Paris-hosted New Cities Summit explores technology’s role in sustainability

May 18, 2012
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The inaugural New Cities Summit, sponsored by the  New Cities Foundation which was founded by Cisco, Ericsson, and GE,  was held earlier this week in La Défense.  The purpose of the conference was to bring together leaders and practitioners across various fields to discuss the challenges posed by urbanization as well as potential solutions for addressing these challenges.  Not surprisingly, technology and the potential solutions it can offer to improve urban living was a reoccurring theme throughout the conference.  As one would expect at a conference focused first and foremost on sustainability, there were various debates around new technologies that could help improve public services such as water management and education  (you can find a good recap of the topics discussed during the conference on UrbanTimes who did a great daily recap).  However, interestingly, the role connectivity, mobile, and apps play in improving the urban experience more generally was a key topic throughout.

Ericsson started the discussion around this on day one with a global study by their research group ConsumerLab highlighting the increasing importance of connectivity to improving urban life.  The principal takeaway from the study was that connectivity (particularly via mobile devices) is of increasing importance to city dwellers and offers a huge opportunity that has yet to be fully exploited.  They found that mobile connectivity ranks among city dwellers most vital services and that approximately 40% of people in cities use smartphones which they increasingly rely on to help them navigate daily challenges such as commuting. This supports the growing need for apps, such as those that deliver real-time traffic data or advice on faster commuting routes, to address these types of challenges.

Apps continued to be prominently featured at the conference via an app startup competition called AppMyCity!, whereby three finalists were chosen to do pitch their startup and compete for prize which would reward new mobile apps that improve the urban experience, connect people and make the city a more fun, fair, vibrant and sustainable place. Out of the three finalists selected to present, two were french: CityGardens an iOS app that helps urbanites to access pertinent information about the city’s parks, gardens, and squares and Paris-ci La Sortie an cross-platform app that provides useful information, such as the nearest exists at metro and tram stops, to help you effectively get to where you need to go.  CityGardens ended up the victor receiving a 5k€ prize to help support their continued development.  When people think of apps that improve the urban experience, they often tend to instinctively think of navigational apps. However, there are a vast range of new apps that are emerging, such as CityGardens,  ParisAvant, or newly launched StreetEchoes, that focus on making city life a bit more interesting and liveable.

It’s great that Paris (to be more precise La Défense) was selected as the venue for the first New Cities Summit.  It’s even better that there was a real effort to feature and support startups and to put technology at the heart of the effort to improve urban living.