A review of a smart cities workshop dedicated to urban planning innovation at the European Week of Regions and Cities 2022.
As our planet becomes increasingly urbanised, people are leveraging new technologies to develop smart city solutions and services which use sensors and data to inform the drafting, implementation and management of more sustainable long-term policies as well as shorter term operations. This accelerating trend for data-supported decisions which requires multi-disciplinary expertise was the focus of an interactive workshop at the European Week of Regions and Cities entitled ‘data-driven cities: digital technologies for inclusive and sustainable decision-making processes.’
Fig 1: Moderator, Robert di Bernado from Engineering, Coordinator of Urbanage
“We wanted this workshop to help foster synergies between those involved in urban science and technology, and the public sector change agents who deliver for the people,” said Roberto di Bernado, the moderator from Engineering who helped co-organise the session. “Topics like smart cities tend to bring together IT professionals and researchers but we also need to include decision makers, urban planners and social actors in a more meaningful and powerful way.”
Speakers at the workshop included Nóirín NÍ EarcÁin, policy officer at the European Commission DG CONNECT unit; Patricia Molina, director of city territory and environment, Tecnalia; Carlotta Previti, assessor for EU funds, Comune di Messina; and Jurgen Silence, senior project manager for Digital Flanders.
EarcÁin’s presentation set the scene for urban innovation and evolution with an overview from Living-in.eu of how data architecture works in smart cities; from data spaces at the bottom sharing information between cities and communities, up to a middle layer with local data platforms that use data for urban services, and finally a top layer where solutions such as Local Digital Twins help make data usable with contextual awareness for decision making.
Fig 2: Living-in.eu Smart City Data Architecture
EarcÁin outlined the vision of Living-in.eu to create a European network of digital twins that will drive innovation and help accelerate the achievement of green goals. She explained how initiatives such as the New European Bauhaus initiative calls on us all to imagine and build together a sustainable and inclusive future that is beautiful for our eyes, minds, and souls. Finally, she encouraged all participants to consider joining the next info day (October 18th) for the forthcoming Digital Europe call in the deployment of data spaces for smart communities.
Speaking next, Molina’s presentation explored the work of the Urbanage project, namely how by combining new technologies which leverage urban data, such as digital twins, AI and simulation, along with co-creation methodologies, the urban planning status quo can be disrupted to create sustainable urban experiences that benefit all. Urbanage specifically focuses on the experiences and inclusion of older adults in urban planning to help address common city challenges including social isolation and inaccessibility of services and infrastructure. Molina explained, “there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for services, so we need to capture diversity of needs within the older adult demographic to truly help urban planners and civil servants cocreate cities that work for all.”
Fig 3: Urbanage project use cases
Showcasing solutions under the development in the City of Santander, Molina explained the process of co-creation undertaken by the city and the resulting use case. These included the development of a personalised route planning solution based on individual profiles. Routes are recommended around people's needs and ability, helping people to better travel with ease and dignity.
Prevetti’s presentation introduced the audience to the Urbanite project which is working to digitally transform urban planning in the area of mobility using city data sources. Prevetti outlined the complexity of the Messina area and how the different modes of transport need to be carefully managed, from ships and hydrofoils in the port, to railways, buses, private and public vehicles within the city center. Using digital AI-enabled tools provided by Urbanite the city will be able to better predict and potentially avoid critical mobility situations and keep roads, businesses and the economy flowing.
Silence closed the presentation section by introducing the audience to the Green Comfort Index being developed by Digital Flanders in the Urbanage project. The new index supports both citizens and urban planners by providing detailed micro-information about the city including air quality make-up, noise levels, heatstress, green infrastructure, accessibility, shade and many other factors. This data is provided via a 2D 3D map-based interface to help users see and understand the data in context.
Fig 4: Green Comfort Index Mock-Up
The Green Comfort Index not only allows planners and people to explore nuanced elements about a particular place/spot which will help better inform urban design and planning decisions, but people can also upload useful information about infrastructure and its use/accessibility to benefit others, for example where to sit in the shade at a particular point in the day. The value of the index should exponentially increase over time.
After a short round of questions and answers the session closed with a brief summary from the moderator. “It's clear from today’s discussion that digital technology has great potential to facilitate participatory urban planning by empowering citizens and turning them from passive recipients of policy to active agents of city change” said Di Bernado. “Thanks to the support of the Living-in.eu community, the European Commission and the Committee of Regions, as well as innovative tools and practices from the Urbanage and Urbanite projects, citizens, urban planners and policymakers can build smarter cities that are healthier, happier, and which meet future demands for all.
To access the presentations and videos shown during the workshop please visit https://www.urbanage.eu/euregionsweek2022.