Energy Cities is promoting a transition that is not only technological, but primarily societal. What is your perception of energy democracy in a “smart” city?
Considering that a smart city could be created by developing highly technological solutions and that these solutions would be able to solve complex problems, without involving citizens, would lead us to a dead-end. Especially since today’s citizens have the technical resources to be kept informed and involved on a daily basis. Through social media, it is possible to organise flash mobs of hundreds of thousands of people in just a few hours. This is how citizens can put strong pressure on elected representatives and, more generally, on national governments.
You have to understand that these technologies are changing the relationship between citizens and governments and that governance and our approach to politics are changing too. There has clearly been a shift in traditional representative democracy. Giving meaning to the city in the era of energy transition, decentralised energy sources, new forms of mobility and short supply chains is, above all, a social fact. Without this integration effort - which is today’s true priority – we run the risk of losing the support of citizens, which is indispensable for bringing about a fundamental change, because the essence of value lies in the uses, in the creation of social value, and not in the technology itself.
What main challenges will the mayors have to meet to achieve such a transition?
Around the globe, these urban areas must now deal with five main challenges if they want to meet the needs and expectations of their inhabitants. These are the environmental, economic, social and cultural challenges and that of resilience.
It is vital that a smart city project is built over the long term, longer than the mayor’s term of office. It is this continuity that will reinforce the shared project, the involvement of citizens and partners and the city’s identity. Another central element is the capacity to change our governance models. To move away from technical, mono-functional vertical models so that urban developments are devised in an integrated, global way. To make room for community initiatives, always bearing in mind that the mayor is there to provide a vision, put limits on development and encourage the expression of life in the city, in its multiple forms, thus shaping the concept of an open, living and creative city.
To achieve their transition, cities must be able to rely on dynamic ecosystems. It is crucial that all stakeholders, along the entire value chain, converge to ensure construction over the long term. This is not just a fad: it is by extending them over time that we will be able to see the transformation potential of community contributions and that the city and all urban areas will become an open transformation platform.