PEOPLE | Dec 13, 2019

Cities of the future? Technological, resilient, inclusive: an interview with Stefano De Capitani

The President of Municipia talks about the Manifesto for the citizen-friendly new city signed by more than 200 Italian Public Administrations.

“When we talk about Smart Cities often, too often, administrators and decision-makers in the PA find themselves thinking about technology. The cliché is that one thinks that cities can be made intelligent through digital technology, but we know that this is not the right way to approach the topic. Our Manifesto was created precisely in order to explain a new, different way of seeing intelligent cities”. Stefano De Capitani, Chairman of Municipia, introduces in this way the theme of Augmented Cities, places which, by attracting a large number of citizens, have and will increasingly have in the future a leading role from an economic point of view, due to the employment opportunities and the development of new supply chains, and from a social one, with the need to recreate communities and to keep them alive.

“Technology itself – continues De Capitani – does not solve the problems of cities, and if it is not properly integrated into a service within reach of the citizen it risks being a barrier rather than an opportunity. That’s why, as Municipia, we don’t want to talk about Smart Cities but of Augmented Cities, which take their cue from Augmented Reality, allowing you to perceive a reality which is closer, as if it materialized in front of our eyes in order that we should feel enveloped by it. An augmented City is for the citizen, it is full of services and facilities which make life easier for citizens”.

The definition of Augmented City also includes the term resilience. Why?

“Resilience refers to nature’s ability to find a balance after suffering an impact. A resilient city is one that is able to regain its balance after the impact it suffers due to a globally known phenomenon, attributable to the flows of people choosing to relocate to cities to live in. Cities must react by providing services which use technologies that help citizens to live better”.

How is the citizen’s central role guaranteed and when do cities become inclusive?

“When analyzing some indices, such as DESI, which report a scarce use of digital services, one should ask why these are not used. Often, in fact, the citizen is not at all involved in designing the service, which is perceived as a top-down process. And it is for this reason that the City cannot be “augmented” without a co-planning of services and without citizens being able to actively participate in creating innovations for the urban context. People must be involved from the beginning in order to ensure they understand the objectives, the reasons for a certain new service. We must go beyond mere communication of what is being done in order to bring citizens on board and ensure they become real users of the services and true beneficiaries”.

How can people be involved in the construction of Augmented Cities?

“I think that the right tool consists of intermediate bodies, since the direct channel with citizens is possibly not very effective. We can refer, for example, to the various trade associations or to representations linked to schools and other intermediate bodies, which can be representative of categories of citizens with whom we can work together and co-plan”.

More than 200 mayors, aldermen and municipal councilors have already signed Municipia’s Manifesto. What is the next step?

“In order to increase the spread of the Manifesto we are planning a series of meetings to be held in different Italian locations during 2020, to involve local authorities and intermediate bodies, to introduce the citizen’s point of view and some useful concrete solutions and tools to build the Augmented City”.

Where, then, in our daily lives, can technology and, in general, innovative tools make a difference?

“The most relevant areas are mobility, safety, urban hygiene and social services. Reducing pollution and congestion in urban centers, improving the waste collection process, preventing vandalism, petty crime and degradation or ensuring public support for all citizens in need of help. And, first of all, ensuring that everyone has the right to contribute fairly to public services through the payment of taxes and tariffs with transparency and punctuality. Our citizen-oriented approach and our solutions allow us to create virtuous circuits, it being understood that the difference is given by the choices of public decision-makers and by the way in which technology is applied”.