The City Protocol: Building the Internet of Cities

Can we all agree on criteria for the creation of the “City Protocol,” a certification system for smart cities? Can that “City Protocol” be put into practice by any city in the world? During the summer of 2012 more than 30 cities plus organizations and universities took part in an international meeting organized by Barcelona’s City Council, GDF SUEZ and Cisco to launch an organized effort to build a City Protocol. It aims to define a global, cooperative framework among cities, industries and institutions with the goal to address urban challenges in a systemic way — and to do so in areas that range from sustainability, self-sufficiency, quality of life, competitiveness to citizen participation.

  • Vincente GuallartChief Architect and Director of Urban Habitat at the Barcelona City Council



Introduction by Gordon Feller

You’ve heard Amsterdam. You’ve heard San Francisco. You’ve heard a few other cities on the podium during some of the workshops. We had Seattle and a variety of others, different types of cities facing similar challenges. We thought it would be a good thing for Barcelona to complement what we heard yesterday from the chief information officer of the city. When Manel was here in the first session in the morning, he laid out some of what Barcelona is trying to do, dynamically engaging the technology and use that technology not just in the 22@ district but in a variety of other parts of the city. Now we’re blessed to have the chief architect of Barcelona with us who is going to explain to you not just what Barcelona is doing but what Barcelona is doing with a variety of other cities, enterprises and organizations to create something entirely new that I think will take your breath away. Vicente Guallart.

Vincente Guallart

Thank you, Gordon. Good morning. Thank you for the invitation to come to San Francisco, the sister city of Barcelona is always a great pleasure. Today, I would not like to talk about what we are doing in the city of Barcelona but what we are thinking about to change the world. We want to change the world because Barcelona is the city where urbanism was invented. In the middle of the 19th century, an engineer called Cerda was the person that was trying to make sense out of the fact that we needed to expand the city. The question was how to build something out of a territory that was, at that moment, agriculture, what we should be doing now.

We live in a world of cities. Cities are the place where real people live. We can think that the 19th century was about empires. The 20th century was about countries that we’re in now. The 21st century will be about cities. Technological change produced not only modifications in the physical space but also in the political organization of the world. We understand that the big territorial areas like America, Europe, China are the places where big decisions are made but later on, cities will be the real place where the decisions about the quality of life of people will be made. Nicholas Negroponte said some years ago that nations today are too big to deal with problems of citizens and too small to have real influence in the world. From that point of view, we who run cities realize we have some potential. We have tools in order to transform our environment but we should create some other structures in order to be able to work together and solve many questions. We have United Nations; we should have United Cities.

This is Barcelona. This is where the concept of urbanism was defined. Mr. Cerda said that we should create something that would allow everyone a street where trains and cars could arrive but that green areas should be connected with every building. Our generation has a big challenge because the cities are already done. We are not in a moment where cities are growing. In Europe and in America, the cities are already done. The question is not how we manage the development or how we add technologies of information to an obsolete structure. The question is how we reinvent the city based on structures that are already built. This is exactly what we’re working on. In the city of Barcelona, we have a new mantra. We have a vision about how cities should be in the next 50 years. We say that cities should be made up of productive neighborhoods at human speed inside a hyperconnected, zero-emissions metropolis. We want to mix the slow cities and the smart city. We like to build neighborhoods where the people are able to go to work by walking, where people can buy bread that is produced in an oven nearby, and where the quality of life is everywhere. For example, the question is not to put transportation in cities but to reduce the need of transportation by people, bringing working areas into residential areas, and bringing residential areas where industrial areas are. We can do this because technology is changing the way we produce things.

Here are some simple concepts. We are moving from a centralized energy production system, from an industrial model to a decentralized model. Cities today are defined by a form and a function. We need to add value by making them productive. We need to create the YouTube of energy distribution. Before, we had television. Now, we have YouTube. Right now, we have nuclear plants. We need to reinvent the energy grid – the internet of energy. We will make the internet of energy if every building is able to make energy and we use electrical cars in order to store energy. This is not a dream. In Barcelona, we have a factory of Nissan that is producing the electric car that will be used in the city of New York in 2 years. That means that the electric car is something that is arriving and we’re wishing it will arrive in the same way that we use iPhones. We don’t know how we get them but we have them.

The other important question is that if we make self-sufficient blocks, we’ll make self-sufficient neighborhoods by making networks of blocks that are able to produce resources. Obviously, we need to have good technologies, networks of information that allow connecting. But we realized something. In the same way that Barcelona has a contribution to the world of cities by defining urbanism, right now we have a problem. If I talk to the chief architect of San Francisco or Abu Dhabi and I ask him, “Tell me, how many infrastructures do you have? How do you organize your city?” We don’t have a common language. The question is if we ask a doctor in San Francisco or Barcelona or Abu Dhabi about the human anatomy, they will describe exactly the same parts and based on that, we are able to do biogenetics. You can add technology if you have the basic parts −anatomy, physiology, metabolism− it’s very clear. But about cities, we know how to make them but we don’t have a science for them.

That is why we think we need a common language. Cities need to work together. I will show an animation about this diagram. In cities, we share cars, technologies, even citizens. We could imagine cities that are connected to each other. The city of Barcelona, Paris and Amsterdam are not discussing, for example, about how to make technological platforms. All 3 cities are planning to do it. In many cases, companies are trying to sell to cities what the cities don’t need. We have a tram, we have a metro, we have bus, we have many kinds of transportation but we don’t have a global vision about the mobility of our city. This is exactly the same in many cities. Today, we receive every week people that are trying to sell technologies in order to improve something. We say, “Wait, stop. We want to think what we really did.” Maybe if 10 mayors of cities decide something and we make some agreements, we’ll be able to define some standards that, in fact, companies are waiting for.

