#57 Smart City Expo World Congress: Transforming Cities Through Collaboration, Innovation, and Sustainability

Episode 63 December 13, 2023 00:33:07
#57 Smart City Expo World Congress: Transforming Cities Through Collaboration, Innovation, and Sustainability
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#57 Smart City Expo World Congress: Transforming Cities Through Collaboration, Innovation, and Sustainability

Dec 13 2023 | 00:33:07


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

In this episode recorded live at the 2023 edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress, we discussed the importance of collaboration, innovation, and a holistic approach to building smart and sustainable cities with the Director of the Smart City Expo World Congress: Ugo Valenti.

The conversation also touched on the impact of COVID-19, digital transformation, and the potential future vision of cities being green, citizen-centric, and less car-centric.


Overview of the episode:

[00:01:20] Teaser: The Smart City Expo World Congress in 3 words

[00:01:42] Ugo's Professional Background

[00:03:18] What is the mission of the Smart City Expo World Congress and how has it evolved over the years?

[00:06:33] What are the central challenges that the cities attending the event share, and what do they need to accelerate change?

[00:09:31] What are some of the most notable trends and innovations in the field of urban development and Smart Cities?

[00:14:33] How are cities adapting to the new normal after COVID-19, and what innovative strategies have emerged for building more resilient and responsive cities?

[00:16:47] Examples of how cities are embracing technology to enhance services

[00:18:54] How do international collaboration and the sharing of best practices play a role in the future of urban innovation?

[00:22:56] What does Ugo envision for the future of Smart Cities and urban innovation?

[00:25:33] What is Ugo's call to action for all the cities, innovators and other stakeholders?


[00:28:52] Shoutout: our guest mentions a person, an organization or a city they think deserves more recognition in the field

[00:30:55] Ending Question: To you, what is a Smart City?


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Want to join us for an episode? Contact our host Tamlyn Shimizu.


