Damiano Cerrone: "Avoid the smart-city paradox"

Public spaces are essential for city dwellers and must be cleverly designed. But how can this be done after the pandemic? A researcher from Finland explains how smart city design works with the help of data.

Cities are the real centres of power today, not countries. Social change emanates from them and their inhabitants. Mayors can act faster, more innovatively and more autonomously than presidents or chancellors.

Damiano Cerrone, a consultant at Demos Helsinki, an independent think tank for building sustainable and equitable post-industrial societies, knows this. Cerrone’s research relies on digital footprints to help find new urban planning solutions. The goal: to align inner cities with the needs of contemporary life.

Streets vs. the internet

Cities today face new challenges, says Cerrone. For many of them, it’s about maintaining core values such as good infrastructure while meeting the challenge of 1.5-degree global warming. "City planning is about balancing two power structures. If too much power is given to physical infrastructures, sustainability goals are hard to reach." However, in super-digital cities it’s hard to develop the human capital – streets vs. the internet, so to speak.

The solution is an ideal blend of data collection and infrastructure planning: "We need to create a new public space that’s open and democratic, so that we can use existing digital technologies to come together and solve our problems."

However, he cautions: "Avoid the smart-city paradox!" More data would not necessarily lead to better urban policy. It doesn’t matter how much data a city collects if it’s not relevant to its residents. People aren’t interested in which company has registered a branch office where, and how big it is. But they are interested in where friends are staying in the city. Cerrone’s tip: "Harvest data from tech giants like Foursquare or Facebook and bring it together with your governance."

In this video, Cerrone shows how cities can be retrofitted for the way we live today with the help of data: