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London Explores the New Urban Era: Recap of the Barcelona Smart City Expo


Nick Turner, SHIFT’s data and digital lead shares his insights from the team’s recent visit to Smart City Expo in Barcelona.


This past week, a few members of the SHIFT team had the privilege of representing London’s innovation ecosystem and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the Barcelona Smart City Expo

Over the three days, we immersed ourselves in the latest innovations, insightful discussions, and vibrant collaborations within the global smart city landscape. As part of the London delegation led by the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI), we joined forces with various councils and organisations, including Connected Places Catapult, Newham, Westminster, South London Partnership, Digital Cities Greenwich, Haringey, Camden, and Hammersmith and Fulham Councils.

London, alongside other UK delegations, engaged in a series of sessions in the UK pavilion. This combined presence gave us valuable insights into the diverse approaches and strategies adopted by cities across the UK, fostering an even stronger environment of shared learning and collaboration.


SHIFT’s presence at the Expo

The SHIFT team made significant contributions throughout the conference, appearing on several panels and various discussions. 

Francesca Colloca, SHIFT’s Head of Innovation, spearheaded a panel on ‘Place-Based Prosperity’ and ‘Inclusive Innovation’. 

Abdul Rahim led discussions on ‘The Role of Innovation Districts’, facilitated by the UK Innovation Districts Group, and CIO roundtables. 

Additionally, I had the privilege of participating in a roundtable that delved into the exciting work of Sunderland Council, in collaboration with Boldyn Networks and Microsoft. Together, they have been championing a citizen-first approach to smart cities, building a platform that connects individuals to their environment.

The challenges faced in our three impact areas of health, climate and mobility and shared by cities across the UK and the world. These sessions showcased just how SHIFT is leveraging the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park testbed to create impact both locally and globally, set against a wider backdrop of smart cities working collaboratively to create real, urgent change. 


Highlights from the Conference

The Barcelona Smart City Expo truly showcased the next generation of city-changing innovation, with a massive collection of vendors spanning various sectors in the smart city field. 

Notably, UK-based SMEs, such as MOSA and Fyma, themselves SHIFT alumni, showcased their success, and the startup scene was just as vibrant as the larger corporates. The talks covered a broad spectrum, covering everything from humanising the streets and community building, to leveraging AI for inclusive urban planning. 

What became evident was that while some cities and countries may be further along in implementation, the wealth of knowledge and insights is readily accessible and generously shared.


Personal Reflections on the Smart City Landscape

After returning home and finally having some time to reflect on the conference, it was clear to me that there has been a notable shift in the narrative surrounding the piloting of smart city interventions. 

Many technologies have proven their potential for impact through pilot programs, and the emphasis is now on scaling these solutions. In this regard, LOTI is playing a pivotal role in mobilising London’s Local Authority-led approach to large-scale implementation.

SHIFT, aligning with the opportunity for London to play a leading role in smart city implementation, focuses on building solution-specific evidence bases. This approach moves us away from procurement based on anecdote and legacy relationships, ensuring that our Local Authority Partner’s procurements are grounded in tangible successes. However, our measurements of success must diversify to cover the breadth of challenges posed by the climate emergency, while simultaneously enhancing the lives of citizens. Clear routes to impact and planned interventions must guide our actions to make a meaningful difference.

Lastly, the importance of shared learning cannot be overstated. While many lessons are being shared within specific networks and treated as country-specific, the reality is that cities worldwide share common challenges and opportunities. Collaboration on a global scale can accelerate progress and amplify the positive impact of smart city initiatives, with the SHIFT team making connections across cities and nations.

Our experience at the Barcelona Smart City Expo reaffirmed the dynamic and collaborative spirit of the global smart city community. As we return to London, we carry with us not only new knowledge but also a strengthened commitment to shaping cities that are not just smart but inclusive, sustainable, and responsive to the needs of all citizens.


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