The challenges of making old cities smart
In 2009, an earthquake devastated L’Aquila, Italy, killing more than three hundred people in this historic mountain town and displacing 70,000 others.
While reconstruction has been slow, the destruction has helped turn the urban center into a test bed for smart city innovation. The municipal administration has created a digital transformation strategy, L’Aquila Smart City, and has been organizing public meetings for several years. The Italian government is contributing 16.2 million euros ($17.3 million) to fund a public electric vehicle charging network, as part of Italy’s 5G trial.
A notable intervention is the Smart Tunnel, a 3.5 meter tunnel under the city streets through which water, sewers, light and communications will flow. The tunnel has several advantages: burial of cables, ease of access for technicians and expandability.
Since 2014, the Smart Ring project has provided on-demand electric buses equipped with air quality sensors on a five-kilometre circular route around the center. A system of sensors monitors the vulnerability of structures, and the city hopes to implement augmented reality to both provide new levels of information and allow people to understand the city’s history and reconstruction phases.
While the destruction has allowed the city to redesign almost all of its infrastructure, it is not necessary to start from a ruin to build a smart urban city, even a beautiful and historic one. Dijon, Nantes, Paris, Hamburg and Barcelona are among the cities implementing smart interventions.
Since 2011, Smart City Barcelona has identified and implemented multiple opportunities to improve services, including transport, water quality, waste and open government. The city currently has more than 20,000 active sensors capturing temperature, air quality and mobility data.
Sensors embedded in the asphalt indicate available parking spaces, while smart bus stops offer device charging, free Wi-Fi and digital resources. Stephen Zoegall, global industry leader for cities, transport and infrastructure at Accenture, notes that in historic urban centers, said: “There is more infrastructure there than you first think. . This includes a lot of dark fibers. “It’s everywhere, so you should make the best use of it.”
That said, Zoegall adds that it’s possible to push a lot of distributed technology to individual units, such as connected cars. “If you’re driving in a connected electric vehicle, it doesn’t need too much help from the infrastructure.”
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