The smart city adopts strategies to establish relationships between material infrastructures and those who inhabit them. But what is a smart city in detail? How do smart cities work in Italy? What kind of benefits do they bring to citizens’ lives and what does still hinder their development? Let’s see together the elements that compose them and what they offer to citizens.
WHAT IS A SMART CITY
The smart cities are the so-called smart cities 4.0. They manage resources intelligently, promote sustainable development and aim for energy self-sufficiency. A smart city is always attentive to the quality of life and the needs of citizens, it keeps pace with technological innovations and the digital revolution.
By definition, the smart city monitors and manages its elements, such as means of transport, public lighting and parking, and the surrounding environment, such as rivers, forests, mountains, to improve livability, sustainability and competitiveness.
A smart city provides wi-fi everywhere in public places, develops sustainable and intelligent infrastructures, promotes autonomous vehicle driving and generally takes advantage of cutting-edge high-tech technology.
In smart cities, objects are connected and communicate, exchanging information between them. In addition, the lighting systems reproduce the light of day and all practice sustainable mobility with bike sharing, car sharing, hybrid or electric cars.
How do smart cities work? Thanks to sensors that generate a large amount of data, useful for providing increasingly advanced services and more efficient management of the company.
The concept of smart city
The concept of smart city goes far beyond technological innovations, but consists of a new way of seeing urban reality, that takes into account the citizens’ well-being and energy efficiency. The transition from the “traditional city” to the “smart city” (or “high-tech city”) offers many opportunities, such as:
It is also growing the public funding useful to encourage national and international initiatives and events on the theme of the smart city.
WHAT ARE THE SMART CITIES IN ITALY
The Smart City Index 2020, the annual ranking of the most developed Italian cities from an infrastructural point of view, this year rewards Trento, Turin and Bologna.
There are different evaluation criteria and classifications with which it is established how smart a city is. The parameters to be complied with concern the fields of inter-communication, mobility and environmental and energy sustainability. In Italy, the smart city par excellence has always been Milan. The Lombard city has adopted several truly innovative and technological strategies, awarding itself for several years the definition of the smartest, most inclusive and liveable city in Italy, able of adapting to the continuous social and technological changes.
Among the different areas of urban life, taken into consideration when assessing the status of a city, there are certainly the environment, functional services, the economy, society and governance.
Smart City Index 2020 for the smartest cities in Italy
The assessment of sustainable cities is articulated first of all on four fundamental layers, namely basic infrastructures, sensors, service delivery platforms and vertical applications. There are also other additional areas that are taken into consideration when assessing the intelligence of a city:
The smartest cities in Italy
Milan has always been one of the most advanced Italian cities and promotes the development of sustainable forms, but it is not the only one. The medium-sized Italian cities such as Bergamo, Trento, Parma, Modena and Reggio Emilia also rank well at national level. They have a good position concerning environmental protection, economic solidity, sustainable mobility, digital transformation. While the southern cities remain the last in the ranking, the big gap between Milan and the rest of the country is reduced.
Florence ranks thanks to quality of life, digital transformation and good positioning in government competence, environmental protection and sustainable mobility.
Bologna ranks for governance, digital transformation, economic solidity, environmental protection and quality of life.
The gap with Southern cities
The ranking of the Smart City Index highlights the well-known gap between the cities of the north and the cities of the south, at last place in the ranking. One of the main reasons for the gap is certainly the lack of infrastructure and the low willingness of the community to use the services. The car-sharing service, for example, has failed and has also caused damage to vehicles.
In general, sustainability in transport, in the environment, in the economy, in construction and in the management of the natural resources of the territory, is easier to obtain in medium-sized cities, more operational and organized. Certainly, there are more favourable territories than others, according to how much the government invested in sustainability in the past.
The strengths of Milan smart city
Specifically, Milan is always among the first Italian cities in the ranking, with excellent positions in the field of economic solidity, research and development, as well as the sustainable mobility. It is also at a good level in the ranking for the consumption of the soil and for the quality of the air and water. Its position on governance and environmental protection can be improved.
SMART CITY PROJECTS IN ITALY
Smart city projects in Italy shows an increase awareness of the importance of the topic compared to the past. Nevertheless, applications continue to weigh less than 8% in the IoT (internet of things) market.
However, the number of smart city projects is increasing compared to previous years, with more stable and innovative initiatives. But there are still many barriers to the general development of smart cities throughout Italy.
The survey by the Internet of Things Observatory shows that 36% of the major Italian municipalities have started at least one smart city project in the last three years, most of which are still in the experimental phase. The trials take place independently and uncoordinated, and the municipalities manage the initiatives jointly in large cities such as Milan and Turin. These data certainly highlight the willngness to develop more innovative, efficient and effective solutions.
An example is the installation, in Verona, of 160 traffic lights to trigger the green when the red code ambulances are 100 meters away. The project reduced intervention times and increased the possibility of saving lives.
The obstacles for the development of smart cities in Italy
The benefits of smart cities in Italy are not yet clear for everyone. Despite the numerous experiments launched, the projects are still poorly integrated with each other and sometimes do not have a clear territorial development strategy. Barriers to their efficient and effective development at the municipal level include the lack of sufficient economic resources and adequate skills and the presence of unclear governance models.
These are the main reasons why most of the projects are abandoned after the first experimental phase. What is needed to solve the problem is a shared national strategy. Commitments and priorities must be established for the municipalities and the right compromise must be found to avoid the excessive centralisation that is currently taking place.
A valid project analysis model is based on four variables: the maturity of the municipalities, the maturity of the offer, the use of the data collected and the public-private partnership. The analysis shows, in fact, a level of maturity of the municipalities much lower than that of the offer. In a nutshell, the municipalities are not able, on their own, to adequately exploit the data and the number of private collaborations is still too small.
How much does a smart city cost?
We come now to the financing issue. Here is an estimate of the economic benefits deriving from smart cities with a temporal indication of their progress:
The benefits also concern community services, sustainability and livability. Taking Milan as an example, every citizen of the smart city could save 3 days a year, the ones he/she needs today in the search for a free parking space, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 60k tons of CO2 per year, with positive impacts on the environment.
Sustainable mobility or smart mobility
Sustainable mobility has steadily increased over the past six years, with electric and hybrid cars tripling in the past four years. Many cities, including Milan, have managed to eliminate many cars from circulation and the presence of bicycles and pedestrians is also increasing.
Finally, shared mobility is spreading in Milan, gold medal for sharing mobility intensity.
An app for a new economy at the time of the Coronavirus
To help people and businesses in Piedmont at the time of Coronavirus, the association “Smart Cities Italy” is promoting technological innovation and eco-responsible behaviours at the local level, and to create a new awareness useful to improve the lifestyle.
“ Come aprire il tuo negozio online” (How to open your online store) is an e-commerce platform to support small and medium-sized businesses, such as stores and shops spread throughout Italy, by using an app that facilitates orders and home deliveries. The service is designed to support those who have to stop their business and help them sell their products online.
The app is free for three months and offers the possibility to create a “virtual showcase” and insert your products, images and relative prices, allowing the customers to buy online and receive the products at their home. The project is suitable for all sectors and aims to support business in this period of health emergency.