Increasingly smart, increasingly sustainable: Europe’s cities get an upgrade
It’s predicted that by 2050, 70 % of the world’s population will live in urban areas, up from 55 % in 2018, largely driven by societal shifts in Asia and Africa. In Europe, 50 % of Europeans already lived in urban areas as far back as 1950. According to Eurostat, this rose to over three quarters of Europeans living in urban areas as of 2018.
Welcome to the Smart City: Population – you (sooner or later)
Cities have been a defining motor of human social development since the beginning of recorded history. From the first cities that arose in ancient Sumeria and the Indus Valley, through to Rome, Constantinople and Tenochtitlan, to today’s vast megacities (Tokyo, 38 million people, and Jakarta, 30 million people, to give just two examples), cities have been central to humanity’s story. They act as incubators for technological innovations, social and economic progress and new, and sometimes radical, forms of cultural expression.
Even if Europe’s share of the overall world population is declining, urbanisation as a general trend is still alive and kicking. And with more and more people living on top of each other, working next to each other, and enjoying themselves together in the same urban spaces, problems and challenges will undoubtedly arise. Pollution, rubbish, road congestion, creaky public transport, and poor urban planning and administration are just some of the major gripes that blight city dwellers the world over. Crucially, these problems must also be addressed within the context of the growing worldwide concern over climate change.
Technology promises to address many of these pressing challenges, especially advances in apps, Big Data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things. Indeed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that cities need to become not only sustainable but also ‘smart’. Importantly, these two ambitions can complement and reinforce each other, providing a better quality of life and allowing city dwellers to play an active role in the decisions that impact their lives.
Thus, in this issue of Research*eu magazine, our special feature highlights seven EU-funded projects that have made important steps into turning the notion of a ‘digital city’ from concept into reality, taking into account smarter and more efficient mobility, waste management, air quality and citizen engagement. One of the key trends from these projects is the sheer number of European cities where their ideas and solutions were tried, implemented and, in some cases, retained by the impressed city authorities. Your editor counts at least 15 cities from across the continent that took part in these projects and even some in countries beyond Europe’s shores, such as Japan – highlighting that Europe can and is playing a key role in designing, implementing and guiding the development of what will be the cities of tomorrow.
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