A smart city uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. But how much of the smart cities debate is simply hype at the expense of substance? Who pays? And are wealthy cities benefiting more than low-middle income cities? These were some of the questions discussed during a highly interactive “Conversation on smart cities” organised by the EIB at this year’s European Regional Science Association (ERSA) Annual Congress, in Lisbon from 25 to 28 August and moderated by former EIB Adviser on Urban Planning and Development, Professor Brian Field.

The objective of the session was to question and critically appraise the concept of smart cities as part of the current “green growth” discourse, and to provide a forum for discussing some of the social and financial implications of the smart cities paradigm. Are smart cities more or less inclusive and is the pursuit of the smart cities agenda regressive from an income/benefits distributional perspective? How do we address the emerging political economy of big data and the surveillance ramifications? Also implementation of smart technologies is a significant transformational process that needs to be carefully managed.  How do we ensure that all stakeholders have a say? Are cities in developing countries at risk of being ignored in terms of investments in a sector dominated by major high-tech players?

The session included expert contributions from: Hannu Penttilä, Deputy Mayor of Helsinki; Raoul Bunschoten, Professor for Sustainable Urban Planning and Urban Design at the Technical University of Berlin; Paula Hirst, Director of Disruptive Urbanism and former Executive Director of the Future Cities Catapult in the United Kingdom; Francis Hayden (Belfius Bank, Belgium); and Peter Head, CEO of the Ecological Sequestration Trust, UK.

The EIB Institute has been supporting ERSA for many years notably through the EIB-ERSA Prize in Regional Science. The 55th ERSA Congress focused on the theme “World Renaissance: Changing Roles for People and Places” and attracted more than a thousand delegates from 54 countries. Corina Cretu, the European Commissioner for Regional Policy and Miguel Poiares Maduro, the Portuguese Minister for Regional Development, delivered the keynote speeches.