Barcelona is one of the world’s smartest cities, but why?

Barcelona has long been a leader in the smart city movement. Viewed as one of the world’s most advanced cities, Barcelona is often considered a blueprint for other cities to follow.

In the 1980s, Barcelona was almost unrecognisable. Following an era of traditional manufacturing and commerce, it’s economy was near collapse, with stagnation and widespread unemployment. The challenge for the government was to transform the economy and social profile, moving to a new economy based in knowledge industries, modern-city tourism, and quality infrastructure for residents, investors, and visitors alike.

Since then technology has played an essential role in supporting the multi-faceted innovation process, facilitating an evolution from a model based on e-government initiatives aimed at taking government to citizens through more flexible, straightforward, efficient service, to a model aiming to make the city more inclusive, productive, self-sufficient, innovative, and community-oriented.

The period of radical digital transformation may be on-going, but Barcelona has already emerged as a thriving smart city and just one of a handful attempting to integrate the top-down and the bottom-up approach to urban digitalisation, and boldly reach for what some are calling Smart City 3.0.

Let’s take a look at a handful of smart technologies that have transformed Barcelona into a world leading smart city.

Parking Spaces

Barcelona has implemented a sensor system which is helping to reduce harmful emissions and ease congestion by guiding drivers to available parking spots. Embedded underneath the asphalt, the sensors can identify the available parking spaces and notify the drivers. Within one year of implementation, the city issued 4000 permits for parking per day.

Street Lights

An LED-based lighting system along with a sensor network has replaced traditional street lighting across Barcelona. This new lighting system is more energy efficient and reduces the heat produced by the old lamps thus leading to cost savings for the city.

This solution successfully dealt with the problem of street lighting being used ineffectively in a way that is quite harmful to the environment. The lighting system receives information regarding the environment such as pollution levels, humidity, temperature, the presence of people, and noise, with the help of sensors.

A central unit in the street enables lights to communicate and this unit also manages various other services like electric vehicle recharging stations, Wi-Fi, and fibre-optic cabling to the home. Sensors can adjust lighting based on the presence of people and the time of delay. Enabling control over the lighting level provided the unexpected benefit of being able to lure people towards particular places of interest around the city.

Waste Disposal

Residents of Barcelona deposit their waste into smart bins which are equipped with a smart waste disposal system. These smart bins use a vacuum and suck the waste into underground storage. This reduces the smell of rubbish waiting to be collected and reduces the noise pollution and traffic congestion caused by bin lorries.

It also enables the city to detect the level of waste that comes from different places and optimise the collection of waste, which decreases both the resources and time needed for this service. The incineration of waste is used later to produce energy for heating systems.

Bus Transit System

Barcelona’s transport department, Transports Metropolitan de Barcelona (TMB), has integrated a new orthogonal bus network, made up of diagonal, vertical, and horizontal lines, making it more frequent, easier to use, and more efficient.

The main goal of this new system is to enable users to only have to make a maximum of one transfer between any two points in the city in 95% of its journeys.

The bus system also boasts urban sustainable mobility, reducing emissions with hybrid buses making it one of the cleanest surface public transport fleets in Europe. But it isn’t just their buses which are leading the way. The city has also installed smart interactive bus shelters that come with solar panels, touchscreens and USB ports.

City bike system, ‘Bicing’

Bicycles are a major part of the public transport system of Barcelona. In 2017, Barcelona City Council launched ‘Bicing’, an innovative bicycle hire scheme, designed to reduce the harmful emissions and congestion. Since it was first established, the initiative has grown with over 120,000 subscribers signed up and 6,000 bicycles in circulation.

The scheme works by enabling residents to pay an annual fee, get a Bicing card, scan it at any of the 400 stations, check out a bike, then check it back in at the station closest to their destination. Most stations are located by other public transport stops or public parking. Recently, the new Bicing app became available for users to check out real-time availability at stations, making it easier to plan a route if one station has unavailable bikes or parking spaces.

All these initiatives combined may make Barcelona one of the world’s leading smart cities, but it isn’t about to rest on its laurels anytime soon. Chief Technology Officer for the City of Barcelona, Francesca Bria and The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau Ballano, together with input from the technology community, academic institutions and citizens, have published the Digital City Roadmap transformation plan. It details how Barcelona will “rethink the concept of the smart city from the ground up” from now until 2020.

The city’s approach is to put citizens first before determining what kind of technology the city needs. Barcelona is also engaging citizens to co-create policies through “participatory democracy”. Citizens have a platform to “provide ideas, debate issues, vote on things” and even decide how the city budget should be allocated.

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