Smart City, a new urban metabolism

I return to the theme of the smart city or smart city which, without any shadow of a doubt, will mark the political, urban agenda, […]

I come back to the smart city theme or smart city which, without any shadow of a doubt, will mark the political, urban, social and technological agenda of the next decade.

In view of the major transitions underway – digital, ecological, demographic and labor – it is, in my opinion, to address a more comprehensive and comprehensive concept of smart city, if we want, a new urban metabolism for the smart city.


Smart City, the technological and digital city


Territorial intelligence and smart cities are the order of the day. Intelligent territories are, as we know, a kind of new emblem of territory politics and network society. Currently, the technological, digital and managerial version of smart city.

Indeed, today there is already a very varied package of urban services that includes digital infrastructure, integrated energy networks and energy efficiency, management of smart neighborhoods, urban connections and mobility, online administration, urban platforms and its interoperability, the environment and quality of life indicators, the collection and processing of data and, finally, the security of citizens and systems in action in the smart city.

The “Smart Cities Tour 2019” initiative of the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities (ANMP) is a good example of this urban approach to territorial intelligence, essentially based on a performative and resource optimization approach aimed at providing public services.

In this more technological and digital approach, many Portuguese cities will converge their urban intelligence policy into three blocks of policy measures, of variable dosage and with different effects on their digital transformation process: the virtualization of conventional services in a vertical perspective of service-user, the creation of digital platforms made in in a more horizontal and collaborative perspective with peers and, finally, a more individualistic logic, of a connected urban user, in a perspective of a city uberized with GPS systems, drones and numerous applications.

But there are other concepts of smart city and urban metabolism that, moreover, can coexist with the more technological and instrumental concepts, if, for that, human intelligence helps. Let's see, for example, what the architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles (GRT) tells us.


The organic city and urban metabolism according to GRT


“The ideas that guide the creation of the new city must have as paradigms the city-countryside integration and the urbanism-ecology connection. The man of today tends to stop being rural or urban in order to reach a cultural vision that encompasses both the values ​​of rurality and those of the city. And whoever says the values ​​also says the activities. The concept of global landscape tends to inform the entire process of spatial planning and urbanism itself” (Telles, 2003: 334).

As can easily be seen, there are different scales and levels of complexity to meet and it is clear that there is a long way to go between simply intelligently providing public services in a smart city and the creation of an integrated digital ecosystem within the framework of a more comprehensive, complex and time-consuming territorial development strategy.

Architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles (GRT) takes us to the other side of intelligence, human intelligence as organic and biophysical intelligence. We know that the city becomes artificial as it grows and that, along the way, there are some victims.

Firstly, the most disadvantaged social strata that are thrown into the inhospitable and aggressive suburbs, secondly, the natural ecosystems, which are increasingly polluted, fragmented and degraded and, finally, the historic centers and their small housing nuclei, bastard children of mismatched inheritances and absent public policies, where only a few public services and the most significant monumental elements remain.

We also know that the process of urban development in our country has almost always neglected the morphology of the territory and the ecological systems essential to the sustainability of the space, not to mention the cultural values ​​of traditional landscapes that are also despised or undervalued.

However, the urbanistically dense city becomes energy-eating. On the other hand, as urban-industrial cities grow, they expand their areas of influence, become vertical, successively penetrating the territory and their dimension is increasingly regional, in successive rings that extend from the suburban and the periurban to rural proximity and rural remote.

This is, therefore, also a great opportunity, as the re-establishment of the connection between urban areas and rural landscapes is within our reach. It is also for this reason that urbanism divided into independent, artificially sustainable areas must be replaced by a system-based urbanism where natural ecosystems and agro-systems are articulated with the built-up face of the city. It is this spatial diversity that today must preside over the city-region (Telles, 2003: 333).

In this city-region and city-country connection strategy, a new biophysical and landscape architecture seems essential. In this strategy and in this architecture, the green plan, the ecological structure and the network of green corridors can and must play a fundamental role.

In the end, “the monolithic city is doomed, as it is necessary to recreate the unity of the urbe-ager-saltus-silva. The design of the city cannot be limited to drawing zones that define the transformations of the built space or to be built, but, on the contrary, it must include the integration of ecology in urbanism and establish a spatial system defined by geographical, ecological and cultural circumstances. related” (Telles, 2003: 334).


Endnotes: topics on the future of smart city


The borders of the city have already been crossed and the urban perimeters widened, suburban and periurban rings emerged, infrastructures tore up the surrounding territory and natural barriers in all directions, the change in land use promoted urban speculation and irrationality.

In this disordered sequence, the spatial unit of the urbe-ager-saltus-silva, at the time when the city was a point in the middle of the countryside and when the culture of the city was common to the culture of the countryside.

Closer to us, the city was rigidly designed with ruler and square, a city-zoned with zones for the construction or recovery of areas that have already been built up. The typological city of the urban-industrial world is the city of the automobile and of large urban densities, whose mass and volume overlay the morphology and cultural values ​​of the territory.

The smart and creative city of the future can only be a socially constructed space for the exercise of full citizenship, if we want, the provision of a crucible of humanity. Therefore, my thesis for the future of smart city it is based on a principle of prudence and common sense, namely: digital technologies make the city smarter, but it is urbanism in its various dimensions that makes digital technologies much more intelligent, human and creative. It is this fundamental transaction that we must never lose sight of.

Finally, I leave a reading grid for the near future of smart city in the form of six axes of strategic reflection:

– E1: There is no technological determinism, the Smart City is not to be confused with the Digital City, that is, there is no self-realization through technological and digital means;
– E2: We are going to witness a hybridization of intelligences, human and artificial, and the formation of new collective territorial intelligences;
– E3: Technological impacts on the city and its ecological footprint will affect infrastructure engineering, urban architecture and the metabolism of the city;
– E4: Digital culture will create another urban aesthetic, that is, an intelligent and creative city with its own scenography and choreography;
– E5: Made-in platforms, applications and smartphones will form the basis of a co-production of the city and a new social contract with citizens;
– E6: A small revolution in the political governance of the smart city, facing two cities, the centralized city and the co-produced city.

In each of these axes we add urban metabolism to the smart city, which thus becomes more comprehensive and complex, and also more human. In short, technology and digital transformation, ecology and global landscape, creativity and culture, these are the many facets of the XNUMXst century smart and creative city. We will come back to the subject more often.


Author António Covas is a Retired Full Professor at the University of Algarve