Smart cities are gradually moving from concept to reality in a number of regions around the world. The major tasks include the need to support urban transition and cope with the explosion of data and residents’ hyper-connectivity.

[Innovation Connecting Show, Toulouse] The ‘Living City’: Giving the ‘Smart   City’ a Human Dimension

The ‘smart city’ is a town which has no fear of technology, and where the advantage of being able to make use of unified networks is well understood. However, it is also important not to forget the human side, especially the fact that if technology is to be relevant it must adapt to people, rather than the other way around. This is the basic thinking that Carlos Moreno, scientific advisor to information and communication systems firm Cofely Ineo – a GDF Suez subsidiary – put forward once again when he spoke on the final morning of the Innovation Connecting Show which took place on 16-18 September in the French city of Toulouse. He argued that the key idea behind  the ‘living city’ is to work on using available technology to underpin the urban transition which is now going hand-in-hand with social change – in short, to connect people with the wealth of data gathered by large cities. In contrast to the ‘new city’ movement, Carlos Moreno see cities as “complex processes, which it would be futile to try to create artificially. Instead we must try to drive change through interaction between decision-makers and residents.”

From local networks to global data

The concept of the ‘living city’ has been developed partly in response to technology marketing by industry giants such as IBM and Cisco, who seek to impress the public with their major projects worldwide – including the public transportation project for France’s number two city Lyon. “The use of technology changes the way you design a town,” pointed out Carlos Moreno, adding: “We need to ensure we do not dehumanise the city as we connect people with gadgets.”  The issues that are central to what the city is all about, and that we need to focus on are to do with work, journeys, leisure spaces, underground facilities, and so on, which “go beyond technology issues in the strict sense of the word.”  It goes without saying that a city is itself a network centre, and the residents live and breathe the ubiquity of the local and global networks, for example whenever they pick up their smartphones. You can use a smartphone to make international transfers, but your day-to-day life will only be improved when you’re able to use contactless payment technology.

Smart buildings allow for future change

Meanwhile one of the important features of smart buildings designed by urban planners who support the ‘living city’ movement is that they tend to be based on a long-term view, which has been dubbed ‘smart square meters’. For instance, a car park being built in Montpellier which is designed to allow for changes in use. In a few years’ time, this car park, whose dimensions are larger than normal, could be turned into housing or office space. Closer to the traditional ‘smart city’ tools are the algorithms and methods of resource optimisation used in the Japanese city of Yokohama. The city’s four thousand ‘smart houses’ generate electricity for local use. Residents are also informed directly about the energy and water consumption in their  building and receive advice on energy- and resource-saving practices. Thus in addition to forecasts, the residents learn more about resource consumption patterns. Yokohama also offers a dual power system for charging up cars, using a combination of solar energy on the one hand and traditional power generation sources on the other.

By Simon Guigue