Developing the city of the future

Dal contributo di Elita Schillaci, membro del Comitato scientifico del Salone della CSR, e di Melita Nicotra per il libro Le rotte della sostenibilità (editore EGEA) disponibile a partire dal 2 ottobre 2018.

Singapore has been working for years to become the first and most important Smart Nation in the world. The Singapore government is investing heavily in ICT, implementing policies and building the infrastructure and ecosystem to support and enable the “Smart Nation” program. The core of the program is the collection and processing of large amounts of data through a platform called “Virtual Singapore”, in order to offer excellent services to citizens. Singapore can be defined as the “city” of the future. It is a “laboratory” that conducts advanced experiments on autonomously driven vehicles or on the ethnic mix of its neighborhoods. Above all, the massive data collection, combined with the predictive intelligence of Big Data, is used in all sectors to plan projects and offer more innovative services, ranging from fluency, security and comfort of buses to the location of childcare centers.
The Triple Helix theory could be used as a basis to identify the main actors of a Smart City, University, Industry and Government (Leydesdorff, L. and Deakin, M., 2011). Within this system, key actors are “knowledge gatekeepers” enhancing the triple helix system. Their presence favors collective learning processes. They are able to act either as a “boundary spanner” among actors in the territory and as an interface between the research world, the business world and the government.
Smart Cities shall have organizations that meet the need for building a strategic dialogue among actors, reflecting the local technological structure and their prospective paths, and promoting learning processes and new entrepreneurial activities. It is essential to create the settings for appropriate informal interactions to happen, contributing to open channels between different institutional actors. At the same time, when domestic networks facilitate more efficient and successful R&D activity and strengthen local innovation activities, it is a matter of great importance to link them to international networks. Therefore, Smart Cities have to find a successful balance between local networking action and building international interactive links.
The Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) in Singapore could serve this aim. It provides particular conditions for the development of partnership and collaboration among firms, universities, public and private research institutions. FCL was founded in Singapore in 2010 from the joint initiative between the ETH Zurich and the National Research Foundation of Singapore and aims to strengthen the capacity of Singapore and Switzerland to actively respond to the challenges of city sustainability. The Future Cities Laboratory’s mission is to carry out basic and applied research activities, aimed at facing the challenges of urbanization that Singapore, as well as other cities, should face. Today, population growth is mainly a phenomenon with implications on the urban and ecological definition of the city. The challenges of urbanization bring to light the need for research addressed to Singapore’s urban planning for the next 75 years. It is necessary to manage population density, improving environmental sustainability and the qualitative aspects of everyday urban life. It is also useful that such research uses the power of information technology for timely and proactive planning, adapted to the wide scale and complexity of future sustainable cities. This also implies, in keeping with a smart vision and with the role of a knowledge gatekeeper, the involvement of civil society, government, industry, and the research world.
As stated by FCL, the laboratory is based on three pillars, Science, Design and Place. Science is necessary to achieve sustainability and to provide basis for understanding cities development. Design is crucial to achieve livability; it imposes the harmonic and innovative quadrature between different needs, technical, social and cultural. Places are the target of FCL researches, from cities with a high population density to cities with various cultures, or dissimilar growth processes. (…)

In Smart Cities, there is a strong need to combine knowledge theory and business practice, to strengthen the cooperation between two different environments: research and business. The Future Cities Laboratory promotes such a cooperation. It is an organization that, coherently with the new conceptions of knowledge production and innovation process, addresses its effort towards “interactive innovation”.
Its objectives is to increase the wealth of the territory by promoting science-industry-government relations, offering more broadly-based and more comprehensive varieties of innovation-related services, creating communicative linkages among a big spectrum of entrepreneurial activities and so acting as a catalyst for innovation that could influence also the broader culture of entrepreneurship in the region. It can create the highest level of integration and interactions among actors in a territory. This can lead to easier knowledge transmissions, more innovation, and effective management, which can enhance the Singapore Smart City long-term competitiveness and sustainability.
Future research can deepen the theme of knowledge gatekeepers in Smart Cities, also through quantitative studies (e.g. the network analysis) to provide practical contribution to the creation and management of a Smart City.