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Sustainable development and digital transformation for urban areas


Berlin, July 4th, 2018

What are the challenges that urban areas in Europe face as sustainable mobility and digital transformation disrupt the traditional cities model?  Can "smart cities" be the model capable of generating inclusion and enabling sustainable life in megacities?

These are some of the questions addressed at the conference entitled "Smart cities as a vector of sustainable and inclusive development: a European challenge" held at the Italian Embassy in Berlin on Wednesday, 4 July. The event involved representatives of Italian and German Metropolitan Municipalities and Cities, as well as representatives of the research, business and creative industries. The focus was on how to stimulate more cooperation and investment between Italy and Germany on this field, as both countries possess great expertise in sustainable mobility, digital transformation and participatory urban development.

Enel Foundation joined the debate, sharing knowledge from its research in the field urban metabolism frameworks, which focus on studying the effects of large flows of energy, water, materials and waste into megacities, i.e. urban conurbations with more than 10 million habitants.

Carlo PapaDirector of the Enel Foundation and Vice-Chairman of ARISE, the UN Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, commented the challenge of accommodating two thirds of the world in cities. Speaking at the closure of the event, he explained that “To ensure the safety and sustainability of urban areas we need to continue to pursue low-carbon electrification, increasing collaboration when facing new challenges – such as understanding, preventing and reacting to the impact of climate change– and unlocking value by leveraging on new opportunities such as energy intelligence and electric mobility enabled by state of the art networks.”

The debate was divided into three round tables focusing on e-Mobility solutions, connectivity and inclusion and sustainability in European municipalities. Internationally renowned speakers joined the event as well, highlighting how these challenges are affecting many different industries.

Energy companies are coping with increasing decentralization of the electricity system as small scale solar and batteries step up and renewable technologies complete their shift from “alternative” to mainstream power generation. Telecom operators are broadening their offer to smart parking and waste management systems and automakers are adding new options to their vehicle portfolios for smart urban mobility. But City planners and managers have to deal with new challenges too as smart cities are creating a new type of “digital commons” and the advent of electric and autonomous vehicles is forcing disruptive transformations in urban infrastructure, overcoming the traditional dichotomy between public and private transport and inducing the transformation of public spaces in recreational and green areas.

To this regard, Simone MoriHead of European Affairs of Enel Group and Member of the Enel Foundation Scientific Committee highlighted that “Cities will play a pivotal role in the energy transition and by leveraging on their capabilities to innovate and bring about change they can lead the transition to a more sustainable future. Developing smart energy infrastructures, from distributed RES and battery storage in buildings, through fiber optic networks and smart meters, to intelligent public lighting and EVs, is a key stepping-stone in this direction”.

Italy and Germany are already actively engaged in implementing smart city policy debates at different levels. In both countries, municipalities are actively engaged in global networks, such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and their companies are leading providers in the development of e-Mobility and broadband access. In addition, the commitment to sustainability and circular economy initiatives is growing, and their scientific research is second to no one. All of this helps to build a multidisciplinary perspective on which Europe can continue to rely to tackle some of the future challenges.

As Pietro BenassiAmbassador of Italy to Germany put it “According to a Greek proverb, “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. We need to plant now together the seeds of a sustainable and participatory digital transformation; in Europe and beyond, sustainability is not philanthropy: it’s responsibility towards the future generations”.

Find out more details about the Conference.