While Barcelona many be admired for its history – from its gothic cathedral to the modernist masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí – it’s very much a city with an eye to the future. Ranked as the number one Smart City in Spain, the Catalan capital has integrated new technologies into nearly every aspect of its public life, from healthcare to transport, and it is introducing bold new measures to improve the quality of life of its 1.6 million residents.
You’d be forgiven if the first thing that came to mind when thinking about Barcelona was its history: the roughly ten million tourists that visit the city each year come mostly to admire the relics of Barcelona’s past. A stroll through the Gothic Quarter can leave you feeling transported in time (if you’re willing to squint your eyes a little and block out the shops selling Gaudímemorabilia on every street corner). And yet in many ways Barcelona is one of the most modern cities in Spain and Europe, pioneering the integration of new technology in its daily life.
The concept of a Smart City is a relatively new one, having only really emerged in the field of urban development in the last decade or so. According to its proponents, a Smart City is one that uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve the quality of life of its citizens through the improved management and provision of public services. This technology is used across all fronts of public life: transport, healthcare, the environment, energy, public administration services, housing, business, and more.
Despite the appeal of the city to the growing number of tourists that visit each year, life for the city’s residents isn’t always as idyllic as it may seem. With an average of 15,779 inhabitants per square kilometer, Barcelona is the third most densely populated city in Europe, behind only Paris and Athens (London 1,510/km² and Berlin 3,944/km² to compare). And with such a concentration of people comes a concentration of noise: over 50% of Barcelona’s population is believed to be exposed daily to noise levels of 65 decibels and above – with anything above 55 decibels judged harmful.
With statistics like these, it is perhaps no surprise that the local authorities have been eager to come up with new ways to improve the living conditions of its residents and manage its ever growing population. And this means making ICT work not just for the techno-savvy younger generation, but for the elderly, the disabled, and the marginalized as well.