In the few months that Dr. Boyd Cohen has been in Barcelona, he has convinced several international leaders to set up the world’s first responsible sharing economy accelerator for startups. This marks yet another step in his successful career dedicated to teaching and research in subjects such as smart cities, entrepreneurship and the sustainable sharing economy.
Here we interview him about smart cities, a recurring topic in his publications.
What components, attributes and development areas make a city smart?
After comparing various smart cities I realised that the concept of the smart city goes beyond enabling networks and smart sensor technologies. That’s how I came up with a tool that I called the Smart City Wheel. It has six key components: smart economy (opportunity, productivity and local and global connection), globalisation (online services, smart infrastructures and transparent governance), society (education, integration and creativity), living (health, security, culture and personal wellbeing), mobility (technology infrastructure, efficient transport and multimodal access) and environment (smart buildings, resources management and urban planning).
What is the common denominator of all these components?
Without a doubt, innovation. I am referring, for example, to innovation in public policies, but also to allocating a large part of the municipal budget to promoting local entrepreneurship. To reduce the carbon footprint as well, via the smart economy. In other words, what I propose is a holistic perspective that involves all citizens in today’s main challenges.
Must all cities apply the same smart solutions?
Each city has its own vision of the future, its own competitive advantages, its own weaknesses. So there is no single formula. I think that all cities should have a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to prioritising the components of the wheel that I have designed, which interest them the most. What’s more, they should be free to define the strategies and actions that they are going to implement in order to achieve these strategic challenges.
Are there any limits to the citizen participation you are in favour of?
No, there are no limits. Citizens must be the main motor of change. For example, many cities have shown great leadership in the field of climate change even when their national governments haven’t. And this was made possible thanks to the coming together of citizens, entrepreneurs, universities and companies. All of them jointly identify and solve problems in their city in order to improve quality of life. In addition to this, today’s millennials are very committed to current social challenges, which favours the sharing economy and local entrepreneurship. In this sense, what city councils need to do is align themselves with the social needs that their citizens put forward. As I have often said before, without smart people there aren’t smart cities.
What kinds of collaborations must cities establish with the private sector in order to finance different smart solutions and put them into practice?
The involvement of SMBs and multinationals is absolutely essential. The latter especially have a great capacity for innovation on a large scale. It’s logical because they have more human and technological resources and also because they have more history behind them. Multinationals develop infrastructures that are essential for the city and enable startups to develop smart solutions more on a small scale, that address the social needs of citizens.
Can you give us an example of really innovative sharing economy projects in Barcelona?
One of them is the Barcelona Fab Lab, a production, research and training centre, which is backed by MIT and which uses cutting-edge technology to create prototypes that can become products that can be sold on the international market. Another very interesting project, which I myself have founded, is Sharing Accelerator Barcelona. It is the first sharing economy startups accelerator in the world, that I am developing along with other partners. This accelerator is going to bring together entrepreneurs specialised in the responsible sharing economy. We already have the support of world leaders from this movement as well as the Barcelona city council, very committed to social innovation and the sustainable sharing economy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Boyd Cohen has a doctor in Entrepreneurship and Strategy from the University of Colorado (Boulder, USA.). Boyd is an expert on entrepreneurship and sustainability, as well as smart cities and the sharing economy. Dr Cohen regularly publishes articles on these issues in Fast Company and Shareable and he co-authored the acclaimed book Climate capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.
Recently, Dr Cohen published his second book, The Emergence of the Urban Entrepreneur, which deals with the rise of local entrepreneurship in cities to address the social needs of citizens and take advantage of new opportunities based on sharing models and innovation tools. Dr Cohen is also co-founder of Sharing Accelerator Barcelona, the first accelerator in the world for sharing economy startups.