The Smart City: factory to town

Published on 26/05/2014

What is Smart City?
–you say plunging on my sensor your blue sensor.
What is Smart City?
You ask me that? Smart City… it’s you.

Qué es la Smart City

The Smart City concept is something very new for the citizen. In fact, maybe most of them don’t even know the term and what’s behind it. Unfortunately, the social and economic situation mandates us to think of our daily life. But we should not forget, that’s it’s them, the citizens, who have to know the meaning of Smart City. They are the most relevant and the reason my work so enthusiastically on the Smart City environment. That’s why I think we must work hard in order to communicate, on a clear and convenient way, the meaning of Smart City, to move the benefits that this paradigm brings and to clarify the inherent fears fed by such a dystopian literature so popular.


The past future and the Smart City

If we have a look at the most usual representations of future cities, we find mostly examples not completely identifying. I say “future cities” because that’s the widespread idea when talking about Smart Cities. Just look at the images coming along with headlines about Smart Cities: gigantic futuristic megacities, lightened like the dashboard of the Enterprise, communicated by roads taken from the Jetsons and full of structures such as those of the planet where Superman was born.


Stories created for these future cities are not encouraging either:

  1. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick) presents a socially decadent, filthy city, devastated by pollution and saturated by a technology imposed to the citizen.
  2. Metropolis, an animated film based on the Japanese comic by the master Osamu Tezuka (sort of an eastern Walt Disney) and directed by Rintaro. The work is also based on the Fritz Lang master work known by everyone. On it, a futuristic city is presented where citizens are physically divided in closed strata, where robots carry out manual jobs made earlier by human beings, not solving problems of jobless citizens, thus creating deep problems due to lack of jobs, poverty and violence. At the same time, the plot tells us about Tima, a girl-looking robot granted with an advanced artificial intelligence, able to control big data for the whole planet in favour of one person with the purpose to control all cities.


As you can see, these are just two examples, albeit excellent, of dystopian films that announce a future strongly conditioning of the idea of a Smart City. But if we stop just for a while, we see that the problems described are problems occurred, currently occurring and unfortunately willing to occur in the future, regardless of the technology and passing of times. Fortunately they go too far, but they are inherent to the human being and the complexity of social relationships within a live fabric like a city.

These are not valid examples of a Smart City; they are examples of the opposite to a Smart City indeed. It’s awesome how an idea so opposite to a Smart City can become the widespread idea about the technology applied to the management of the city.


So what’s the Smart City?

We understand the Smart City as a logic continuity of the city itself as we know. If you look through the windows on your apartment, you are probably seeing a Smart City already. Or part of it. From the window you may see the power lines, some public garden, a garbage container, several traffic lights, manholes, a fountain, bicycles, cars, a bus stop… All these elements can be managed by Smart paradigms. This consists of managing all these resources in real time and more efficiently. A sensor system allows us to know whether the container is full when the garbage truck is passing, allowing it to optimize the route; you will be able to know the exact time when the bus is coming to your bus stop before leaving home; gardens will be irrigated just on the right time and with the exact amount of water; the maintenance team will know every time which streetlights have failed and will manage their work better, including their departures and the materials needed; water leaks will be controlled precisely in sewers … and all of this made from the same control site and in real time. This translates in major savings for the city and improved services to the citizen.

Qué es la SmartCity

In order to increase this efficiency with minimal resources, things must communicate between them and with us. That’s how we will achieve the maximum performance and the cost will be reduced. This concept is called ‘Internet of Things’. You are likely to have a wireless connection to internet at home (wifi), seat before the computer and browse the network, lay comfortably while reading the newspaper on the tablet and watching TV. Most of these services are available currently with a wifi connection – and, of course, the ubiquitous smartphone. These are things connected between them and also to the network by a router installed by the telecom company. Each of these connected things has its own identifier, different to that of the other devices. Translate this system from your home to the whole city and you have the ’Internet of Things.’ There are a lot of new terms that in fact are no more than the translation to the city of the technology we know already, or a new philosophy to use this very same technology:

  1. Urban mobility
  2. Water management
  3. Waste collection and management
  4. Energy efficiency
  5. Citizen services
  6. Open data
  7. Big Data
  8. The Internet of Things

The abuse of this terminology can keep the citizen away from a reality that exists already. Or even worse, it can cause a chronic rejection to the Smart City – and costly to be corrected.


From the Factory to the City

The factory and the city are two closely linked concepts. Apparently they can include exclusive management methods, but maybe it’s just a matter of proportions.

Traditionally the factory has been considered an organisation on which a first point to consider is profitability on any of its forms. Management parameters of human resources have been introduced later, thanks to advances in Psychology and the society, which progressively have assigned a major role to the human side of the factory.

For the city, the opposite may have come true. Regardless of political matters or specific historic cases, the city has been studied always from the point of view of human relationships. But technological systems have been progressively introduced successfully in the industry so the city is becoming a much more efficient system. We understand that the city should not be considered as a factory – and the factory should not be just an inhuman profitability machine. New experiences prove that the industry is more profitable when it’s more human.


La SmartCity y la Fábrica


But we can’t deny that the city is a system where technological advances in the industry can turn it more efficient and comfortable for the citizen; that’s an unstoppable truth. We have the technology already, now we just have to use it in the city as in the industry. That’s what we call a Smart City. But a Smart City is ‘smart’ only thanks to this translation of technologies. A city is smart when this technology is also used for the citizen to be more participant on the management of the city, as if being a live sensor, with his or her smartphone as the ley to the city.


Transparency in the participation by the citizens

Here lies the real challenge for Smart Cities. Now that we have the technology, the most complex part remains. We know that the city is a place where thousands of people live together. It’s our duty to improve the quality of life so they participate on the making of their vital environment. Political managers are noticing that enabling higher degrees of participation by the citizens is profitable from every point of view. That’s why a multitude of events and meeting are created to exchange opinions and experiences based on pilot projects and advanced plans, i.e. in Santander, an exciting example of Smart City, Barcelona or Malaga.

We, as engineers, do have already the experience and the technological view, but must reinforce the social view to create comprehensive projects; to help and drive city councils determined to enter the Smart City model.



Congratulations. You are living the Smart City already.



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