Interview with Ms. Pilar Conesa who is a pioneer in the promoting smart cities:

On the sidelines of the presentation by Zenata Development Company (SAZ) of the strategic study of the smart city Zenata in Casa on February 6, 2018, Mr. Khaouja Ahmed conducted this interview with Ms. Pilar Conesa who is a pioneer in the promoting smart cities, is the founder of the company Anteverti and director of the Smart City World in Mme Pilar Conesa pionnière dans la promotion des villes intelligentes

  1-Can you give us in a few lines the synthesis of your excellent presentation to the seminar of Casa of 6/2/2018 and which was dedicated to the strategic study « Smart City » of Zenâta Mohammedia Morocco. 

This was the closing presentation of a project we have been carrying with the Société d’Aménagement de Zenata (SAZ). In the presentation we exposed the main steps we have carried out during the whole duration of the strategic study. The aim of the project was to develop the Smart City Strategy for the City of Zenata, using input from a large range of high-level experts, a global benchmark, and local stakeholder engagement. The main vision behind this strategy is to maximize the value creation for the needs of the community through continuous innovation using technology as leverage for enabling the acceleration and optimization of the Zenata Eco City’s development.

The strategy was conceived as to enhance and reinforce the founding principles of the Eco-cité, enabling the development of a sustainable, efficient and livable city. Finally, the strategy seeks to integrate itself into the development of the Casablanca Metropolitan region as a whole, consolidating Zenata as a driver for local growth and a reference both for Morocco and Africa.

The strategy was designed through a comprehensive process divided in three phases. The first one was dedicated to the framing and analysis of the potential of development of digital services both through contact with local actors and experiences from abroad. At the end of this phase one of the backbones of the project was presented: a list of 107 key smart initiatives to be developed in Zenata. The second phase was dedicated the elaboration of the Functional Plan for the strategy, including the technical architecture plan for the infrastructure needed to implement the smart initiatives. Last, the third phase was dedicated to the development of an implementation plan for the strategy, including governance, investment, commercial and change management components.

Being such an ambitious and wide-ranging project, the implementation of the Smart City strategy for Zenata has to incorporate objectives for the short, medium and long term. Among the 107 smart initiatives proposed, 26 have been selected to be implemented in the medium term and 11 to be set in motion in the short term. These 11 initiatives are considered quick wins, and have a particular importance because they are directly related to citizens, such as the public wifi and cybernarium, and to the management of the city, such as the smart water and electricity meters.

  2-How new modern digital tools like artificial intelligence can contribute to the good governance of smart cities like Barcelona now or Zenata in the near future?

 Indeed, there are different ways where digital tools (AI, machine learning, big data, etc) can help governments rule their cities. As Stefaan Verhust [1] from the Gob Lab says, many patterns that define the smart city today could be predicted using, for example, artificial intelligence. The automation of the routine will be served by AI for example in issues like the use of energy, real-time information about traffic information, etc. Hila Mehr [2] from Harvard mentions that the most obvious opportunities are those where AI can reduce administrative burdens, help solve allocation problems and those that imply data processing at high speed of execution. Other tasks would imply answering questions, translating, drafting documents, etc.  It is particularly interesting how the use of AI and the consequent time economy could potentially be an opportunity in terms of citizen engagement. It is believed that if AI makes governments work more efficiently, this could deliver more time to government employees to build better relationships with citizens. That way, AI could work as a bridge between city and citizens.

A great example of a good use of digital tools in governments is Estonia. [3] But this is not new: in 2002, the government of Estonia had built a free Wi-Fi network for the city, in 2007 e-voting was implemented and in 2012 fibre-opting cabled was already there. In the past years, they have implemented the tech project named E-Estonia where the government services like policing, education, legislation, voting, justice, health, etc. are linked in a single platform that connects the whole nation, using their own blockchain technology called KSI. Estonia is leading the way in the will to use of AI in terms of e-government for a better and more advanced services for its citizens. [4]

In that sense, Barcelona and Zenata can learn from the experiences of other cities when implementing disruptive technologies.

 3- The smart city concept aims to make our cities smarter to attract better companies. How can we reconcile the needs of residents with the demands of businesses that want to move to our smart cities?