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome to Smart in the city, the BABLE podcast, where we bring together top actors in the smart city arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope you will enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to accelerate the change for a better urban life. [00:00:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Smart in the city is brought to you by BABLE Smart Cities we enable processes from research and strategy development to co creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at BABLE Smartcities EU. [00:00:46] Tamlyn Shimizu: I am live in Barcelona today at the Smart City Expo World Congress. On the last final day on Thursday, it's a yearly expo in Congress that is the world's biggest and most influential event on urban innovation. BABLE is a collaborating partner this year, and I'm excited to give you unique insight into the event in this edition of the podcast. So with me today, I think no better person to speak about the event and everything that it entails is Ugo Valenti. He's the director of the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. Welcome, Ugo. [00:01:18] Ugo Valenti: Hi. Thank you very much. [00:01:20] Tamlyn Shimizu: Lovely having you with us. I like to just dive right in and get warmed up with a little teaser question. And that question today is describe the Smart City Expo World Congress in just three words. [00:01:32] Ugo Valenti: Wow. From my perspective, greatest event ever. [00:01:38] Tamlyn Shimizu: Oh, you did? Greatest event ever. Oh, I like it. [00:01:41] Ugo Valenti: I like it. [00:01:42] Tamlyn Shimizu: Usually people are like innovative, digital or something along those lines, but I love that approach as well. I love it. Greatest event ever. I have to agree that it really is the most influential. Everybody I know is here pretty much in Barcelona. So my schedule has been packed full with meetings and events and podcast episodes. So there's a lot going on. It's hard to keep up. It really might be overwhelming. But before we dive in more into the event, I want to know a little bit about your background. I like to give the listeners a little intel into who are you? What led you here? [00:02:22] Ugo Valenti: All right, so I am 47 years old and I've been working for Fira Barcelona, the organizer of the event, since 2005. And I studied international business, an MBA, and I started working for fear. We organized different events, and in 2011 we had this idea of creating an event that could help cities become in better places to live in. So we started that. We started very small, but we were pretty successful. And the most important initiative that we had at the moment was to create something that was truly international with a global scope. That's not easy to do. And during this twelve years period, I believe we have succeeded. [00:03:18] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. How many countries do you have here? 85 plus. No, 140. Okay. Getting up there. Very good. So you touched on it a bit, but I wanted to speak about what is you touched on the mission. I don't know if you have anything else to say about the whole mission of the smart city Expo, World Congress and also how has it evolved over the years? [00:03:43] Ugo Valenti: Yeah, so our mission hasn't changed since the beginning. The idea was to really help create a better world by creating better cities. That was the core. It is true that the concept has evolved quite a bit. So I remember at the beginning that we talked about smart city cities, but we were mostly showcasing ideas and PowerPoint. And also there were plenty of people that thought that a smart city would be a super technologically driven city. Right? Like plenty of sensors, Internet of things, four g. And at that moment, broadband. That was the idea. We always believed that a change needed to be made. So we had plenty of meetings with different cities all over the world. We explained to them the concept. We made them come over. [00:04:41] Tamlyn Shimizu: You made them? Yeah. You're bribing them to come. [00:04:48] Ugo Valenti: Not really. And no, what we started to do was to create these meetings between different cities, the cities themselves, and also of course with vendors, but mostly within cities themselves, to try to understand and learn from each other. And what happened was that from having the technology at the center of the discussion, we started shifting that discussion and having the citizen at the center of the discussion. And I remember in 2014, 2015, there was a huge shift, of course, on any innovation process, whatever innovation process there is at the beginning, there are like four big steps. Right at the beginning, you need to understand what you're talking about. So in this case, we needed to understand what ASMR city was about. Then there is the second plan, which is how to plan. And in this case, we have been working very hard doing all these years to help cities understanding that they needed to have a comprehensive plan towards giving a better life to its citizens. And then there's step number three, which is to start prototyping and applying the different solutions and products on the cities. And then it will come step number four, which is yet to come in some places, which is the large scale implementation. I believe right now we are on step number three, four in the sense that most of the cities have their ideas clear or more or less clear, and they are starting to apply different solutions. In some cities, of course, this is more advanced and in others less advanced, but the whole world is becoming more aware of what smart cities are? [00:06:33] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. It's really becoming really at the forefront of so many discussions. And the title of smart cities has just evolved in general to be a much more holistic approach just from this technology aspect. So you're speaking to a lot of cities, and with