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“Smart Cities, Smart Home, Smart Mobility” – Professor Carlo Ratti

Smart cities, smart homes, smart mobility . The label ‘smart’ – a vaguely annoying anglicism – is now used everywhere, a bit like the word ‘green’ until a few years ago. What is it? A clever marketing operation or something more?

Beyond the fashions of the moment, it seems that the phenomenon reflects profound dynamics, which significantly alter the way we design and live in urban areas in the coming years. In general one could say: our cities, covered with sensors and electronic networks, are turning into outdoor computers. A little as if the internet is invading the same physical space, creating a new hybrid dimension halfway between the digital world and the material world.

The phenomenon can be explained with an example: the Formula 1 races. Twenty years ago, to win it was necessary above all to have a good engine and a good driver. Today, one also needs a telemetry system, based on the collection of data from thousands of sensors located on the machine and on their real-time processing.

Similarly, the city of today allows us to collect an unprecedented amount of information, which can then be transformed into responses from the citizens or government. There are many examples with important consequences on many aspects of our lives. For example, traffic: we already have cars that drive themselves or networks that allow us to not waste time and gasoline looking for a parking lot.

Using similar systems we can intervene on so many aspects of a city – from waste collection services to the citizen, from energy management to that of water. Experiments in this direction are underway in many cities of the world, from Singapore to Copenhagen, from New York to Cape Town.

And in our country? Even in Italy the prospects are very interesting. In a country where the population is not growing and living standards do not change (in fact, due to the crisis the amount of housing per capita could be reduced), we can no longer think of expanding urban areas as in the last century: in addition to consuming unnecessarily virgin land (greenfield, in English), this inevitably results in the depletion of already built-up areas, exposing them to the risk of deterioration. The challenge of the coming years will require the enhancement of existing assets, correcting the errors of the last century of town planning and using new technologies to amplify our city officials’ efforts. In a sense: less concrete and more silicon.

In this way, from the revaluation of historical centers, it could become a heritage that the world envies us. Think of a city like Venice , which could never adapt to the demands of the industry of the twentieth century, but today could easily accommodate the digital technologies and the new economy that goes with them.

About Professor Carlo Ratti

Professor Carlo Ratti
An architect and engineer by training, Carlo Ratti practices in Italy and teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the Senseable City Lab. He graduated from the Politecnico di Torino and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, and later earned his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. Carlo is a member of the Italian Design Council and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council for Urban Management. He is curator for the Future Food District Pavilion for Expo 2015 in Milan.

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