Today, globalisation allows us to set up a company almost in every city. Therefore, talent attraction is crucial to generate innovation in a city.  This is why we find many cities and regions that battle for talent attraction of new companies. They are a great asset when they are well integrated in the city, when they contribute with knowledge and create new jobs for our citizens.

Companies help stimulate the economy of the city with their projects. In that sense, I firmly believe that collaboration between companies and city halls to move in that direction is crucial in order to create a better future for cities. Recently Barcelona has witnessed that with the Metropolis:Lab project, created between SEAT and Barcelona City hall. The company will open and run an innovation lab that will focus on the intelligent management of traffic and various applications related to the connected car. [5]

Experiences like this one prove that business attraction management is effective and has direct consequences in productivity and competitiveness of our cities. As Richard Florida says “the communities that attract and retain talent are open to all, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. But they must be more than open; they must be proactively inclusive. That means providing not just tolerance but opportunity and engagement, making it easy for people to plug in and follow their dreams.”

Zenata has a great opportunity ahead in terms of pioneering in talent attraction of those companies that may help and boost the city and the needs of their citizens.

 4-How the city of Barcelona was able to succeed the concept of smart city while taking into account the weight of the past of the city of Barcelona, ​​including cultural aspects. 

Barcelona was one of the first cities to build a smart city strategy. In 2011 the city launched a new IT strategy that included new technologies to improve the city management. It was strongly aligned with Horizon 2020 targets and aimed a more sustainable, inclusive and smart city. It offers a holistic view of various projects developed throughout the city using technology as a transversal tool to manage city resources and services in order to be more efficient. This strategy is structured in 122 projects classified into programs that cover different areas of city management (waste management, water, lightening, etc.).

A strategy is successful when it has a specific and long term follow up, and when it is not only created and carried out by the government, but when the city actively involves citizenship in decision making. In that sense Barcelona has been leading the path of participatory projects that involve citizens in decision making. The platform Smart Citizen is an example of an open data project that aimed to bring the city closer to its citizens, designed to generate participatory processes in the city. Another relevant project is decidim Barcelona, a free and open data project launched in February 2016, which is currently working and it allows the citizens to participate directly in government.

   5- From your experience in Barcelona it will change what to live in a smart city? 

The citizens of Barcelona enjoy it as a smart city from very different perspectives related to their life in the city, but we have to be aware that not all of them are necessarily related to technology. Today, citizens have better access to information about what is happening in the city through the communication channels offered by the City Council. The city has opted for sustained mobility over the last few years, so we find an encouraging the use of bicycles through Bicing and the creation of new bike lanes, bus transportation with simplified lines and the possibility of having information about when and where the buses will arrive, etc.

In Barcelona, ​​like the vast majority of cities, the use of smartphones is widespread. That is why the City Council has created a suite of apps that make life easier for residents: Apparkb [6] is an app that lets residents know when to park, Map Barcelona + Sostenible [7], collect initiatives to make the city sustainable, as well as create apps destined to events hosted by the city. The intelligent lighting sensors not only incorporate new LED technology to reduce consumption, but also detect that there are no pedestrians to reduce the intensity of light. This has led to a 30% savings in electricity. Sensors can also collect information about air quality so that administrations and governments can better manage this issue.

At the same time, a plan for the recovery of the public space for citizens has been promoted through projects such as the superblocks [8] or the Empty Spaces Plan [9] that aims to stimulate disused land in the city of Barcelona, ​​through activities of Provisional public interest, driven by public or private non-profit entities, favouring the involvement of civil society in the regeneration and dynamization of the urban fabric.

The citizens of Barcelona, ​​as I have mentioned, feel closer to the city council and the administrations since they have effective tools to communicate with platforms such as Decidim. There are many initiatives that make Barcelona smart, which also means there are many initiatives that make the life of its citizens better.

[1] Artificial intelligence and smart cities

[2] Artificial Intelligence for Citizen Services and Government

[3] Estonia, the Digital Republic

[4] “Artificial Intelligence is the next step for e-governance in Estonia”, State adviser reveals

[5] SEAT to open an innovation lab in Barcelona

[6] Apparkb:

[7] BCN Sostenible

[8] Superblocks;

[9] Pla d’espais Buits 2023 - ISSN : 2458-6293 Powered By NESSMATECH