Smart City: last train to a sustainable future

24-01-01a“The urban development of the planet will have concluded by the end our children’s lifetime, and will last forever. We will only have one chance to get things right, and we cannot afford to make the same mistakes we made in the 20th century”. This was Anthony Townsend’s statement in the opening speech of the first Smart City Expo World Congress back in 2011. Townsend is the research director at the Institute for the Future in San Francisco (USA), and he was underlining the fact that humanity is facing a crucial period of its history.

Mobiliy, the biggest problem

According to the United Nations, in 2050 70% of the global population will be living in cities. This means that our future will be predominantly urban, and that the outcome of the battle for sustainability will depend on the cities we build today. The first two editions of Smart City Expo World Congress showed that there are many different approaches to the idea of a Smart City, and that every urban area has unique features that call for customised solutions. Even so, there are a number of common problems that affect the whole world. Among these, the most universal is probably that of mobility.

Urban transportation (and the conditions in which it operates) has a direct impact on the quality of life of city dwellers. not only is it responsible for producing the most widely spread cancerous agent in the world but it also consumes enormous amounts of energy, generates greenhouse gases and forces citizens to spend interminable hours commuting , which is a drain on productivity and a waste of valuable leisure and rest time.

Diversifying transport

24-01-02The solution is an integrated model that can handle different transport systems (private vehicles, public transport, trains and bicycles) to transform mobility within cities. One of the most significant presentations in Smart City Expo World Congress 2013 is that given by Kent Larson, who leads the urban research group Changing Places for MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). His group has been working in the development of new vehicles that are better adapted to the urban environment, such as the CityCar, a folding electric vehicle designed for use in large cities and in car sharing. The project will be tested in the real world in Germany next year.

24-01-03-2The future of transport is not just a question of new vehicles. The train and its many variations – trams and underground railways – must also play a part in urban and metropolitan transport systems.

BcnRail, the rebirth of an urban railway

The concerns of Public Authorities for more sustainable forms of transport have favoured the rebirth of many different forms of rail transport, but especially those of trams and light railways, whose expansion is seen as an alternative to new underground lines, due to their much greater costs. France set an example after the petrol crisis of 1973, when it ordered the construction of new tram systems in cities such as Nantes (1985), Strasbourg (1994), Nice (2007) and Toulouse (2010).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe success of these projects led to many European cities deciding on trams as the solution to their problems. Successive Spanish governments, at state, autonomous and local levels, have all settled on this mode of transport. The rails and overhead lines have become familiar features of cities such as Barcelona, La Coruña, Seville and Zaragoza. According to the experts, a tram can carry 220 passengers, which means taking two articulated buses or 174 cars off the street. With this in mind, the 2013 edition of this railway fair, BcnRail, seeks to provide a boost for railway transport and intermodality as essential ingredients in achieving the dual targets of financial and environmental sustainability that mobility must achieve in the 21st century.

F.L. / E.P.