Smart City Expo World Congress & the Future of Cities

According to a 2014 UN World Urbanization Prospects report, over 60 percent of the world will live in cities by 2050. That means cities will need to get smarter about managing resources and relationships to support growth. Enter “smart cities”.

Smart cities use a variety of technologies to analyze and manage the city’s assets, to improve the lives of its people, businesses and economy across areas of transportation, energy, education and health.

Barcelona has gained a great reputation for becoming a smart city. Their projects leverage technology, data, and a centralized digital platform to build a “smarter” city. Sensors in the irrigation systems save the city over $500,000 a year on water usage. L’apparkB, a mobile smart parking system, saves time looking for parking, reduces CO2 emissions and increases city revenue.

Smart City Expo World Congress is an industry leading event held in Barcelona from November 15-17th. Congress brings together hundreds of cities, experts and exhibitors to combine “business and knowledge with the objective of driving forward new projects that will make our cities better places for their residents and for the planet as well,” noted event director, Ugo Valenti.

This year’s theme was “City for Citizens”, a call to build smart cities around people – not technology.

The emphasis on people makes sense. One of the biggest challenges cities and their partners will face is getting people to use “smart” platforms and services. After all, it’s the people that power the technology that allows the city to make smarter decisions and vice versa.


The Smart City Plaza exhibition area showcased digital management platforms and services by Microsoft, Huawei and others. In contrast, breakout sessions delved into stories of why such platforms should be built around openness, collaboration and a bottom-up approach.

Panelists cautioned against embedding “smart” technologies without a clear picture for community needs and how to meet them.

During the Co-Cities Advancing Collaborative Urban Development session, Mara Balestrini, Research Director for Ideas of Change, encouraged identifying ways for people to contribute on their own terms. Implementation of new technologies should assist in “changing power structures to address issues.”  For example, cities can use data sets to identify landlords that aren’t taking care of housing problems.

Balestrini cautioned against top-down approaches and “making assumptions on who you’re designing for.” Smart cities require “participatory orchestration” and a shift towards “fostering an emergence of abundance rather than managing scarcity”.

During the Improving Cities through Education and Culture session, Dirk Petrat, Director General for Central Services for the City of Hamburg, spoke about how Hamburg is using a participatory approach to create a “shared memory of [the] city” with its upcoming eFoto Hamburg service.

efoto HamburgEfoto will centralize access to over 1 million historic photographs across various archives in Hamburg. People can conveniently access the images, and also contribute to the city’s public archive.

eFoto is like looking at the “before” shot of a place, while standing in the “after” shot. As time passes and cities change, the “after” becomes the “before”, and a new “after” shot will take its place.

It’s one way for a city to capture, collect and extend the evolution of place to everyone.


Many of the projects featured at Congress present a huge opportunity for IoT and Big Data. As a result, there are concerns around citizen privacy, security and ownership of data. Experts tackled these concerns in sessions, but no definitive answer emerged.

Privacy friction already exists between the people and giants like Facebook and Google around data collection used for ad revenue. Are people open to cities collecting similar data to improve their quality of life?

Do citizens have the right to opt-in or opt-out of these “smart” services? Who owns the information we need to improve the lives of everyday people? How do we define “data infrastructure”? Who can access this data and how?

Are data sets private or shared? How is data shared? Where is it held?

smart cities expo world congress

Overall, I left Smart City Expo World Congress with more questions than answers. Still, it’s exciting to see these conversations and developments move away from technology and towards the needs of the people.

Corvida Raven

A natural pioneer at grasping the rapidly changing landscape of technology, Corvida Raven talks tech in plain English on