those cities that you're speaking to, what do you think are the central challenges that they all share, and what do you think they need to kind of accelerate this change to maybe these large scale implementations? [00:07:10] Ugo Valenti: Most of them talk about, for instance, financial challenges, but the biggest challenge that there is is to have a clear idea and really having a comprehensive and holistic approach. This is what we always tell them. It's easy to explain that to them, but it's very hard for them to understand that because as a company or institution there are plenty of different departments. So the mobility department doesn't always talk to the police or to the health department or to the green or energy department. So a holistic approach really needs to have everybody on board an understanding that they're working towards a common goal. And that's the biggest issue that really needs to be addressed. It is true that during the past twelve years we have seen a huge change on this. And now mayors, governors, et cetera, they understand that they need to explain to their teams that they're working together and they need to work together. [00:08:14] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. And so what do you think is the biggest driver for that change? [00:08:19] Ugo Valenti: Well, the biggest driver perhaps, is that this is very typical, but we are living in a huge digital disruption in our world and we as citizens, we expect much more from the administration in different areas. On another end, it depends on which continent you live, but we're seeing a huge shift of population coming to live in cities. And also the amount of people in the world that we're living is increasing. So right now we are 8 billion people, we will be 10 billion people living in the world. Right now we are 55% of us living in cities and we will be 75% of us living in cities. So if we don't do anything, it will be almost unbearable to live on our cities. So we need, we understand that we need to create new infrastructures and that these infrastructures need to be completely connected, that they need to be sustainable and that we need to have a better quality of life. And this is the reason why smart solutions are so needed, because otherwise we will live in a very bad situation. [00:09:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. You're around a lot of, I mean, in the expo, I don't know if you have the number of how many exhibitors. There are, there's a ton of new innovations out there in the expo. What do you think are some of these most notable trends and innovations that you see that you've observed? [00:09:51] Ugo Valenti: Yeah. Right now it's our biggest edition ever. We have 1106 exhibitors this year. [00:10:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: Wow. [00:10:02] Ugo Valenti: Yeah. [00:10:03] Tamlyn Shimizu: The two massive halls too. I didn't even realize the first day I was like, oh, there's another hall. [00:10:09] Ugo Valenti: There are two halls right now. And next year is going to be bigger, hopefully. But for me, the most important thing is that these exhibitors are showcasing, as I mentioned before, at the beginning 2011, those exhibitors were mostly showcasing powerpoints. Right? But right now you are seeing real things and real things that are being implemented already on the field with results and real KPIs. So it's very cool stuff that can be implemented in any city in the world tomorrow. So we're not talking about or we're not showcasing just stuff that's going to happen in five or ten years time. We're showcasing stuff that really can be applied today, and that's very powerful in relation to trends. There are plenty of them. So mobility is a big issue right now, and mobility for us as citizens, it's very important because this is something that we need to move around every day and we want to do it in a good manner. So there are plenty of initiatives in relation to public transport and how to improve it. There are different examples, of course. Electrification is one of them, but also autonomous vehicles are another. And also different tests that are being done around the world of having the public transport, for instance, free for the citizens of the city and there to understand, okay, how do they use then the public transport? Do they leave the car at home because the public transport is free? Different lanes, for instance, to have the public transport have priority over the different vehicles, but also how to mix up the public transport with our personal vehicles, like bicycles or like the different personal vehicles that we might use. So for me, mobility is a very big issue. Of course, energy efficiency is very high and top of the list. There are plenty of solutions. For instance, right now we waste more or less 30% to 50% of the water that we use for irrigation. So there are very simple things and very inexpensive things as well to apply that could completely reduce this waste that we had in relation to energy efficiency on buildings, right? There are plenty of solutions and green solutions that can be applied to our buildings to make sure that during the winter we have more heat and during the summer the heat is more bearable in different parts of the world. So there are plenty of solutions. And of course, this year we have seen a huge increase in everything related to artificial intelligence. [00:13:03] Tamlyn Shimizu: I was wondering when you're going to get to that. I was like, AI? Is he going to mention AI? [00:13:11] Ugo Valenti: Plenty of things related to AI, mostly specifically on data, data collection and making sense of the data. That's a very important thing, because during all these twelve years, we have gathered plenty of data, but it was very difficult to make decisions based on data because it was very difficult to read it and to understand. When you get millions of data, it's very difficult to handle that. AI can help quite a lot on that and also via