Smart cities education: what it is and why it’s important

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The term smart cities education means “smart cities training”. In fact, the United Nations, the European Union and the Italian government consider it essential to clarify the concept of smart city, around which gravitates initiatives, debates and projects relating to the growth and development of future cities.

Table of contents

Traditional cities

Before delving into the concept of the smart city, it is good to have in mind that of the “traditional city”. It is a conglomerate of buildings that is distinguished by its stability and extension; a city is also characterised by a high demographic rate and encompasses cultural, economic, administrative and political functions.

It may seem strange but, according to the research “Smart cities between concept and practice”, written by the Centro Studi Assolombardia Confindustria Milano Monza e Brianza, globally cities occupy only 2.6% of the earth’s surface. However, they centralise 70% of the world’s GDP and more than 50% of the Earth’s population, use 75% of natural resources and produce about 70% of greenhouse gas emissions.

For these reasons, the world’s leading organisations fear that the uncontrolled growth of cities and excessive urbanisation, if poorly managed, could lead to real risks to human health and the environment, with repercussions on urban infrastructure and services, from transport to construction to the provision of essential services such as electricity, water and gas.

Citizens, therefore, are called upon to play an active role (hence smart cities education) and to supervise the 3 essential levels of urban sustainability:

A sustainable development of cities towards smartness (the degree of innovation of a city) is already recognised in the guidelines of the UN’s Agenda 2030 and in an initiative entitled “Smart Cities and Communities” by the European Commission.

For example, it is estimated that adopting information and communications technologies (ICT) solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and modernising cities would lead to savings of 2000 billion of dollars and the creation of 30 million jobs.

Smart city

A smart city is an urban aggregate in which digital technologies make life “smarter” for inhabitants and businesses. In other words, an interactive city administration that is able to reduce the internal digital divide and properly implement ICT and IoT results in more efficient public transport and better services.

According to Rudolf Giffinger, Professor of Regional Science at the Vienna University of Technology, smart city education would help to create «decisive, independent and aware citizens».

According to engineer Colin Harrison of IBM, what makes a city “smart” is the ability, in real time, to collect data from sensors and devices, and then integrate them into a single platform accessible to service providers; these will use them to optimise processes and propose data driven solutions.

Then there is another interpretation of the smart city phenomenon: the more “humanistic” one of Professor Richard Florida of the University of Toronto, which emphasises human capital and makes social inclusion and citizen participation its banner of battle.

Whether it is a question of ICTs applied to urban development or of a more philosophical conception that rewards creativity and the interconnection between citizens, smart cities education is a newborn discipline aimed at promoting technologies, people and institutions that make a city “smart”.

Smart cities education

Smart cities education attempts to identify areas where to intervene to make a city smart and to educate citizens about it. Taking as an example those already identified by the National Observatory of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) and the United Nations, it is possible to list 8:

If action were taken in each of these areas, both on a conceptual and operational level, cities could really improve. After all, smart city as well as smart cities education in 2023 is a necessity, advocated by both national governments and international organisations.

Today’s cities, being “systems of systems”, are free to choose the areas that are priorities for them, the important thing is not to consider the various areas as distinct; these, indeed, integrate infrastructures and services in favour of interoperability and new synergies.

The importance of the NRRP for smart cities education

In particular, this includes:

Smart cities education: not just theory

Data from a recent (2022) research by the Smart City Observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano also shows a growing interest in the topic: around 33% of Italian municipalities would like to learn more about and invest in smart city education, as well as understand how to become a smart city.

Smart cities education is substantiated by concrete projects and examples around the world. In Italy in 2020, experiments were one in four and mainly concerned security and territorial control, smart mobility and public lighting.

Florence and Milan are confirmed as the cities that have invested the most in smart cities education and the dissemination of “smart thinking”. Next are the cities of Bologna, Brescia, Genoa, Lodi, Milan, Modena, Padua, Pisa and Rome.

The Survey on the digital maturity of capital cities, carried out by FPA, a company of the Digital360 group, for Deda Next shows that only 41 cities in Italy last year reached a good level of digital maturity. Smart cities education therefore proves to be essential both for citizens and for PA, businesses and actors involved in digital transformation processes. Disseminating it is our duty.

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If the topic of smart cities interests you and you want to learn more, contact us and become our partner. JO Education | Innovation Hub Catania (IHCT), part of the JO Group cluster of companies, is one of the main promoters of smart cities education. Read the articles in our JOurnal or fill in the contact form below.

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