SOCIETY | Nov 29, 2019

5 ways to “augment” our cities

Transforming our cities into safe, sustainable and interactive places using new technologies. Creating Augmented Cities which become digital ecosystems capable of improving the lives of citizens.

Milan is the smartest city in Italy for the sixth consecutive year, according to the data currently being presented for the Icity Rank 2019 by FPA research, carried out on the 107 municipalities which are regional capitals of the peninsula. It is followed by Florence and Bologna, while Rome remains in 15th place. The cities of the South occupy the lowest positions in the ranking. The first 20 capitals in the ranking, in fact, belong to the central-northern areas, while the cities which have gained more positions compared with 2018 are in the north. You have to scroll down to 37th place to find the ranking’s first town in the South and islands: Cagliari, which gains six positions compared with 2018.

As the research also indicates, cities are made smart through digital technologies such as IoTBig Data and Artificial Intelligence, which allow to improve different management aspects and therefore the livability of cities. But the concept of Smart City can be extended further, to reach that of the Augmented City, i.e. digital ecosystems developed through public-private synergies which are useful to transform individual innovation initiatives into opportunities to improve the quality of life in urban centers.

“Technology – says Stefano De Capitani, Chairman of Municipia SpA, in the White Paper recently published by Engineering on the Augmented City – is not an end, but a tool to enable the Digital Transformation of the Augmented City in all its areas”.

The 5 areas of the Augmented City technological ecosystem

The Engineering White Paper identifies 5 areas where action is needed to “augment” and improve the urban ecosystem:

Sustainability. The term sustainability, in the case of cities, refers not only to the environment, but also to economic sustainability, i.e. to the possibility that a Public Administration can enable innovation processes through investments in digital technologies. The same ICity Rank 2019 research analyzed the economic solidity of the regional capitals to evaluate their economic consistency, the creation of job opportunities, innovation in the entrepreneurial and productive system, identifying Milan as the most economically solid Italian reality, capable of combining the traditional high levels of income production and entrepreneurial solidity with a strong concentration of innovative experiences. Sustainability for “Augmented Cities” is also the ability to activate cohesion instruments and to create (or rebuild) citizens’ relationships of trust towards the administration with the aim of involving them in participatory processes.

Security. Among the most discussed issues on social networks, the perception of security by city dwellers can certainly be addressed in a simpler manner thanks to digital technology. The prevention of risk situations, to quote one aspect of security, is possible through the use of different technologies such as IoT, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, capable of implementing an active monitoring and prediction system. In practice, as also stated in the White Paper, “it is necessary to be capable of governing a multitude of data and situations to meet the needs of the territory and of those who live it; approaching the issue with a non-generalist vision, but one which is organic, and a local governance tool rooted in the municipal area, in order that the focus should be on the fundamental role and responsibility of local authorities, administrators, and to promote the indispensable close relationship with citizens”.

Mobility. All urban centers deal with issues related to access, transit and parking with a growing sensitivity towards the environment, safety and, in general, mobility and livability. Promoting data and information to enable data-based decisions makes it possible to re-plan mobility systems in a rational, effective, efficient and sustainable manner, optimizing the use and development of economic, human and environmental resources. Thanks to its public transport network and to the spread of car sharing services, Milan is still leading the ranking in the Icity Rank 2019, which evaluated 19 indicators to assess sustainable mobility. Four other metropolitan towns are also among the top ten cities: Venice, Florence, Turin and Bologna.

Interactivity. Every party living in the city, from the individual citizen to a business, needs to communicate and interact quickly and easily with administrators. Simplifying the relationship with the public for the use of services not only increases the degree of interactivity, but also intensifies the degree of reliability, simplicity and transparency of the PA. To do this, it is necessary “to create a circular public digital service model which, in addition to improving the quality of life of the citizen, produces economic savings and administrative efficiency for the PA, which, by using task services (PagoPa, CIE, Spid), implements the transition towards an “end-to-end” Digital Transformation, usable in SaaS mode, as provided for by AgID, and within a pay per use logic.

Welfare. Cities become “augmented” if they are able to implement a set of actions aimed at providing support and assistance to citizens on the basis of their needs, possibilities and capabilities. In fact, the quality of life of citizens is closely linked to their needs for health, care, socialization and quality of the environment, which can be met efficiently through the use of technologies. According to Icity Rank 19, Florence, Milan and Bologna are the top three cities for “social quality”, whose dimension was evaluated according to the fields of poverty and social exclusion, education and human capital, artistic and cultural attractiveness. With this indicator, the ranking also highlights medium-sized cities such as Pisa, Trento, Parma, Udine, Siena and Verona, in particular for their innovative methods of intervention, characterized by greater integration between institutional and social actors and by the use of technologies.