Friday, April 24, 2015

Cities as information systems

Back in 2011 y wrote a post in this blog which dealed with Pherecyde's Cloth myth and its relation to map making and GI managing [1]. The starting point of my thoughts were Ray Kurzweil's [2] predictions about the capacity of real things (i.e. stones) to store information. That was kind of a seminal approach to what is now known as the Internet of  Things (IOT), but taken even far beyond.

I remembered these things when I begun writing my previous entry, what took me to also remember another question related to Kurzweil's words: the importance of treating science areas as Information Systems. He explictly mentions medicine and biotechnology, but a friend of mine, Dr Lois F. R. Vázquez, has another good view on this issue as he teaches Computational Chemestry at University of A Coruña. Both of them mention the terrible impulse that all of these disciplines suffered as soon as they begun being modelled as information systems.

Given that I was, by then, developing my final work for TechniCity class at Coursera [3], I begun considering whether what I was proposing by means of the meta-framework for i-Coruña Intelligent City project wasn't actually but thinking of the city as an information system. And the more I think of it, the more I am sure that that's, precisely, the answer to build more intelligent cities by using information technologies.

Thinking that implementing IT solutions to solve given, not interconnected urban problems makes a city to be smarter is rather simplistic. By following that track, the only thing that you'll be obtaining is a set of more or less smart applications, but you will never get your target city to become smarter, and you will be far away of getting it to be more intelligent.

As the Spanish National Plan on Intelligent Cities [4] stablishes, you will only achieve that your city becomes more intelligent if you think of it in a holistic way. And that's exactly what thinking of it as an Information System produces: a holistic view on the city, with ITs being the tools to manage that view.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Are smart cities really smart?

Hi again!

Several months ago, the mayoral candidate of the local branch of Spanish Socialist Party in my hometown asked me to write a paper about "smart cities". That paper should be used to define her program for the election process regarding this issue.

Due to this commission, I begun reviewing papers, publications and web sites about that matter, including that of the curent smart project of my town, of course. As a consequence, I soon got to a first conclussion: technology was generally being claimed to be "the" way to make cities to be smarter. I thought that this one was a rather reductionist point of view, as cities are very complex human organisations, and an only techy solution wouldn't ever be the answer.

By that time, I received information about the launching of a Coursera class on Techni Cities, held by Ohio State University, and, within its pre-readings, I found a very inspirational paper written by Gordon Falconer and Shane Mitchell, from Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), and entitled: "Smart City Framework: A Systematic Process for Enabling Smart+Connected Communities". This paper put me into the way to a new perspective on smart cities and on their planning and designing processes.

From that moment on, I begun thinking of "Intelligent Cities" instead of  "Smart Cities", which I consider to be a more restrictive concept. In consequence, I started a search on the web, whether someone before me (as I presumed) had already come to similar conclusions. This way, I found the site of the Intelligent Community Forum, where I discovered a defintion for "Intelligent Communities" that did fit better whith my thoughts: "an Intelligent Community is the one which have – whether through crisis or foresight – come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it.” Nevertheles, even being wider in concept, this definition is still biased: even when it doesn't rely exclusively in technology, it is purely economic based. So, still not enough.

Some after, I knew about the publication of the Spanish National Plan for Intelligent Cities. When I reviewed its contents, I found a new definition which, moreover being more comprehensive, did also talk about "intelligent cities". So, accordingly to this definition, an intelligent city would be "the holistic vision of a city that applies ICT to improve the quality of live and accessibility of their inhabitants and assures a permanently improving economical, social and environmental sustainable development. An Intelligent City allows the interaction of citizens in a multidisciplinar way and gets adapted, in real time, to their needs, in an efficient way regarding both costs and quality, offering open data, citizen (conceived as individuals) oriented solutions and services, to solve the negative effects of city growing, within both public and private sectors, through the innovative integration of infrastructures and intelligent managing systems." Great, isn't it?

So, finally, Intelligent Cities are far beyond that techy-centered idea which is generally applied to Smart Cities and they rely on a more holistic and governance-focused conception.

When I wrote my final project for Technicity class, I did take this concept into mind. Here you can access the resulting paper: