The concepts of ‘Smart City’ and ‘Smart Mobility’ promise opportunities to build more efficient, better connected and more creative cities enabled by technological innovations. Yet important questions remain to be answered: what is meant exactly by ‘smart’? Is smart the same as sustainable? And is smart for everyone? To answer these, the ERAdiate team organised in November 2018 the fourth edition of its Lecture Series, entitled “Smart Cities for People”. Three high-profile speakers were invited to share their experience and different perspectives on what a Smart City transition means for people, and how the Smart City concept can contribute to enhanced quality-of-life for citizens.

The first talk, titled ‘Slovak Smart Cities, opportunity or Fake’, analysed the current Slovak situation and the future plans. Erika Horanská, Head of Urban Development Unit at the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic presented the EU and Slovak high level strategies. She focused in particular on the 2030 vision for National Urban policy which revolves around two main goals: 1) liveable environment for quality living, and 2) productive cities. The   comprehensive set of measures are expected to motivate Slovak cities to adapt to new challenges, become more sustainable, productive and resilient, and improve and monitor their performance, as well as strengthening the role of cities in the overall development of the country. In her critical perspective, being ‘Smart’ is about putting people first, and developing new ICT applications that make day-to-day living of people more comfortable.

After the country-based presentation, the second speaker – Nuno Vasco Lopes from the United Nations University in Portugal – took a step back by framing the Smart City challenge in its wider historical context. In his talk ‘Smart Cities: a social perspective’, Nuno highlighted three domains where transformation is taking place: 1) on the economy, industrial transformation 4.0 for sustainability implies replacing the traditional economic model of “extracting, making, using and disposing” by a circular economy approach 2) for governance, ‘Smart’ means embracing complexity by enabling multi-stakeholder cooperation across academic, social, political, national and industry boundaries 3) for people, the knowledge society means educating people to become better able to respond to change. The complexity of addressing the smart cities transformation the right way was summarised with a quote from H.G. Wells: “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe”.

Maria Wass-Danielsen, senior consultant at Urban Creators and previously a Program Manager of ITS and Sustainable Mobility at the City of Copenhagen was the third and last speaker. Her talk ‘Smart solutions for sustainable mobility – Examples from Copenhagen’ illustrated the concrete experiences of Copenhagen in smart transport infrastructure planning. Maria pointed out that driverless cars occupy the same physical footprint as conventional cars, and therefore these alone will not make a city ‘smart’. To handle traffic while at the same time being a sustainable and healthy city, innovative thinking and new solutions are required. She suggested three important areas for future research and innovation: 1) Mobility as a service 2) Driverless busses and trains, and 3) Carpooling and carsharing. On the supposed benefits of Big Data, she cautioned ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ (a quote normally attributed to Albert Einstein).

For the University of Žilina, this well-attended Lecture Series was a stepping stone to clarify the importance of interdisciplinary approaches and the critical role of social sciences in addressing grand societal challenges. This lecture set the stage for new research agendas where users and citizens are put at the centre of technological research and innovations.

In conclusion, the lecture series suggests adopting the following understanding of smart city, which was proposed by Nuno Lopes: “It is a city which implements a transformative governance process oriented at building capacities to solve multidimensional and complex problems, conducted within a multidisciplinary team and with the collaboration and cooperation of all stakeholders, aiming to achieve sustainable economic, social and environmental development”.