Smart Cities: what they are, 4 examples and the SECESTA ViaSafe project [discover it]

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The term smart city goes beyond the concept of smartphones and devices connected to the network; but what exactly does it mean? Smart cities are metropolises that use communication and information technologies (ICT) and big data to improve the quality of life and make urban services (public lighting, water supply, traffic management, etc.) more efficient.

Italy, with its artistic and cultural heritage, is struggling to embrace the smart city concept. However, cities such as Milan, Turin and Bologna are adopting smart solutions to address challenges such as urban mobility, energy efficiency and social inclusion. It is a start, towards a more sustainable future and more resilient and adaptable urban environments.

In the article you will discover what smart cities are, what characteristics they have and why smart city is not just a fashionable word. We will also show you 4 examples, including the SECESTA ViaSafe project in the charming Catania, Sicily.

Keep reading to learn more!

Table of contents

What are smart cities?

Smart cities are urban centres or aggregations (small or large) that use ICT and IoT to improve the quality of life of citizens, public transport and the countless other services enjoyed by a city in the 21st century.

Moreover there is a more ‘humanistic’ interpretation of the smart city concept, developed by Professor Richard Florida of the University of Toronto. According to the professor, a smart city is a place in which, on the one hand, environmental sustainability is valued in order to safeguard the ecosystem and future generations, and on the other hand, human capital is emphasised, hence social inclusion and the active participation of citizens in public life.

smart cities

What characteristics do they have?

There is no single definition of smart cities, but we can identify some common characteristics that distinguish them:

1. They use digital technologies

All smart cities use the World Wide Web, information and communication technologies (ICT), big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to collect, process and share data to improve various aspects of urban life such as mobility, energy, security, health, education, culture, tourism, etc.

2. They are attentive to sustainability

Smart cities are attentive to environmental, economic and social sustainability, with the aim of reducing the negative impact of human activities and consumption.

Other smart city programme points are:

3. The promote the active participation of citizens

Smart cities involve and empower citizens in the process of digital transition and innovation of their city by means of tools for consultation, dialogue, collaboration, feedback, co-creation, sharing, learning, etc. Citizens are also considered not only users of services, but also producers of them in a win-win logic of active citizenship and open government.

Examples of smart cities in Italy

Smart cities are a global phenomenon, involving both developed and developing countries. Each city has its own peculiarities and therefore adopts tailor-made solutions according to the resources at its disposal..

Here are some examples of smart cities in Italy that have distinguished themselves through their projects and achievements.


Milan is the economic and cultural capital of Italy. Among the smart initiatives are:


Turin, the so-called Savoy city, thanks to a long industrial, scientific and cultural tradition, was one of the first in Italy to bet on the smart city concept.

Among the most relevant initiatives are:


Bologna, thanks to its university vocation, it is one of the most lively and active Italian cities.

Its initiatives include:

città intelligenti

And Catania? The SECESTA ViaSafe project

The Metropolitan City of Catania is also focusing on social and technological innovation to improve the quality of life of the citizens and competitiveness in Sicily.

Taking advantages of EU funds, in particular the PON Metro 2014-2020, has enabled important investments in the redevelopment of urban spaces and digital transformation processes in Etna’s capital.

A noteworthy project financed thanks to the PON Metro 2014-2020 is SECESTA ViaSafe, which takes up the activities of the previous SECESTA project, but this time with a view to using the information gathered by the multi-sensory volcanic ash observation and measurement system to improve real-time traffic flow on urban and suburban roads and the A18 motorway.

The information provided by the interactive map within the web app, developed by the company PMF Research, is both qualitative and quantitative. An electronic signposting system for the dynamic reduction of vehicle speed on the motorway is also being tested.

SECESTA ViaSafe is the perfect example of a virtuous project capable of involving research bodies, such as the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (NIGV), academic institutions, such as the Department of Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Informatics (DEEEI) of the University of Catania and the Department of Mathematics, Informatics, Physical Sciences and Earth Sciences (MIPE) of the University of Messina, and leading companies in the ICT, IoT and electronics sectors.

Catania, in the future, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by 5G, IoT and artificial intelligence, will be able to adopt smart solutions to solve age-old problems related to mobility, energy, tourism, education and culture.

Thus, proposing itself as a smart city of the South will combine tradition and modernity, enhancing its historical and cultural heritage while promoting the active participation of national and regional stakeholders, local authorities, academic institutions and businesses.

Become an urban innovator with JO Education

Do you want to help transform your city into a smart city? JO Education offers you the opportunity to become a partner of the Innovation Hub Catania. Whether you are a technology enthusiast or a new entrepreneur, the collaboration with JO Education can help you realise the project you have in mind and transform the Elephant City into a smart city.

Contact us to find out more: fill in the contact form below to send us an e-mail or call +390957463250. We are at your disposal.

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