Innovation is the main driver for the development of all sectors in the world. Technology develops at great speed, creating new solutions for human and business needs.
We live in a global era where every city that seeks to be relevant enters into competition to make its mark on the innovation map and attract investment, talent, recognition and benefit for citizens.
Therefore, it is not by chance that there is interest in investing and supporting new initiatives that seek to design a better future for cities and the people who inhabit them. Seeking to create disruptive models that can become agents of change with the possibility of transforming the way of doing and seeing the different dynamics and processes that we believed to be immovable.
Are cities ready for innovation? Not all, but there are compelling reasons to do so.
Cities, in their quest to adapt to the times and generate relevance, have opened the door to innovation in their interest to solve urban needs and begin the path towards their future. At the same time, the great investment capacity of technology companies and the startup ecosystem also makes them look to participate in this mission.
When both interests converge, startups and technology companies such as Google, Tesla, Amazon, Nasa, etc., as well as non-profit organizations, have begun to take cities as experimental innovation centers for urban and social development, investing their innovation efforts in the co-creation of alternatives and the testing of initiatives directly with citizens.
The Urban Living Labs, urban laboratories at the service of new developments.
Urban Living Labs are a very popular phenomenon for the development of urban innovation. Experiencing new innovation projects and maturing them through the real participation of citizens, generates a special interest in cities concerned with the integration and correct solution of the daily problems and needs of those involved. Also, it is not to be ignored, the benefit of attracting private investment for the city innovation and improvement, which in many occasions could not be covered by the government.
The Urban Living Labs are a forum for collaborative innovation, for the development of new products, systems, services for the urban area. Co-creative methods are used to integrate citizenship during the development process. They are aimed to stimulate the exploration, questioning, experimentation, prototyping and testing of new ideas and scenarios to generate creative solutions in complex and at the same time everyday contexts.
This type of laboratories can identify disruptive ways to face challenges associated with the specific characteristics of the population. At the same time, they generate an antecedent that can be applied in other cities, neighborhoods or spaces with similar characteristics. Local benefits are a priority, however, at a global level they are vital to generate a global learning mechanism for application in similar urban contexts, creating a continuous potential engine for the development of cities around the world.
Google Alphabet, redesigning the functioning of the city.
There are already several cities that have opened their doors to participatory innovation processes, such as the Quayside neighborhood in Toronto; where Alphabet through its Sidewalk Labs develops projects to redesign the neighborhood, experimenting with new systems and intelligent techniques. They generated a platform for urban innovation that allows them to test how certain initiatives work in the real world and with real people. The proposals range from modular buildings, underground robotic garbage collection systems, smart pavement materials for melting snow, among others.
Barcelona, City of Innovation
The long history of Barcelona shows that it has always been an innovative city, leading the industrial revolution in southern Europe, being the birthplace of labor movements that allowed to begin to dignify the life of the working class, cradle of Gaudí and modernism, in short, it has a past that validates its present and its future.
Last year’s data makes it clear, 30,000 professionals working directly in the technological ecosystem of the city, 10,000 graduate students in engineering, architecture, mathematics and physics in 2016, 1.2B € of mobilized investment (funds and outflows) in the last 12 months, fifth European city in number of start-ups, the fourth in investment volume and the third city chosen by entrepreneurs to start the next start-up; all this being the only important city that is not the capital of a state.
In addition to initiatives of reference worldwide such as Barcelona Tech City with its Pier01 and in the development phase of a new blockchain-focused one, we can also find examples of Urban Living Labs, BIT Habitat.
BIT Habitat, Urban Innovation in Barcelona.
In Barcelona, BIT Habitat, a non-profit entity that promotes urban innovation in Barcelona, has the objective to create initiatives to turn the city into a more sustainable one, improving the lives of people in the social, economic, urban and technological areas. It opens the innovative network through collaboration among citizens as well as with universities, research centers, companies and the public sector. It is located in Ca l’Alier, looking to become a space for knowledge dissemination and an urban innovation center, joining the technological and entrepreneurial wave of the 22 @ neighborhood.
What better place than an old factory like Ca l’Alier to locate an Urban Living Lab, spaces that are keys to allow the development of the new knowledge industry that will mark our future.
In short, the Urban Living Labs are the space for the development of new alternatives directly at the place of application, the cities, and with the participation of people. We will see them emerge more and more in cities that seek to innovate for their citizens. It is a long process, which although it is in diapers, is growing by leaps and bounds.
We will see how our daily life will be transformed, new services will emerge and the systems we know will possibly change, adapting to our needs. What I am sure of is that it is definitely a great area for technological development where startups will direct their interests and large companies their investments.