The best way to predict the future is to create it ourselves.
In the 21st Century, our society is characterized by several (human) factors, but none are as influential as urbanization and the digital revolution. Their impact represents both an opportunity and a risk, as they both radically disrupt some of the most basic tenets of our way of life, which had reached a state of relative stability after the Industrial Revolution. Although the urbanization trend started growing in intensity as early as in the 19th century, its impact on urban development and, consequently, on the development of society, only really started to show during the 20th century. Today, we are faced with the problem of rural areas lagging far behind cities in terms of development and often being entirely dependent on state funding, since the commercial sector cannot generate satisfactory profits in rural areas. In 2008, we crossed an important milestone, as the share of the urban population rose above 50% for the first time in history.
Judging by the current trends, more than 70% of the population will live in urban areas by 2050. The digital revolution suggests that the advent of new technologies will bring opportunities to improve the quality of life, as well as new risks that will need to be addressed. Although the urbanization trend started growing in intensity as early as in the 19th century, its impact on urban development and, consequently, on the development of society, only really started to show during the 20th century. Today, we are faced with the problem of rural areas lagging far behind cities in terms of development and often being entirely dependent on state funding, since the commercial sector cannot generate satisfactory profits in rural areas. In 2008, we crossed an important milestone, as the share of the urban population rose above 50% for the first time in history. Judging by the current trends, more than 70% of the population will live in urban areas by 2050. The digital revolution suggests that the advent of new technologies will bring opportunities to improve the quality of life, as well as new risks that will need to be addressed.
As a result of both urbanization and digital revolution, the concept of Smart Sustainable Cities (hereinafter: SSC) has gained popularity and importance in strategic development over the last few years, as a possible antidote to the problem of urbanization and the expected consequences of the digital revolution. Nowadays, it is impossible to envision urban progress and development without the concept of the SSC. This is where several problems arise, starting with the definition of the term. This is one of several areas where the Government of the Republic of Slovenia has been quite active, beginning with the adoption of Slovenia’s Smart Specialization Strategy in 2015, which defines the goals and focus areas in the context of the development of smart cities and communities and smart buildings that are an integral part of the cycle. The European Union is also very involved in the development of smart cities and communities and, more importantly, in the development of smart villages, as it has given us quite a few mechanisms that, either through tenders or direct funding, stimulate both the private and public sectors in urban and rural development.
Another thing worth mentioning is the popularization of certain “mainstream” trends that combine a great deal of enthusiasm with very little knowledge, which naturally results in a negative impact on the success rate and speed of implementation of solutions to urban issues. Low information literacy, despite the high utilization of information and communication technologies (hereinafter: ICT), also affects the safety of use of services. Any event damaging individuals or corporations has a potential negative impact on the popularity of these technologies and on peoples’ trust in them.
What is a Smart Sustainable City?
Our understanding of any given concept is often shaped by other factors, such as the culture, environment and social, economic and political system we live in. The concept of a smart city is no exception, since the concept of traditional cities, from which most smart city models are derived, is implemented differently in different parts of the world. We can rightly conclude that most definitions of smart cities come from the questions that were asked before, such as, what are we trying to achieve with the smart city, what problems are we facing now and in the future, and in what areas can we realistically implement solutions, expecting results that will support the further development of smart cities. We need to bear in mind that this is not a one-time process, but a continuous one, which is precisely why it requires a platform that does not hinder development but expedites it. There is, however, a terminological difference between how this concept is referred to by different actors, as some use the term “smart city” while others use the term “smart sustainable city”. The difference is likely attributable to the fact that the first term already incorporates sustainable development, while the second one simply emphasizes that sustainable development is a fundamental part of the concept of a smart city. Below are two separate definitions, followed by the definition provided by an international organization, which will be the basis for this paper.
According to Schaffers et al. (2011), a city may be called smart when it is fueled by investments in human and social capital, sustainable mobility and modern ICT, with wise management of natural resources, through the involvement of the civil sphere and city leadership fostering a high quality of life. This is a rather generalized definition of a smart city, which nevertheless covers most of the key areas through which the concept of a smart city should be developed and introduced. The authors also highlight the importance of reducing carbon emissions, which is one of the cornerstones of sustainable development and of a healthy environment.
Cohen (2012) provides a similar definition, stating that: “Smart cities use information and communication technologies (ICT) to be more intelligent and efficient in the use of resources, resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life, and reduced environmental footprint – all supporting innovation in the low-carbon economy”. Like the first definition, it covers most of the key areas. Since there are a myriad of similar definitions, it makes sense to refer to various reports or working materials by organizations dealing with this topic.
