Smart Cities and Sustainability: A Complex and Strategic Issue – The Case of Torino Smart City

Smart Cities and Sustainability: A Complex and Strategic Issue – The Case of Torino Smart City

Caterina Mele
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7091-3.ch001
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The term smart city is often synonymous with a sustainable city. The word smart implies the use of digital technology that serves to make processes and services more efficient and to connect the different actors on the urban scene. However, this is no guarantee of sustainability. A city can become sustainable if it changes its metabolism and from linear to circular as in nature's ecosystems. For this to happen, it is necessary to overcome the paradigm of quantitative economic growth based on the infinite substitutability between natural and economic capital. If smart city governance stakeholders primarily pursue profit according to the logic of the free market, the city may be smarter and efficient in the use of energy and resources, but it is not sustainable, often not even inclusive. The challenge of sustainability implies a paradigm shift and the use of digital technologies at the service of the collective good. In this context, after a general analysis of the characteristics of smart cities, the chapter focuses on an Italian case study, Turin Smart City.
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Smart City: One Concept Many Facets

The term Smart City has considerable ambiguity. The more you investigate it, the more discordant elements emerge, as can be observed in particular in the plan of Torino Smart City, which will be analyzed later. On the one hand, the term smart means intelligent. A smart city, in this regard, is a city that, thanks to the use of digital platforms, makes urban processes more efficient and allows for greater interconnection between the different actors on the urban scene (Giffinger et al., 2007). The smart city is therefore an infrastructure/platform of exchange and connection between physical and virtual elements of the city (Murgante & Borruso, 2013). This definition puts the emphasis on the digital infrastructure and ICT technologies that become the predominant feature of the city and subordinate to them the different functions and actions that take place on the urban scene, that seems to have almost no real physical dimension. On the other hand, the term smart city is often synonymous with sustainable city or a city whose vocation is to achieve sustainability. However, the intersection between the objectives of sustainability and the smart dimension is not obvious and it is not even easy to evaluate, since evaluation is an operation deriving from multiple elements that depend on who makes the evaluation, the choices of how to evaluate and what to evaluate. The interest aroused by the issue of the smart city with all its ambiguities has resulted in the last decade in a very extensive scientific literature accompanied by countless generalist and popular articles available online. So popular is the term that, following the example of Borelli (Borelli, 2020), if you type the term smart city on the Google search engine, in less than a second just under 4 billion results appear. Without pretending to be exhaustive in retracing the birth of the smart city concept and leaving the most in-depth articulations to the social urban science studies, it is nevertheless necessary to identify some chronological and descriptive elements of the concept. Following the American New Urbanism of the 80s of the last century the term smart city began to appear more frequently in scientific studies (Cuppini, 2020) of the following decade, with reference to some newly built cities in Malaysia and Australia equipped with an ICT infrastructure (Arun,1999). In the same years several multinational information technology companies such as IBM, Cisco, Siemens began to propose smart solutions and ideas for cities. New terms like Virtual City spread. The spread of the internet and the use of Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) had in fact allowed the three-dimensional representation of the city on the net, modeling urban development projects through virtual laboratories. A little later other adjectives related to the aspects of digitization and connection are used with reference to cities, among them Computable City (Batty, 1995), Digital City or Wired City, or Ubiquitous city which emphasizes the possibility of obtaining any kind of service, at any time with any device (Lee et al.,2008). In the following years the concept was analyzed and then articulated in several aspects (Cocchia, 2014). Six main elements that generally characterize the smart city arise: economy, (smart economy), governance (smart governance), population (smart people), lifestyle (smart living), mobility, (smart mobility) and environment (smart environment). In the IBM website “Building a smarter planet” at the question: “What does it mean to become Smarter?” the answer is: “Measuring, Monitoring, Modeling and Managing” and in relation to sustainability, the document explains that: “… you can’t make a product greener, whether it’s a car, a refrigerator or a traffic system, without making it smarter - smarter materials, smarter software or smarter design.”- moreover: “ICT accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions: ICT can significantly contribute to control and reduce the 98% of CO2 emissions caused by other activities and industries.” Moreover “Instrumentation increasingly captures more data… now to make it into real intelligence to enable smarter decisions for a greener society”. In the document “Deliver Smarter Cities Agenda - Networks for more competitive, effective and efficient cities” (2011), IBM as a response to global challenges identifies the achievement of the smarter planet through 6 actions: “accelerating globalization, evolving societal relationships, expanding impact of technology, changing demographics, rising environmental concerns, growing threats to social, stability and order.” How do we do that? Through a smarter city. In fact a smarter city is “…one that integrates technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being, and economic development … but also stressing the importance of integration and interaction across multiple domains.” Moreover “The main role of technology in urban systems is to sense the activity to be able to monitor, manage, visualize and optimize” (IBM,2009). In all these definitions the degree of monitoring, digitization, interconnection of data from different economic and social sectors characterize smartness. The physical city with all its problems and vulnerabilities remains in the background.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainability: A pivotal concept for sustainable development, involving the fair and intergenerational use of environmental resources.

Smart City: One city that uses digital technologies to make processes and relations between different urban actors more efficient.

Sustainable Development Goals: Sustainable development objectives according to the United Nations Agenda 2030 signed in 2015 by 150 states.

Rota Report (RGR): Annual sociological study on the social, economic, and environmental situation of the city of Torino, carried out by Fondazione Einaudi.

SMILE: Torino Smart City masterplan. The acronym means Smart mobility, Inclusion, Life & Health, Energy.

Urban Metabolism: Flow of matter and energy derived from natural resources and human transformations that defines the functioning of cities assimilated to living organisms.

Governance: A non-hierarchical model of government in which a plurality of public and private actors participate in the public strategic policies.

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