Perspectives of Leuven and Sant Feliu de Llobregat
In a world experiencing rapid urbanization, the development of more sustainable and smart cities has become a pressing global challenge. However, just as the historical, social and economic background of each city is unique, so is its capacity to innovate and improve. How can we address global challenges in the local context, when the proposed solutions may not fit all urban contexts?
A city of contrasts, Leuven, with 100,000 inhabitants and more than 50,000 students, embodies the fusion of small-town charm and cosmopolitan vitality. As David Dessers acknowledged, the city's rapid growth has posed a host of challenges. However, amid these challenges, Leuven has secured its position among the European Commission's 100 smart and climate-neutral cities.
Collaboration is at the heart of Leuven's sustainability strategy, as David Dessers underlined:
"I think cities can help each other. Manuel already said it, and I think it is very important. We are all facing the same challenges. We all face the same problems. And so we can also share solutions, good practices, things that work well. And it is a very important thing that we have to do. [...] We are always interested in learning from other cities, what they are doing and why it works. So I imagine we can learn a lot from each other.".
David Dessers and Manuel Gonzalez in Leuven (2023)
Recognizing that the fight against climate change and the pursuit of innovation requires the collective effort of all stakeholders, Leuven has laid the foundations for "Leuven 2030". This partnership unites citizens, civil society, the university, companies and public institutions in a shared mission towards sustainability. The university, with its vast experience in technical solutions, plays a fundamental role in driving the progress of the city.
Innovation is the light that guides Leuven's path towards a smart city. The city harnesses the power of technology for data collection and analysis, providing valuable information on traffic patterns that inform mobility plans. Additionally, Leuven is actively exploring sustainability projects and autonomous vehicle solutions. In particular, the project "We Count" is gaining global recognition for its real-time traffic monitoring capabilities, a prime example of the city's unwavering commitment to data-driven solutions.
"“I think that data, which is sometimes said to be the new gold, is extremely important, for example, when you want to make this climate transition, this transition towards a climate-neutral future, although its monitoring is very complex,” David Dessers said. Furthermore, technology can and is helping us know if we are efficient. Are we having an impact with the measures we are taking? In conclusion, we are absolutely open to all types of technological innovation that can help us in this transition we are making.".
Sant Feliu: for sustainability and innovation
Located near Barcelona, Sant Feliu de Llobregat is a city that is firmly committed to sustainability, innovation and community. Manuel González presented the three guiding principles of the Sant Feliu initiatives: solidarity, respect for the environment and innovation.
Sant Feliu's innovative approach is a rich tapestry that covers areas such as renewable energy, sustainable consumption and smart mobility. The city actively fights climate change while preserving its natural spaces as a testament to its environmental commitment. In addition, Sant Feliu serves as an incubator for technology-based innovation projects, training and supporting young talents.
The city places special emphasis on its open source technological platform, as Manuel González highlighted:
"We know that to implement innovation we need to provide our city with a technological infrastructure that allows it. For example, we develop an application in the cloud, then we manage the infrastructure in open source, so that the solution can be reused by any municipality, to develop their own projects based on their own needs. I think this is the most important thing. What I can do, you can do too".
This open source platform developed in Sant Feliu, called BIMROCKET, allows you to manage municipal infrastructures that have a virtual replica, generated through the Building Information Modeling (BIM) methodology, and allows you to reduce the costs associated with design, construction and maintenance.
Digital transformation is, in fact, the backbone of the development of Smart Cities. Manuel González explains how Sant Feliu's strategy has given rise to a multitude of successful initiatives, demonstrating the power of adopting digital solutions. From boosting local economies to responding to unforeseen challenges like the pandemic, a well-executed digital transformation strategy can unlock a city's potential.
"Sant Feliu launched a digital transformation strategy [...], explained Manuel González. Thanks to it, 120 initiatives were tested, of which about 80 are still active today. Many of the projects included have been awarded and recognized as good practices and have served as a reference for other municipalities. [...] For example, we have a virtual local currency that aims to boost local commerce. It is proposed as a measure to be activated after the impact of the pandemic".
The implementation of The Rose, the local digital currency launched by Sant Feliu, promotes digitalization and local commerce, thus contributing to the achievement of a more sustainable economic model. It also contributes to social responsibility and the involvement of citizens in the local economy.
The central question we have explored - how to address global challenges in local contexts, where one-size-fits-all solutions often fail - has found its answer in the collaborative spirit and technological connection of these two cities.
In the tangled tapestry of urban life, Leuven and Sant Feliu exemplify the transformative power of local ingenuity. Together they show us that the path to solving global problems begins in our own neighborhoods, where innovative ideas, data and a commitment to positive change can transcend local borders and inspire cities around the world.
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