Total Telecom spoke with Nathan Pierce, programme director for Sharing Cities, to explore how smart cities can help create a greener world

Particularly with the ever-growing deployment of 5G, the idea of a ‘smart’, connected city is steadily becoming a reality. Around the world, a myriad of trials are taking place, leveraging IoT technology to help measure air quality, reduce traffic congestion, facilitate connected cars, and much more.
However, many of these trials suffer from the same crucial design flaw: a lack of scale. Even when successful, many of these projects are ultimately forgotten, unable to make the jump from localised test-bed to metropolitan deployment.
This is where the Sharing Cities comes in. An EU-funded project, Sharing Cities explores various smart initiatives in its flagship cities – London, Lisbon, and Milan – and replicates their success in the partner cities of Warsaw, Bordeaux, and Burgas.
“The idea is to test the technology in our ‘lighthouse cities’, see what works, and then use those business models to replicate in the fellow cities,” explained Nathan Pierce, programme director for Sharing Cities. “Ultimately, the goal is to help scale up these projects to the whole of Europe.”
Projects Sharing Cities are facilitating include retrofitting buildings with smart controls and energy efficiency measures, smart lamp posts with a variety of sensors, and e-Bike and electric charging initiatives.
“We tested 480 e-bikes in Lisbon, which worked so well that they now plan to purchase over 2,000 of them, 80% of which will be electric. That’s exactly the kind of direction we want to see these projects moving in,” said Pierce. 
Linking all of these initiatives is the common theme of environmentalism, using the technology to not only serve the public and improve their quality of life, but also to benefit the planet.
“Everything that we’re doing in Sharing Cities is about low carbon emissions, energy saving, and contributing to solving the climate crisis,” said Pierce. 
But despite its green appeal, the idea of a connected city can be intimidating for some, especially when it comes to privacy. Sensors constantly gathering data and monitoring the populations’ activity can seem intrusive – particularly in the case of retrofitting someone’s home, where sensors are being installed within the building.
For Pierce, the solution to this issue is transparency and encouraging the active participation of the population with the project itself.
“When it comes to retrofitting homes, for example, it’s really important to achieve real engagement with people so they fully understand what the technology does and can play a role in its development,” he said.
One way Sharing Cities has been encouraging this public engagement has been through the development of an incentivisation programme, encouraging people to take a greater interest and ownership of their data. 
“We’ve been testing what we call the Digital Social Market, whereby if people make certain environmentally conscious choices, they can gain points which can then be redeemed elsewhere,” Pierce explained. “For example, if you use an e-bike to travel somewhere rather than your car, you gain points, which could then be used for money off in a bar or a shop.”
In Milan alone, around 1,700 people are already signed up to SharingMi, the city’s peer-to-peer, eco-friendly network. 
But getting the public to actively engage in these projects is just half the battle when it comes to scaling up these smart initiatives. Much of the difficulty lies in the lack of training around smart technology itself, especially on the part of city commissioners. Traditionally, smart technologies are commissioned as part of wider projects – such as highway contracts or lighting contracts – but new smart cities projects are being commissioned independently, requiring greater understanding of this specific technology.
“A good example here is smart lamp posts,” said Pierce. “For years we’ve had the ability to incorporate smart technology into lamp posts and it can have huge benefits. But the take up itself has been really slow.” 
“You need to support commissioners of this technology throughout the city if you really want large scale adoption to take place. Rather than rushing to infrastructure, we must convince local governments to ask ‘Is there a digital solution to this problem?’ – whether that is through digital twinning or a data driven means,” said Pierce.
Innovation needs to be encouraged to expand what is currently a relatively small ecosystem of smart city solutions. The coronavirus pandemic may actually help in this matter; having accelerated digitalisation across industry, the landscape could be more ready than ever before to really implement smart cities at scale. But the crisis has also demonstrated just how much work there still is to be done to make a network of connected cities throughout Europe a reality.
“What COVID did was it shined a light on how important data is in responding to a crisis," said Pierce. “Off the back of this experience, I really hope that we see a big change when it comes to data collection and data sharing that can really start to drive service improvement.”

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