Smart City Expo 2019 - 15 Glorious Takeaways

Published on: November 22, 2019

As the dust settles after a whirlwind Smart City Expo World Congress 2019, this post lays out some of my most important takeaways.

I’ve changed up the format since my last event review (Oslo Innovation Week), so let me know if you like the style, or not.

1) Talk of the week: Maayke-Aimée Damen from

Maayke-Aimée Damen presenting the Excess Materials Exchange

It was hugely inspiring to hear Maayke-Aimée’s presentation on the Circular Economy and her vision for Excess Materials Exchange.

Her passion and knowledge for the topic shone through. It was jam-packed with impactful statistics (yes, we humans have a LONG way to go in Resource Efficiency). It was by far the best presentation I saw at the event.

2) Japan are researching the connection between brain signals and citizen comfort

i-Brain x ICT concept being explored by the Keihanna Research Complex in Japan

I’m still trying to comprehend what this might mean for cities and citizens, but I was pretty speechless when I first saw it!

You can read more about this project here.

3) I wasn’t blown away by the standard of Data Visualisation generally

I went to an interesting high-level panel on Data Visualisation with Alison Brooks (IDC) , Bennett Indart (NTT) and Mike Barlow (Cumulus Partners) about the importance of Data Visualisation in Smart City systems.

But walking around the Expo afterwards, I still think many companies are struggling to rise to the challenge of creating effective visualisations that improve how humans make decisions in a smart city context.

It’s almost like we are missing a common language, a grammar, a framework that all should follow. I’ll write more about this topic soon!

4) India are building 12 million homes over the next 3 years…

Mr Amrit Abhijat from the Government Of India talking about their urban challenges and smart solutions

For reference, last year the UK completed 241,130 homes.

With a population of 1.3 billion, obviously the scale of Built Environment challenges is orders of magnitude bigger in India. I would love to learn more about the methods they are using for the provision of housing at this scale!

5) The ‘System-integrator’ role is flavour-of-the-month for large tech vendors

We’ve seen this strategy play out over the last few years, but it was really clear at this event that this is the core focus of the big tech players.

6) The Dutch know how to share

Pieter van de Glind from ShareNL on the Sharing Economy

I experienced a great overview of the history of the Sharing Economy from the team at ShareNL.NL. It’s not a topic I know a lot about, but it was great to learn more about the Dutch heritage in this area and how it is impacting their economy.

7) It’s still Day 1 for Smart Cities

Charles Reed Anderson mentions the 2019 Roland Berger Smart City Index Report.

From the Roland Berger report (March 2019) only 153 cities have published a Smart Cities Strategy. Of those, only 8 of them include details on the actual implementation!

Of course there are leaders surging ahead, but looking at the global picture, the Smart City movement has only just begun.

8) ‘Complete rethink’ solutions are greater than incremental improvements

Roland Busch (Siemens CTO) talking about the Future of Innovation and Digital Transformation

Roland Busch (Siemens CTO) introduced me to the fact that Norway & Siemens Mobility have a vision for a single Digital interlocking solution.

This would remove so much complexity from the network - including over 11,000 field signals.

But more than that, Roland’s point was we need more of this ‘complete rethink’ of the systems and process we have in place, not just incremental improvements of what we have already. Inspiring!

You can read more about it here.

9) I learnt about the Design Justice Network Principles

Sasha Costanza-Chock in the morning session on Design Justice Principles (photo from Twitter @sharingaction)

This talk opened my mind and put some structure around the argument that smart cities must meet the needs of the citizens.

Sasha’s spoke about the need for smart city systems to be designed carefully and inclusively.

It’s not just a case of making the services and societies we have more efficient. We need a broader rethink that accounts for the deeply-rooted inequalities in our societies, classified by the Matrix of Domination.

You can read the 10 Design Justice Principles here!

10) Leeds was the only UK city that had a booth

Although there was a lot of UK representation on the panels, talks and awards.

11) ‘Above-water’ the Toronto/ Sidewalk Labs looks to be progressing!

Toronto Tomorrow fireside chat between Leigh Smout (left) from Toronto World Trade Center and Rohit ‘Rit’ Aggarwal, Head of Urban Systems at Sidewalk Labs.

I really enjoyed the fireside chat with Rit Aggarwala from Sidewalk Labs. Despite all the hurdles, it appears that progress is being made and I’m really excited to keep following their work on the Toronto Waterfront project.

Also, have you tried the Sidewalk Labs Collab tool for civic engagement in infrastructure projects?

12) Smart city goals change as you cross the Atlantic

Strong focus on crime and safety in Las Vegas

Maybe it’s a personal bias, but I noticed a lot of the speakers from USA focused on solutions for public safety and crime prevention, whereas European speakers focused a lot more on health and well-being.

13) Are the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a European thing?

Perhaps related to the point above, put I noticed that nearly all the booths and talks that referenced the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) were from European companies.

Whereas I’m not sure I saw a single city from the Americas or Asia/ Middle East reference them at all.

Do we have more work to do in marketing the UN SDGs outside of Europe?

14) Learning from others’ mistakes through collaboration!

FIWARE CMO Cristina Brandtstetter and Leonardo Santiago, CEO of Bettair (a member of the FIWARE foundation)

Navigating the obstacles in the world of Smart Cities implementation is not an easy process. That’s why partnerships and collaboration are so important.

We don’t need to re-create the wheel each time, instead we should be pushing the boundaries on collaboration and learning from the mistakes that others have made along the way (so you don’t repeat them!).

15) The Smart City Expo World Congress is a Beast of an event!

I was blown away by the scale of the event. I spent three days running around speaking to everyone I could and I still feel like I only experienced about 20% of the conference!

Although it was the first time I’ve attending the conference, I get the feeling that this is the regular cadence that the industry is using to benchmark progress and check in with your global Smart City peers.

Put simply, if you work in the Government, Startup, Municipality, Urban Planning, Mobility sector - you need to be here next year to learn and network.

Thanks to the Smart City Expo team for their hospitality. You can read more about the event here!

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