That’s why we defined this idea of the city protocol. In the same way the internet is able to work because it has a protocol on top of that, we need a city protocol in order to be able to define the standards for cities, to define how we measure the cities, and to define how we’ll be able to do reengineering. In order to do the city protocol, we are creating an organization with cities, civil society, academia, organizations, and industry. Basically, we would like to work the same way the internet is working − by agreements. People were sharing discussion through the internet or in physical meetings, and making agreements about standards. We had our first meeting last July in Barcelona where more than 30 cities, 20 mayors, companies, universities, and organizations came. In fact, tomorrow we have here in San Francisco a second meeting. The idea is that we want to develop a city protocol that will allow innovation, technological development, and progress for cities in a structured way. I would like to show you a video because the first thing we need to do is to define the anatomy of the cities. We produced this video in collaboration with Cisco.

I will explain to you what we think about anatomy. Today, we see the world and the world can be organized by environment, nodes, networks, and information. This is exactly the same structure that the network has. We need to transform the internet of things into internet of cities. From that point of view, cities and information should have the same topology in order to be able to define how we are going to reprogram all of this. The city is a system of systems made by environments, infrastructures, public space, nodes, information, and citizens. The environment is the natural environment that existed before cities. Again, this is the kind of organization of information we are trying to agree in order to be able to build on top of this system of indicators, agreements, protocols, etc. So you see the nature before cities where you can see the minerals, trees, animals, water, at the very beginning, people living in caves and small paths that allowed people to move around.

Nodes – we live, in fact, in multifunctional nodes. You can imagine that there’s a big relation between a book, a university library or the Library of Congress. That means that we live in a multi-scalar world where nodes are connected. When we talk about the internet of things, you can enlarge it and talk about internet of buildings or internet of cities. We have light here because we have a nuclear plant and we have all those systems. When we talk about cities, you can talk about one city or you can talk about an aggregation of many houses, buildings, or whatever. We can think about many blocks or many neighborhoods. You can see here how a house can have many objects. You can have an IP address for each of those objects. You think about objects and how they are inside a house and with many houses, you can make a building. Again, there are technologies that you can apply at the scale of an object or the scale of a building or the scale of a block. The scale at which we apply the technology is crucial. Buildings create a block. In Barcelona, we want to create self-sufficient blocks which is our next big challenge. With blocks, you make neighborhoods. With neighborhoods, you make districts. With many districts, you make cities. You can arrive to the whole planet by this idea multi-scalar iteration. Again, you can apply technology at the scale of an object or the scale of a building or the scale of a city. This is something crucial.

Another important thing is that you can think about services or buildings. When we talk about people from technology, they say health and we talk about hospitals, education and schools. It’s important not to be confused with health and hospitals. In many cases in technology and information, we are dissolving buildings and we are bringing solutions to the scale of houses with Telepresence and with other technologies.

Infrastructures − we have 6 infrastructures in cities. We don’t have 25; we have only 6 categories of infrastructure. The first one is information − television, internet, and many others. The second one is water cycle. We take water from nature, we bring it to the cities, we consume, and we send to sewage treatment. We have the energy infrastructure. We have the matter cycle from industry, delivery, distribution, consumption to trash. We have mobility with every kind of mobility system that we have. We have nature as an infrastructure that we put in an artificial way into the cities.

If we overlap all these 6 infrastructures, we produce a public space in cities. Obviously, public space is a crucial moment of urbanity. It’s the place where you can recognize the difference between cultures. In Africa, cities only have 6% of public space because they are not organized as a city. It’s just an aggregation of buildings. San Francisco, New York, and Barcelona are somehow similar. In public space, another crucial thing is we are creating this new layer of information where you can take data, put sensors or whatever, and you can bring all this information into a platform where people will interact. The platform of information is the next big layer we need to create.

Obviously in cities, we have citizens. We build cities for citizens and citizens are organized by family groups. They create networks of people that are part of the same club, company or organization, or whatever. We have people that are organized in cities. Again, if a city is made up of environment, infrastructures, public space, nodes, information and citizens, then the question is how we can organize the interaction between all these layers in order to reprogram cities. When you talk about smart cities, you should realize at which scale you are talking about. Smart city is a big word but you could be talking about education, energy and mobility but all these things are completely different questions. What we are inventing right now is this platform that is to be built. It’s not just built in many cities. We’ll take information coming from all the different layers from the environment −CO2 related with mobility and with the health of the people, for example− and then we will be able to interact in both directions, from the city to the people and from the people to the city in order to create something intelligent. We are moving from the internet of things to the internet of cities. Basically, we need to define how we are going to measure what we do. We need to talk about resilience, self-sufficiency, competitiveness, efficiency, sociability, urbanity. But you cannot talk about resilience, infrastructure, and water in the same level. Each of those categories of things are parts of some different categories. What is important when we talk about cities is we talk in the proper way. That’s why we are trying to define and agree that these could be the basic anatomy of cities. On top of this, we’ll be able to develop a new science of cities. That’s why we created a city protocol. The secretary of the interim committee is Manel Sanroma who is here. If you want, you can join the initiative of the city protocol in order to build together better cities. Thank you.

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