AI and via different solutions for the metaverse or digital twins. I know those sounds like buzzwords, but there are right now some real implementations of a city having a digital twin. That can be very helpful to understand. Okay, so I want to do a change in my city before doing that on the real streets, I will try that on my metaverse. And thanks to AI, I can understand how this will really affect the life of the people on the street. And if everything goes smoothly, then I can apply directly so they can save both a ton of money and a ton of problems to the citizens. This is something that is going to become huge in the next few years, but it's starting now, and I see that it has huge implications. [00:14:33] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. Yeah. All cities need to be including these into their discussions as well. AI as a governance topic. Right. So I don't like to mention it too much on the podcast, but Covid. So the COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on urban areas that we know. And you had the expo before COVID and after Covid, as we like to say. Of course, Covid is not gone, but after the lockdowns and everything, how are cities adapting to the new normal? And what innovative strategies have emerged for building more resilient and responsive cities? [00:15:11] Ugo Valenti: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Covid was very difficult for all of us. And when you do physical events, you can imagine it was very difficult for us as well. But from the city perspectives, what we have seen, not only from citizen perspective, cities perspective, but also as people for us, we have seen that there's a huge increase on adoption of digitalization. Right? So almost everybody understood that digitalization was an essential part of our lives. So cities had to adapt, and some changes that probably would have been done in five years when done in just months, barely months. So right now, most of the cities in the world are completely connected digitally. As a citizen, you can discuss or have any service digitally at the palm of your hand. And that was something that I believe was very good. Covid also helped on some senses. [00:16:20] Tamlyn Shimizu: For. [00:16:20] Ugo Valenti: The digital divide that currently exists on our society. It is true that there are some people that are still left behind, but most of the people really, it's 90, 90 something percent, at least on european countries, for instance, are connected. So that is very helpful. And I strongly believe that this is a trend that has come. It will stay here and it has come to stay, basically. [00:16:47] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. Do you have a specific use case, maybe a story that you've heard from one of the cities that you've worked with around digital transformation? [00:16:57] Ugo Valenti: Yes, plenty of them. It really depends on the continents you're talking about. So, for instance, when we think about China, which is a huge user of digitalization, they have plenty of solutions and using also artificial intelligence as well. So they have facial recognition on the streets, which from one end gives plenty of more security and better security than they had before. [00:17:23] Tamlyn Shimizu: But a little bit debated. Absolutely. [00:17:26] Ugo Valenti: That's the other half of the equation. So right now, if you go to China or to the Middle east, for instance, it's almost impossible to see a thief on the street or a burglar in the street. They will get caught in five minutes time. [00:17:40] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. [00:17:41] Ugo Valenti: But on the other hand, it is true, from a european perspective, it is true that privacy, you lose privacy there. [00:17:51] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. [00:17:54] Ugo Valenti: Myself as a Barcelona and as a European, it's hard for me to see these type of solutions. But on the other hand, for instance, from a european perspective, thanks to digitalization, in some nordic countries, for instance, there were lots of people that were feeling alone. And thanks to different apps on the mobile and thanks to different use cases at the administration, they were able to get connected to each other, to have someone to talk to, to have someone to advise whether there was an emergency. So this is something that digitalization has bring, and let's say it's called, let me call it software for good, right? For the common good. That's very interesting. So I think that digitalization, as anything related to innovation can really do very good things sometimes. Not that very good things. So we need to do the nice utopias and not the nightmare dystopias. [00:18:54] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. When we're looking at an expo, of course we're thinking about, okay, collaboration, right? People are sharing best practices, people are sharing stories, people are sharing use cases, sharing different experiences, and that's really fundamental. But I guess my question for you is, how do you see that your perfect scenario is two people meet at the expo, they form a partnership. They go on to implement something, they go on to change a city. Right. How do you see that actually working out in practicality? Do you have any ideas on how this collaboration will play a role in urban innovation? [00:19:35] Ugo Valenti: Yeah, we've seen plenty of them. For instance, from a city to city perspective, collaboration, we have seen plenty of cities that had already applied some initiatives in their cities and having these open doors, or even closed door discussions, because when you do open door discussions, it's easier to share. Best practice, when you do closed door discussions, it's easier to share. Okay, this hasn't worked out very well, but there's plenty of collaboration on the sense understanding. Okay, I tried to do this and this worked out very well. Why don't you try it on your city? Even discussions