Those elegant old Modernist lamp posts along Barcelona's main shopping avenue, Paseo de Gracia (Catalan: Passeig de Grącia), are about to become communication towers in disguise. The Gaudí-designed paving tiles that span the widened sidewalks will be hiding the latest technology and miles of fiber optics beneath their ornate surfaces. It's all part of an ICT master plan to install "smart" infrastructure throughout the city, starting in the most heavily trafficked areas.
Paseo de Gracia from the Casa Milą.
By late November, Paseo de Gracia will be fully equipped with sensors to measure noise levels, air quality, wind, pedestrian flow, water quality in the ornamental and drinking fountains, natural light, ground vibrations, and traffic flow. With all those data points and connectivity, the city will be able to remotely regulate and control the environment, "calm" the traffic, reduce energy consumption, and bolster sustainability and efficiency.
One example is the installation of 300 new LED lights along the length of the avenue whose sensors will adjust their light levels according to the natural light and the number of pedestrians walking by. The city expects to save up to 60% on its current electricity bill.
Another example is the irrigation system for the abundant greenery and flower beds that will be fine-tuned to avoid the all too familiar sight of sprinklers full on after a rain storm, or spraying liberally on paved ground. In two pilot projects, in the 22@ district and the neighborhood around Born's Cultural Centre, the city has already seen a 30% saving over the past few months from using sensors and new lights.
Josep Ramon Ferrer, Barcelona's Smart City director, sees these innovations as part of an inevitable progression. Just as the public couldn't imagine being in an urban environment where there is no water, electricity, or sewers, he says, in the future, it will be inconceivable not to have smart technology. Once the Paseo de Gracia plan is completed, every new public works and redevelopment project around the city will have a smart component, connecting it to the growing smart sensor grid.
Paseo de Gracia's own transformation has been decidedly discreet. The only clues to its technological metamorphosis are eight cupboard-like metal boxes along the street that house the communications hardware to gather the data, and send it to a central computer system. The data itself will be entirely accessible to the public, and available in real-time. Since trash containers will also have sensors indicating how full they are, in order to streamline waste collection, it may be an unintended boon to the illegal trade in recyclables that currently plagues Barcelona. The overall budget for the avenue is 7.5 million euros, with 400,000 euros of that for the fiber optics and network of sensors.
Barcelona has been polishing its smart city credentials for a while. In September 2011, the city launched the "Barcelona as a people city" project, which promoted the use of technology as a means to spur economic growth and improve the welfare of its citizens. Its initiatives included:
Open data for individuals and companies
Sustainable city growth in the areas of smart lighting, mobility (e-vehicle) and residual energy (heating and cooling networks)
Promoting alliances between public, private and academic partners
Providing innovative, smart services
In late March this year, Barcelona was awarded the newly forged Capital of Innovation (iCapital) prize, worth 500,000 euros, by the European Commission for "introducing the use of new technologies to bring the city closer to citizens."
So Paseo de Gracia's quiet transformation to a smart avenue is the latest and most confident iteration in the city's charge toward "smart everything." But judging by the almost invisible nature of the technology's presence, and the multiple benefits it potentially offers to quality of life and to trimmer budgets, it will be widely welcomed.
Hidden tech I am glad that Barcelona are integrating tech in a sympathetic way, instead of getting grants and then piling tech on the street and causing yet more clutter. Surely a soon to be precedent for other cities to learn from when upgrading smart services.
Re: Barcelona style Thanks for the clip of Vincente Guallart, Walter. That's a good question about the "trade offs between the technocrats and other pressing concerns." The complaints I hear/read most often are of gentrification pushing locals out and the drive for tourism overriding locals concerns and turning the city into a theme park. But I'll dig some more to see what some of the finer points might be.
Re: Barcelona style gagnamstyle, doesn't NYC have a similar profile to Barcelona only on a larger scale?
It's true though that Barcelona was helped by its geography. With the mountains on one side and the sea on the other, it was hard to sprawl. It also had some early city planners who applied utopian socialism to layed out the modern city back in the 1850s. Not a term that's familiar these days, but some of its philosophies seem quite contemporary.
Re: Barcelona style And there's a lot of historic fabric in this city, as you know, Kim. But the city government seems to have been doing a good job of gently pulling Barcelona's 19th century grandeur into the 21st.
The innovations on Paseo de Gracia are nothing particularly startling, it's more the combination of them all together and the fact this new project has been rolled out starting with the most iconic street in the city.
Re: Smart Barcelona @kq4ym, you're right that the cost savings are probably the easiest to measure. And the overall cost for the tech side of things, the sensors etc. was quite small -- just 400,000 euros -- which will probably be recovered relatively quickly.
But yes, the less tangible improvement in quality of life for residents is the real benefit. Paseo de Gracia's revamp -- losing two lanes, gaining two bike paths -- and traffic "calming" will be a great upgrade for one of the city's most beautiful streets.
Re: Barcelona style Susan, you have been tracking the developments in Barcelona for a long time. Its inspiring to see how all these innovations are coming together. This interview with Barcelona's director of urbanism, Vincente Guallart, is quite interesting: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/video/barcelona-changing-model-city-video
"Crisis are great moments to change cities". "We are going to manage cities differently - in services and not in products"
Barcelona clearly has global ambitions. I wonder what the trade offs are between the technocrats and other pressing concerns...
Barcelona is really such a shining city on the hill in so many ways. And now for reason of ICT too. A denser, livable city like Barcelona is really the right starting point for many smart technologies, the multiplier of goodness is so much greater than in the sprawling burbs. If onlyt the rest of the world could be more like Barcelona!
Smart Barcelona The Spanish experiment is indeed worth looking at. It will be interesting to see how cost to implement cover the energy savings over years, and the improvment in citizens' lives in the city. The money costs and savings may be lots easier to measure than the other percieved values, although the latter might actually be the most valuable variable.
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