Barcelona: The Smart(est) City of Spain

Blog Dos Aguas-Smart Cities Barcelona
Vivian Hendrikse
In the past decade and with increasing quantities, smart cities arose all over the world. A city is defined as ‘smart’ when it “uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare” [7]. The key aspects of a smart city are smart technology and data analysis. You can think of, for example, emerging trends as automation, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT). When these technologies are applied in a city, one can find features as smart traffic lights that respond to current traffic situations, autonomous buses, bike sharing services, and smart parking meters that indicate where parking lots are available via an app – and these are just examples in the city transportation sector [7]. For an overview of smart city features, take a look at the image below.

Blog Dos Aguas- Smart CitiesHerman van den Bosch [8]

Drivers behind smart city developments

Worldwide, several cities have the reputation of being ‘smarter’ than the rest. Of course, some of these cities have an environment or characteristic that makes them particularly suitable for developments in the smart technology area. For example, cities that are developing very fast in the past years and years to come can adopt smart city traits in their development plans and consequently create the optimal infrastructure for smart technologies to be applied to. These cities include many Asian cities such as Singapore, which the number one smart city in the world [2]. On the other hand, some cities in the Western world have consciously chosen to invest heavily in smart technology and data analysis in order to gain a competitive advantage over other Western cities and attract businesses. All over Europe, selected cities apply an above average number of smart technologies in their municipality and thereby set themselves high above the rest of the European cities. Barcelona is one of them. In 2016, the Catalan capital was voted the second smart city in the world, behind Singapore (Juniper Research [2]). It is therefore not a surprise that the Smart City Expo World Congress is held in Barcelona this year, after its previous edition took place in Singapore last year.

The Smart City Expo World Congress of 2018

The SCEWC (Smart City Expo World Congress) is the leading global encounter on current urban issues and the smart technological revolution. It was first held in 2011, and it has managed to become the global benchmark event on developments in smart cities ever since [2]. It facilitates a platform for networking, experiences and international business agreements, and it brings together the world’s top decision makers, professionals, and institutions in the context of urban development. This year, the SCEWC is held from 13th November to the 15th November 2018 at the Gran Via Exhibition Centre in Barcelona [1,3]. For more information, take a look on the event’s website (link). This year, the Catalan Government promotes the participation of regional companies in the Smart City Expo: a total of 20 Catalan companies and entities will be present in the Government stand, and over 150 other local companies will participate in the expo [2]. Needless to say that the fact that the international expo is held in Barcelona, combined with the smart tech expertise that can be found in the city, offers many investment opportunities in Spain and boosts the Spanish economy.

Barcelona’s ‘smart’ traits

What is this ‘smart technology expertise’ that makes Barcelona one of the smartest cities of the world, and where does it come from? The development of Barcelona as a smart city started in 2012, when economic challenges were large, caused by the crisis of 2008. Upon taking office, the Mayor of Barcelona from 2011 to 2015 Xavier Trias formed a new team: ‘Smart City Barcelona’, tasked with integrating existing projects and identifying new opportunities to enhance services for all of the city’s people and businesses [6]. The city originally deployed responsive technologies across twelve urban systems, including public transit, parking, street lighting, and waste management [6]. These innovations provided significant cost savings, turned the city into a center for the (then emerging) IoT industry, and simultaneously improved the quality of life for residents.
Today, the city’s smart city plan is called ‘Roadmap to 2020’, and focuses on using open-source technology for a platform that is “more democratic and accessible” to find solutions for “long-term social and wage inequality, climate change, scarcity of natural resources, and employment” [5]. In this roadmap, Barcelona recognizes the value of the large amount of data it possesses. Thus, the plan mentions that the municipality of Barcelona wants to be the sole owner of the network, platform, and data – in order to protect the data and consequently its residents [4]. Yet, the city wants to ensure that people and companies can access information that belongs in the public realm, to improve overall efficiency [5]. For an overview of Barcelona’s smart city traits, take a look at the Govtech article that summarizes all of the city’s activities with smart technologies (link). It is clear that Barcelona pioneers in the field of smart tech. If it maintains its position as innovator, this smart city will remain to be a large factor of the country’s overall good economic conditions.


[1] Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 website (link)
[2] Generalitat de Catalunya: The Smart City sector takes root in Catalonia (link)
[3] 10 Times Trade Show information: Smart City Expo World Congress (link)
[4] Ross Tieman (26 October 2017), Barcelona: Smart city revolution in progress, Financial Times. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 26.09.2018]
[5] Jenny McGrath (24 July 2017), Tech is making life in Barcelona better, even if you don’t know it’s there, Digital Trends. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 26.09.2018]
[6] Laura Adler (19 February 2016), Is Barcelona the smartest city in the world?, GovTech. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 27.09.2018]
[7] Internet of Things (IoT) Agenda: Definition Smart Cities (link)
[8] Herman van den Bosch: Smart Cities: Slim, slimmer slimst (link)