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The challenges facing 21st century cities
Rosa García, president and CEO of Siemens Spain, was the keynote speaker at Desayunos ESADE Alumni where she provided an interesting insight into cities and how digitisation can make our cities more sustainable.
The latest Desayunos ESADE Alumni talk on April 6th featured Rosa García, president and CEO of Siemens Spain, accompanied by Pedro Navarro (MBA 67), executive vice president of the ESADE Foundation board of trustees, who suggested several matters for discussion and chaired the following question and answer session.
Rosa García began with a few facts and figures about city population. In 2009, half of the world’s population lived in cities, a figure expected to climb to 70% by the year 2050. And by 2025, the world will have 37 mega cities (between 20 and 40 million inhabitants), home to 14% of the world’s population. “As a society, we don’t give enough thought to cities, said García.
This urbanisation is one of the challenges facing cities. “Another challenge is the environment, because when we move to a city of our own free will, we become big polluters: we use more water, we generate more CO2, we produce more waste, etc, all of which are major environmental challenges for the planet. Another challenge is transport, and in this respect the speaker gave a very surprising figure: Spain loses €5,500 million a year in productivity due to traffic jams. Spain also has another complication: tourism. Some 80 million tourists visit Spain each year –almost twice its number of inhabitants. This is quite a problem for councillors and mayors.
Choose the city we want
García pointed out that many cities are already smart cities that have apps to improve their inhabitants’ quality of life. “But what we were really doing was digitising the suburbs, which is probably not where the real issues lie. We need to digitise city centres.
Rosa García suggested taking advantage of all this technology (hardware, not software) to make a city financially attractive, socially responsible and ecologically sustainable. The technology for doing this already exists because, thanks to the smartphone, cities are sensorised, living hubs. The data exist too, it’s a question of what can be done with them. Today’s apps, for example, are ideal for predicting traffic jams – but not for preventing them so they are of little use.
City councillors must assume the helm of teams that think about the sort of model that their inhabitants want, because the technology to achieve this already exists. “If we think that there is a one-size-fits-all city, we’re wrong. The 21st century city must be specialised. No particular specialisation is better than the rest, but the chosen specialisation must be done well, said the speaker.
The heart of the city
Rosa García gave an overview of how a city can digitise its centre by focussing on two aspects –roads and buildings – where considerable savings can be made.
One of the major investments in a city is electricity consumption. Sensors, for example, could be fitted to streetlights. LED technology and designing buildings that produce energy for public lighting would save hundreds of millions of euros a year – money that could be spent on other items. García reminded the audience that buildings generate 36% of CO2 emissions. Buildings must be a single unit and increasingly intelligent.
Another major problem in cities is mobility. To avoid wasting time in traffic jams and the ensuing loss of productivity, technology already exists to not only predict traffic jams but also prevent them from forming. “This calls for the incorporation of more technology, such as self-driving underground trains that could run more frequently as required. This would make people stop taking the car to the city centre and use public transport instead, said the CEO of Siemens Spain. Other examples of technology applied to mobility are systems that restrict access to old city centres, as in London, and traffic light control in Germany, where traffic lights turn green for groups of cyclists to encourage people to ride bikes.
Another area that could be improved by using technology is water management: 18% of the water consumed is wasted because of pipeline faults. Technology could also improve waste management by collecting it more efficiently, for example. The final outcome of using digitisation is a reduction in the costs of these services.
Questions and answers
Rosa García welcomed any sort of questions during Q&A time. During this discussion time, she offered an overview of the history of Siemens, with particular emphasis on the people working there, “people committed to a better world, excellence and knowledge and their work with breaking-edge technology which led them to stop producing certain products, such as mobile phones, in the course of the firm’s history. Other areas discussed included leadership, industry 4.0 and the importance of life-long training in order to adapt to new jobs and new ways of working.
ESADE Alumni are pleased to invite you to their forthcoming Desayunos ESADE talk with Rosa García, president and CEO of Siemens Spain by the name: "How smart cities benefits their citizens".