect to always keep in mind is that while the process should always be governed by the political side for it to be democratically legitimized, it is a path that can only be successful if it is built on foundations of very strong public-private partnerships.
How can Skopje begin the process to become a smart city?
There is absolutely no reason for which any European city cannot – or should not – embark on the process to get as smart as possible. What it takes is a long term vision and the appropriate strategic mindset, combined with strong determination to bring all stakeholders on board. From what I know there is a great potential for such action in Skopje, starting from its complicated urban mobility situation and the vast space for renewal and refitting in the housing sector: I am sure that useful examples of improvements in such areas can be found and then positively adapted to the specific city-case.
How can private enterprise and government work together to turn old industrial sites into new areas of growth?
There is no question that obsolete industrial sites, combined with the right set of fiscal and financial incentives can become a very strong magnet in order to attract outside investors, thus creating virtuous circles that anchor jobs and multiply resources for the future. In my view this process should nonetheless be highly selective so as to allow for a “smart specialization” a feature that is absolutely needed in the present extremely “tight” environment, where cities and linked territories compete against each other in a quest for excellence.