Within the context of its Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities in 2014, the United Nations International Telecommunication Union produced a technical report whose authors come from various backgrounds, such as the National University of Singapore, the University of Manchester and the University of Geneva and various corporations, including Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Fiberhome and Telefónica. The technical report primarily deals with the analysis of smart city definitions, which were obtained from a variety of sources, including a) academia and research communities, b) government initiatives including the EU, c) international organizations, d) corporate circles, e) user-centric definitions (from leading market research firms), f) trade associations and g) standards development organizations. The study included 116 different definitions (ITU 14, 2014) of the concept, based on which a definition for a smart sustainable city was provided as follows:
»A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.« (ITU 1, 2014).
Given the fact that the definition above is the best approximation of a universal definition, it is important to highlight the key terms that were the basis for the definition. The authors of the report list the following four key attributes of a SSC: 1.) sustainability (2.) quality of life 3.) urban aspects) and 4.) intelligence or smartness. They also highlight four core themes: 1.) society, 2.) economy, 3.) environment and 4.) governance (ibid.).
They identify eight categories that are to be key for every SSC, namely:
a) quality of life and lifestyle,
b) infrastructure and services,
c) ICT, communications, intelligence and information,
d) people, citizen and society,
e) environment and sustainability,
f) governance, management and administration,
g) economy and finance, and
The primary indicators of SSC development are:
– smart living,
– smart environment and sustainability,
– smart governance,
– smart mobility, and
– smart economy.
Considering the key parameters that were used to establish the definition and the number of definitions included in the analysis, it can be concluded that the definition established by the International Telecommunication Union is appropriate, although it might seem rather broad at first glance. The fact of the matter is that the concept of SSC is also very broad and requires terminological flexibility due to its nature. From this perspective, the key parameters that define the concept of SSC listed above are of particular importance. In addition, the technical report highlights 30 key words as representative of an SSC: ICT, adaptable, reliable, scalable, accessible, security, safe, resilient, economic, growth, standard of living, employment, citizens, well-being, medical welfare, physical safety, education, environmental, physical and service infrastructure, transportation and mobility, water, utilities and energy, telecommunications, manufacturing, natural and man-made disasters, regulatory and compliance, governance, policies and processes, standardization (ibid.).
The Most Common Terms that Represent a SSC:
As already mentioned, in 2015, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia adopted the Slovenian Smart Specialization Strategy, in which it identified the goals and focus areas for the development of smart cities and communities and the development of smart buildings. Its goals are the development of globally-competitive systemic solutions in the field of smart grids and Internet platforms with user solutions and the establishment of several pilot projects in the areas of energy, urban mobility and security. The strategy aims to leverage on public administration reforms and the introduction of smart health systems to promote entrepreneurship and access global markets. The focus areas address open systems solutions, smart distribution and energy management, and technologies, such as cloud computing and big and open data, embedded smart systems, as well as one of the newest concepts – the Internet of Things. High-performance computing (HPC) technology and capture and use of long-distance earth observation data are also highlighted. The strategy also covers objectives in relation to smart buildings, which are one of the key categories of SSC, namely the development of comprehensive building management systems with the goal of achieving energy efficiency and autonomy. The Internet of Things is mentioned as a horizontal orientation. In other words, this is a smart built environment that uses intelligent building management systems (SSPS 10-13, 2015).
1. Cohen, B. (2012). The Top 10 Smart Cities On The Planet .Available at: https://www.fastcodesign.com/1679127/the-top-10-smart-cities-on-the-planet
2. Schaffers, H., Komninos, N., Pallot, M., Trousse, B., Nilsson, M., Oliveira, A. (2011). Smart Cities and the Future Internet: Towards Cooperation Frameworks for Open Innovation. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 6656: 431−446.
3. International Telecommunication Union. (2014). Smart sustainable cities: An analysis of definitions. Available at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwjD7PPL-7naAhUCalAKHSlnDb0QFggsMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.itu.int%2Fen%2FITU-T%2Ffocusgroups%2Fssc%2FDocuments%2FApproved_Deliverables%2FTR-Definitions.docx&usg=AOvVaw2tzL2wnbsb4L_OLPJXB6qX
4. Služba vade Republike Slovenija za razvoj in evropsko kohezijsko politiko. (2015). Slovenska Strategija Pametne Specializacije (SSPS). Available at: http://www.svrk.gov.si/fileadmin/svrk.gov.si/pageuploads/Dokumenti_za_objavo_na_vstopni_strani/SPS_10_7_2015.pdf