A message to smart cities: do it like Barcelona

Barcelona is one of the most fascinating and cosmopolitan cities in Europe. I often remember my fascinating strolls in “Las Ramblas” at night, the Spanish national dish paella in the “7 Portes” restaurant and the fun you can have at mountain “Tibidabo,” to mention a few of the city’s highlights.

Smartcity Barcelona

But there’s another aspect of the city that we can learn from. Barcelona has been implementing many urban, economic and social plans, to create a high-quality environment for working and living. From the orthogonal bus network or the bicycle sharing system, to the tap-and-go contactless payment system using NFC or the new urban sensors, Barcelona has been transformed into an urban lab.

This year, Barcelona was honored as the world's smartest city, beating out London, Singapore, and New York in connected infrastructure, citizen engagement, technological capability, and use of open data sources. Since 2011 Barcelona has developed 22 different programs with more than 200 projects under the umbrella of the city’s Municipal Institute of Information Technology. Many cities are already investing in broadband, cloud, and IoT infrastructure, but few are doing it at the same scale as Barcelona.

What can other cities can learn from Barcelona about how smart city investments can impact positively urban economies? How can a mayor and his team transform a hundred hectares of industrial land into an innovative business district? How can public-private companies plan and deploy an electric mobility plan for the city? We should ask and learn from Barcelona!

In my country, the European Union / Horizon 2020 will allocate a EUR 16 billion research and innovation support fund for a two-year period, to address and finance ideas and opportunities in manufacturing, transport automation, digital services, IoT and smart city initiatives. These EU funded programs aim to give back a tech advantage to European cities and industries.

We should ask and learn from Barcelona how they planned and did it. Are our cities striving to meliorate citizens’ life by creating an environment that encourages business and new models? Are they igniting public-private partnerships instead of demonizing change and the private sector? We should ask and then learn from Barcelona!

There is a huge opportunity for smart cities: IoT city deployments will create USD 421 billion in economic value worldwide; city savings will increase in service, energy and transport areas; new jobs will flourish in the hardware, software and services industries; and finally, IoT technologies will deliver a broad range of city benefits like reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, improving public safety, and providing new ways for authorities to interact with citizens. Ask and learn from Barcelona.

Ericsson is active in the smart cities public dialogue with insights, solutions and partnerships because it has foreseen the economic, environmental and social challenges of the fact that by 2050 about 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to reside in urban areas (if you want to know if you live in a smart city use this interactive city index tool).

This year the Ericsson Innovation Awards 2016 are asking student teams for ideas on “How will you build a better city?” I urge students to learn from Barcelona, a best case and an inspiration of the future we like to be part.

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