like. Because at the beginning we were discussing about financial issues, so understanding, okay, how much this would cost me, not only on monetary terms, but also on resources from my team, stuff like that. So there are plenty of discussions on that, but also discussions between different companies and different vendors. Because I might have a wonderful solution on lighting, and another company has a wonderful solution on how to get Wifi to the city. And another company might have a wonderful solution on how to, I don't know, pay the parking space. So if you mix them up together, you can have a wonderful led lighting that is connected and gives Wifi to the citizen, and that you can also park your electrical car there and use the payment systems that there are. So everything is interconnected and it's difficult to find a company that does all of them, but these different partnerships can really work out and then altogether they can go to the city and offer this solution. So we have seen plenty of them throughout this twelve year history. [00:21:13] Tamlyn Shimizu: Plenty, yeah, absolutely. Actually, I have to plug a little bit. We just had a session on your central agora here at the expo called Urban Shark Tank. It's the second time we've done it as BABLE and it's a really fun session. We just had three city sharks. So someone representing the city of Barcelona, someone representing a county in Dublin county, and someone also representing a city in Germany, and we had three company pitches and they pitched to them their use case in five minutes, and the city sharks advised on the replicability of it and asked really great questions. And afterwards they were all exchanging a lot of different knowledge and details. And that was just my personal experience right before we came to this interview on how this collaboration can also work in the space of an event. [00:22:06] Ugo Valenti: Exactly. There's something very cool because physical events allow for that. I remember during COVID times that some people were saying, physical events are not going to happen anymore. Everything is digital right now, but this doesn't work out. You need to see yourself face to face and having these exchanges and these conversations, because things magically start to appear. That's also the reason why we tend to live in cities and not on the conscious head by ourselves, because we want to meet other talent and we want to grow together and exchange. If you do this, then very nice things happen. [00:22:44] Tamlyn Shimizu: It's a human experience, right? You need to see the face, and it builds another level of trust if you've seen them in the flesh than on a camera, right? [00:22:51] Ugo Valenti: Absolutely. This podcast wouldn't be the same if you weren't seeing each other face to face. [00:22:56] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. We try to do that. We do do some virtual episodes, but I always try to meet in person because you form a bond, just having sat here for 30 minutes talking to each other. So what do you envision? So envision, I don't know, year 2050, I guess. It's year 2050. Smart City Expo is still going on, I guess. Of course. But what do you envision for the future, for smart cities? Can you paint us a little bit of a picture? [00:23:26] Ugo Valenti: Well, this is my personal. I don't know whether opinion, or at least I hope so, because some people envision a Blade Runner city, right? Like with flying cars and all this stuff and very gray city and, I don't know, very tall buildings, stuff like that. I'd like to envision a different type of city. There might be flying cars, it is true, but I envision a very green city, and that's the most important thing. Perhaps we understand and we know right now that using greener materials, we can fight climate change. That we know that, for instance, the heat right now, it's getting to very difficult levels to live with. We understand that having a gray city doesn't help on that. So, for instance, if the temperature in Barcelona is 30 degrees, if you don't have a green area, you even feel like it is 40 to 45 degrees, you cannot go outside. But if the city is much greener, then you feel like it's 25 degrees. Okay, I can go outside and have a walk. I truly believe that the society as a whole, and even in the whole world, really, basically, it's going to become cleaner. I don't know whether we will arrive on time, but my perspective is that we will go there. Of course, digitalization will always play a part on this, but I understand that technology will be seen as something that is behind the surface, that it's part of our current lives, but that we use it as a means to an end. Right. I really think that is going to happen. And I also see that. I imagine that cities will be less car centric right now. We have plenty of cities that are being designed for the car, and I see cities being designed for the citizen, basically. [00:25:33] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. I had a podcast episode yesterday afternoon with a city from Spain and a city from Portugal together. And from the city of Braga. He described what he wanted for his city in the future as calm and green were two of his adjectives, which I thought was cool. The other one took the approach, know more digital and innovative. And of course, both of you need all of those for a city. So what is your call to action? For our listeners, to the cities, to innovators, to other stakeholders, what's your call to action? [00:26:06] Ugo Valenti: Stop talking and start doing. And this is actually the theme of this year's event. The claim of this year's event is, welcome to the new urban era. And what is behind this is that we really understand and we feel it, and we have felt it at the expo this year, is that right now is the time to act and the time to start doing things, to really apply different solutions, to try, and maybe you make a mistake, but try, at least try, stop talking and start doing