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Smart cities, technology and sustainability. The challenge of Expo 2015

Presentation of Aspenia 66
Milan, 23/10/2014, Aspenia
Press clippings
Audio-video clips

With issue 66 of the Institute’s Aspenia journal spotlighting, among other things, the Expo 2015 world’s fair to be held in Milan, the panel discussion for the launch of the volume examined the legacy of hosting such a global event. As a showcase of the best that the country has to offer, it was suggested that the event will not just have the admirable outcome of focusing international political debate on the world food problem and food security, but will also serve as a strategic litmus test for the city of Milan and its ambition to become an “ever-smarter city”.

It was remarked that the future lies precisely with smart cities: urban spaces where technological innovation and sustainable social infrastructure will improve the lives of citizens. From the fields of transport, energy and telecommunications, to those of waste management, cultural activities and public safety, smart cities are rethinking their models, availing themselves of major technological innovations, and, last but not least, becoming engines of growth and employment.

Much was made of the fact that the running of Expo 2015 could itself stand as testament to what it means for a city to be “smart”, through the online sale of tickets, a smart local transport system, sustainable and innovative energy services, and the cultural offerings presented within the pavilions of the various nations. Expo 2015’s redrawing of the geopolitical map will not only see Asia at the forefront, but also Africa, which could emerge as a major player at the event.

Expo 2015 could also serve as a natural catalyst for a digital transformation – the most sought-after of all in the city’s educational institutions – bolstered by the very high standard of the research and creativity of Milan’s universities and cutting-edge Lombard industries. While it was acknowledged that the latter are important elements which could act as innovation triggers, it was stressed that the linchpin is the educational system. In this regard, it was felt that much effort is needed to provide an innovative boost to the school and university system, viewed by all as pivotal to effect a shift in gear towards not just a smart city, but one that is also widely sustainable.

A final “legacy” consideration raised was the question of the merits of the proposal by some that the exhibition area subsequently be zoned as a site for sporting facilities, and, in particular, for the construction of a new stadium. Without wishing to cast any doubt on the positive social impact of a sporting venue, it was suggested that further thought should be given to the city’s strategic needs, with more innovative options put forward that contemplate zoning of the site for use by more science-, research- and technology-related industries.