The definition of “Smart City” provides a more precise idea of the direction in which urban competitiveness is moving in the era of globalisation. Optimising and innovating public services by connecting the material infrastructures of cities “for the benefit of its inhabitants and business”. The growing difficulties of industrial districts, combined with the increasingly urgent demand for innovation, is pushing researchers and politicians to question the real adequacy of urban configurations and to identify the reforms necessary to relaunch sustainable development and economic development.
Since the early 2000s, and especially with the outbreak and continuation of the economic crisis, it has become ever more current and urgent to improve the efficiency of cities as agents to generate development and improve the quality of urban life and the territorial balance. World economic and international pressures push to enhance the potential of territories and increase their competitive capacity, also through institutional reforms such as the establishment of metropolitan cities.
The concept of “intelligent cities” was introduced in this context as a strategic system to contain modern urban production factors in a common framework and to underline the growing importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and of social and environmental capital in defining the city’s competitive profile, moving towards sustainability and ecological measures both of control and energy saving and optimising solutions for mobility and security. The “Smart City”, conceived for the first time on a global level in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, has taken on an increasingly important role in urban planning over recent years, especially in areas – Africa, Asia and Latin America – where the demographic “boom” is most evident.
When looking farther afield, it is easy to see how the digital revolution is taking place, for example, in most major African cities, despite the significant disparities in certain areas. All economic and service structures are preparing to make an unprecedented leap in their development: m-banking, digital civil status, connected water management, multi-modal transport, start-up incubators. Many services and projects have recently appeared in Europe to which the younger and more flexible African cities are adapting rapidly. A very connected, creative middle class is emerging in Africa that is keen to access stable infrastructures or services, which act as a driving force – together with states and businesses – for the harmonious development of these cities. The most challenging task now is to build models of intelligent city management that take into account the characteristics of each of the actors involved and generate new profits. There are examples of this in various African countries: from the “ecological city” of Zenata in Morocco, to the “technological city” of Konza in Kenya; from the smart cities of Abidjan and Brazzaville in the Ivory Coast and the Republic of Congo respectively, to the 4G Square in Kigali, Rwanda.
In this scenario, the sharing, exploitation and monetisation of the data provided by these new technologies are critical challenges for public and private African stakeholders, which demonstrates the importance of expert support to build or consolidate a virtuous ecosystem. If smart cities need advice to support their structuring, they also need tools to manage the system, such as the Digital Ecosystem Management (DEM) that connects digital readers with economic links. In fact, the DEM offers businesses involved in the telecommunication, automotive, media, financial, health and public services sectors the opportunity to transform their activities by rapidly designing, assembling and invoicing their services through the cloud. In light of this, it is clear that sustainable development – a crucial pillar for future generations – is also, and above all, a new way of conceiving cohabitation and, in this sense, that of the smart cities appears to represent the most convincing model.