and. Yeah, that is my call to action. [00:26:39] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. Then at the end of this main interview part, I like to give the open floor to you. Is there something that you're really passionate about that you didn't yet get the chance to talk about? This is your floor if you want it. [00:26:51] Ugo Valenti: Really? I really believe in our future. I know that there are plenty of challenges out there. So there's this climate emergency, this technological disruption that really can affect plenty of lives. We fear AI, for instance, because it can leave us with our jobs. We have these obsolete infrastructures that we have. So I know there are plenty of challenges, an aging society as well, but I really believe that the human has the ability, and we have done always that in the past, to overcome these challenges. The thing is that we need to do things together. And right now, it's the best moment in time to do things together. We have this capacity and this ability to share between each other. Social media can be evil, but it can be very helpful as well. And we have the opportunity to have these wonderful discussions with our city leaders on this case, but also with our politicians, even if sometimes we see them, like at this top level but in reality, it is easier than ever to talk to them and to make sure that they understand what they need. If they want to be reelected, they need to listen to us. So it's as simple as that. Sometimes it's as simple as that. And we as consumers have a huge capacity of changing how the system is behaving right now. So if I really want to be more sustainable, I just have to buy things that are sustainable. And if I stop buying, let's say, fast fashion, for instance. Right. Or cars that are really polluting or stuff like that, then the companies will have to change. So we have a huge power there. I really believe that the future is going to become better than Ever and that we will have a better world than we have right now. [00:28:52] Tamlyn Shimizu: Very good words. Now we move on to our segment that we have. And the segment that I chose for you today is called shout out. [00:29:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: Shout out. Mention a person, an organization, or a city you think deserves more recognition in the field. [00:29:12] Ugo Valenti: That is difficult. [00:29:13] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, I know. Choosing just one. Right. [00:29:15] Ugo Valenti: That is difficult. Yeah. All right, maybe. I hope it's not unpopular, but there is one organization, it's here in Spain. It's called, in Spanish, red Espanola, if you ask, intelligentes, which is the spanish network of intelligent cities. And I truly believe that they are doing something great that can be really used in the rest of the world. So they started like ten years ago, more or less. More or less when we started small city expo. And right now there is over, more or less, around 150 spanish cities connected to this network. And what they do, including the city mayors, is to talk to each other, to exchange, to learn from each other, to really have deep discussions on how they do things. So that's wonderful because you see a city like Santander in Spain that did very nice things already ten years ago, and they are discussing with other cities, like, I don't know, maybe smaller cities, and they're teaching them how to do things. And this is wonderful. And I really believe that this can be replicated at any level in any country in the world. I know there are some initiatives in the rest of the world. I know there are initiatives in Korea and China. In the United States, of course, they just launched a very nice think tank in relation to technology adoption. But the thing that they started in Spain, even though it's my home country, but it is truly groundbreaking, I believe. Absolutely. Shout out to Rethi. [00:30:55] Tamlyn Shimizu: And it's so funny that you picked them. You know why? Because we have been doing a series, a podcast series together with Resi for the past, and he had no idea. So, actually, the first day of the expo, we recorded the last series, the last of the four podcast episodes we have with them. And what we've been doing on the podcast is bringing together spanish cities that they rescue cities together with international cities of BABLE. And so we've been bringing them together on the podcast. And the first podcast I recorded at the event this week was with the CDos of Madrid and Istanbul, and we brought them together on the podcast. So I know you didn't even know, and you gave them the shout out, so it's perfect. So thanks for that. So, last question I have for you. It's a question we ask every single guest, and it is to you, what is a smart city? [00:31:51] Ugo Valenti: That's a very simple to answer. It's a city that gives a better quality of life to its citizens. [00:31:57] Tamlyn Shimizu: Very good and short and concise. I love it. Everyone has different answers and so really, really love it. [00:32:04] Ugo Valenti: I am the one who's right. [00:32:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: There you go. Now you've heard it. Now we don't have to ask the question anymore. We have the answer. Thank you so much for your time, uga, I know that your schedule is very busy here, I'm sure. So I really appreciate it, and I look forward to joining you here in Barcelona for many more editions of the expo in Congress. It's really, really a pleasure. So thank you. [00:32:28] Ugo Valenti: Thanks for having me here. Thank you. [00:32:30] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. And to all of our listeners, don't forget, you can always create a free account on BABLE smartcities EU. You can find out more about smart cities, projects, solutions, implementations and more. So thank you very much. [00:32:43] Tamlyn Shimizu: Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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