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In a world where urbanisation is rapidly transforming the environment, the concept of smart cities has emerged as a sign of hope for sustainable development.

In the most recent City Café talk at the Porto Innovation Hub, led by Vanessa Tavares, Head of Sustainability at BUILT CoLAB, we learnt about the challenges and opportunities inherent in this paradigm shift towards smarter urban environments, making it clear that the journey towards smart cities is not just a question of harnessing technology, but also of coordinating a social transformation.

In this City Café, we reflect on how cities, as the focal points of human activity, are intrinsically linked to all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This recognition underlines the fundamental role that urban centres play in building a sustainable future. The transition from a linear economy to a circular economy is the basis of this future. The introduction of concepts such as the European Taxonomy, which provides a structured framework for sustainable activities, has become indispensable for guiding cities towards green practices.

Vanessa Tavares also explained the significant role of the built environment in resource consumption and environmental impact. Although technology can help mitigate certain effects, it cannot, on its own, meet the challenges posed by urbanisation and rising living standards. Social change is imperative, requiring a holistic approach involving the definition of a clear vision, commitment to action, planning and execution, continuous evaluation and the involvement of all stakeholders in decision-making processes.

“If we think about the concept of smart cities, at first we relate it to technology, but I sincerely hope that by the end of this session you will agree with me: smart cities have much more to do with people!” – said the expert.

Addressing the complexities of urbanisation requires a multi-faceted strategy that integrates technological solutions with social and governance reforms. “We need to define the vision”. This plan could include steps such as forecasting the future urban landscape, organising local ecosystems and legislation. Smart infrastructures, integrated technologies and improved mobility systems are integral components of this theme. However, in the midst of all the technology, it is crucial to remember that citizen participation forms the basis of smart cities.

So while technology offers tools to mitigate environmental impacts and increase efficiency, it is ultimately the collective actions of individuals and communities that will lead us to sustainable urban futures. Embracing this paradigm shift requires vision, commitment and a focus on putting people at the centre of decision-making processes.

This session was also part of the implementation of the European funded project ASCEND (Accelarating poSitive Clean ENergy Districts), in which Porto participates alongside 7 other cities and various partners offering solutions in the fields of digital twins, ICT, smart heating networks, energy efficiency and optimisation, building efficiency, renewable energy solutions and storage, mobility, citizen-centred solutions and other urban solutions.

The City Café is promoted by the Porto Innovation Hub, in conjunction with the Municipal Directorate for People and Organisation Management, and aims to create an informal moment of collaborative dialogue between speakers and guests. The activity, inspired by a post-lunch coffee break, is didactic and participatory in nature and aims, above all, to foster collaboration between the audience and guest speakers on the topics under discussion.
Participation in the sessions is free, with prior online registration available here.

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