BngC_eDCIAAKSfX Amsterdam received last week (13-14 May), another instance of its annual event dedicated to Smart Cities. This fourth conference managed to surprise for a few reasons, which I’ll explain below, but, above all, it surprised by the many options provided to attendees from 28 different nationalities and from different business sectors.

On the fourth floor of the fantastic Amsterdam Arena Stadium (itself an example of intelligence, energy efficiency and technology), it was easy to encounter an unknown Start Up application developer or an intelligent lighting supplier from countries that beginning to be a serious reference in this type of product such as Estonia.

 IMG_5816 Among the cafes and quiches for lunch, the main players of the Smart Cities universe of Europe and the world exchanged points of views on what unites them, even if their areas were completely unrelated.

After all, what brings together presidents and political leaders, CEOs and entities responsible for the programs of municipalities of many of the most important cities of Europe with start-ups’ CEOs, large corporations around the world, students, researchers and creative participants? What unites them is the need to find a solution for the perfect City utopia (that doesn’t exist).

The desire to help their fellow citizens to be happier and have better quality of life is what unites them. As well as the goal to do it in a smart way, collaborating with each other, sharing knowledge and best practices. Naturally, business and the law of supply and demand also unite them.

Hence, the simple fact that if you take it as a normal thing it also benefits the process of making it transparent and fair in the eyes of those who supervise and, above all, in the eyes of attentive citizens who often point the finger at certain deals that occur more or less in a concealed form or in obscure corridors of any government department. Smart Cities are settling that prejudgment.

First because they put everything out in the open, second because they are trying not to repeat past mistakes. Even if the actual procurement system doesn’t help it all.

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Welcome to The Arena   

The Amsterdam Arena hosted this year’s Smart Cities Event. And, at the very first moment, the organization surprised us with a literal “kick-off” in the stands of the stadium and the speakers invited to make their presentations from the front lawn.

Next year they should go even further, actually take a ball and play for a few minutes to get off the weight of an event that nobody wants ultra institutional and deeply academic but to remember what’s at stake.  

Townsend, the heavyweight who came from across the Atlantic  

After the presentations and welcoming, while still on the lawn of the Arena Stadium, we had the opportunity to hear Anthony M. Townsend, Senior Researcher in the Department of Mobility, Politics and Management of New York University.

Despite the weight of notorious recognition, Anthony is a simple and friendly person. He is also young and inspired many of the young students and entrepreneurs who were present at the event at a time when he made his keynote speech. In a way, there were some who felt disappointed because they considered that Townsend spoke a great deal of theory and recent history of mankind, obviously issues that participants who work on the Smart Cities themes take into account and hear and study themselves over and over again.

I, personally, was not disappointed. On the contrary, it never harms to remember that the great advances of humanity and technology have occurred because there has always been “madmen” who have challenged societies and cultural status quo apparently immovable and static.

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I’m also not disappointed because, unlike other academics who we have come to know and who practice and carry out their activities in the major universities and research centres around the world, they can’t (by defect or virtue) communicate in an understandable form to the majority of people who have to develop work, get down to business and take the world forward, so to speak.

I admit, probably the fault is on my side, I have been working to improve communication and on the best approach to effective communication for many years and I’m not always successful. And that, I think, has to do more with the receiver than with the sender of the message.

That is, the sender supposedly talks about things that he knows, works and investigates. The receiver doesn’t always have access to information that allows him to decode all of the terms and concepts and ends up complicating the effective transmission of messages, ideas and solutions.

But Townsend has the advantage to decode himself. He speaks clearly without using scientific terms, which are ultra complicated, and simplifies the message with practical examples, that everyone knows, that all accept as valid. Then he puts the question of Smart Cities in perspective and ultimately makes himself understood.

The con side is that this simplification of the speech seems to disappoint because we’re always expecting geniuses to speak in an encrypted way and it is not the case. But if there were doubts at the round table in which I participated with him and with over 6 colleagues, it was noticed that Anthony’s simplicity is real and honest. Just like his geniality.

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  London doesn't know what to do with 90% of big data

Another heavyweight of the event came from London, Kit Malthouse, Councillor in the municipality of London excited the audience by the frankness with which he addressed certain issues that normally we are not used to hear in the speeches of politicians.

For example, Kit left interesting information about the enormity of data that the city of London is producing, noting that there is data on anything and everything and they don’t know what to do with it. He gave the example of including information on the locations where dogs defecate and urinate in the city… In other words, we know exactly where our “best friends” relieve themselves and we have no idea what to make of such information.

The Deputy Mayor also took the Plan for London to Amsterdam. A plan that aims to make the British capital a better city to live, using the technology, creativity, in order to improve the quality of life for Londoners.

Spanish Armada to conquer  

No doubt, Spain has become the sensation of Smart Cities and many look to our neighbours (I’m from Portugal) as examples of good practice that everyone should follow. The presence of 5 Spanish cities (and Barcelona in the round tables) in highlight in the Amsterdam event represents the special attention that the world is giving to the Spanish case. A genuine armada of Smart Cities, led by Iñigo de la Serna, Mayor of Santander and leader of the Network of Smart Cities in Spain that never stops growing.

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I have come across De La Serna several times in various stages of the Smart Cities theme and those who know him well do not find it strange that all the spotlights on Spain are so intense.

After the Mayor of Santander placed his own city in the top of the smartest cities in the world, with a case study of innovation, technology, creativity and social innovation, he also assumed the political leadership of the movement of Spanish mayors, perhaps due to the crisis that also hit Spain. He must have sensed abandonment and indifference by the central administration.

Iñigo is undoubtedly a very involved mayor in the Smart Cities theme, he believes that the future of humanity depends on the quality of the projects that each city will be forced to develop to cope with all the challenges and obstacles which arise and which are known to all.

When everyone was distracted by the crisis, Santander grabbed an opportunity, threw itself into the project of Smart Santander and now reaps the benefits. Those who think it’s an easy path could not be more wrong. Iñigo de la Serna plays a key role in this success, by his vision, knowledge, and study and by his ability to surround himself with a competent, specialized, committed and creative team. The focal point for a Smart City is to be smart, after all.

Valencia, A Coruña, Sant Cugat (“the city where everyone in Barcelona would like to live”) and Malaga were the othe cities that had stage at this event showcasing their innovative and wide-ranging projects.   

And in the end... six fingers of conversation

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One of the comments that I recall at the closing of the event was the final presentation by Rob Adams, from the Dutch creative agency Six Fingers, it might as well have been placed with more highlight in a keynote session. The creative participants were always last but it is also true that those who come last will be first.

Rob Adams showed that spirit and addressed the madness of a few in his presentation, among them Robert Hutchings Goddard, inventor of the rocket and a dreamer who wanted to go to the moon. A “crazy madman” was what he constantly heard and, yet, he dared to do it different.

He was not very successful in life, but had hundreds of patents that were ultimately used many years after his death, precisely, in the first trip to the moon.

Those who have the audacity to dream, according to Rob Adams, will always be seen differently. And in the Smart Cities theme, it is also true that the dreams of many, even the craziest ones, when materialized, result in huge progress to civilization and to the human being. Smart Cities will only succeed with creative citizens. This is the paradigm of the new times. Brace it.  

Final Notes

  • Lots of speakers and good presentations that I can not refer all, but certainly were very participated and applauded;
  • The event was a trending topic in the Netherlands for about 6 hours #smartcitynl
  • Participants from 30 countries such as Jordan, Emirates, Indonesia, Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, USA, India, France, Estonia, and many others;
  • Initiatives launched: Smart Circle, the knowledge and network connector for Smart Technologies.