It would be quite difficult to sum up all the characteristics of 21st century cities with only one word, however; we believe “complexity” would be the best candidate to fulfill this task. Urban areas, traversed by a plethora of physical and immaterial flows, are continually increasing in complexity; a pattern that is further intensified by the megatrends shaping our century, such as urbanization, densification and, urban sprawl.
To facilitate the diffusion of these flows, cities are structured by urban networks (e.g. transportation, telecommunications, water and waste, energy) that produce huge quantities of data every second: the frequency of buses on a BRT system, the energy consumption of the streetlights over a given time period, or the amount of waste collected every hour by garbage trucks. In order to cope with this complexity that is defining urban areas, accessing and processing the data produced by the city infrastructure can be a good way to monitor things, maintain awareness of what needs to be tackled, and optimize the systems in order to improve living conditions in a city.
This is about making city components smarter so that they can acquire data, act on their own, and ultimately make the city smarter. For example, road sensors can measure pollution particle concentrations in the atmosphere, communicate with intelligent road gates that will directly adapt their toll fare in order to decrease the number of cars on the road and in doing so, improve air quality. In summary, making cities smarter seems to be an effective way to deal with most of the complexity encountered in urban systems, and to facilitate the transition towards greater efficiency and performance.
The necessary technology is already here: we know how to measure atmospheric pollution, and which automated algorithms to adopt in order to make driverless subways run. The problem remains in the implementation of such technologies and on the institutional changes needed to develop smarter solutions for smarter cities.
The two-week IGLUS Training Module in Seoul was held
June 2015 to tackle these challenging questions. This event was one of the seven IGLUS modules from the first edition of the program, and was organized by EPFL, Switzerland, in collaboration with Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul. The aim of this two-week training program was to understand the governance changes that cities must undergo in order to implement technological innovations and create smarter systems.
With one of the highest rates of smart phone penetration in the world and world-class, cutting-edge ICT firms, Seoul has upheld its top ranking in the United Nations e-government survey since 2003. It has also launched a Smart Seoul program, which aims to make the Korean capital one of the smartest cities in the world.
With a wide array of projects already implemented, Seoul was the perfect candidate to gain a good insight into what can be done to make our cities smarter, and which institutional changes are needed to enhance technological innovations in an urban context.
Experts from the Seoul Metropolitan Govermnent, Transdev, Samsung, UN-Habitat, EPFL, and Sungkyunkwan University, as well as by Korean experts from the Seoul Institute have discussed the governance of urban infrastructure systems that is required to develop and implement these beneficial technological innovations and to face the associated challenges.
Participants in the IGLUS-Seoul Module benefited from theoretical input as well as practice-oriented insights to resolve the challenges related to governance for sustainable development in periods of rapid growth. Our next IGLUS module in Asia will be held in Seoul in June 2016.