“Smart Urbanism: Utopian or Survival Vision For 2030?” — Introduction of Our Speakers

On June 29, 2021, we hosted an exciting webinar on smart urbanism featuring world-class experts Marcelo Garcia, Bell Beh, and Boyd Cohen. You can watch the webinar here.

We will have four articles in the Smart Urbanism webinar series. Stay tuned!

Impetus behind this webinar

WLAB’s vision is not just to co-create a happier and healthier Hong Kong. We also want to look at what makes cities and spaces happy and healthy. That is why we are diving into smart urbanism and smart cities in this webinar. 

We hope to have international speakers challenging the vision of smart urbanism and the perceptions of smart cities. 

Who are our speakers?

Bell is a lawyer turned entrepreneur who started her company Buzz AR more than three years ago. Buzz AR is the first Augmented Reality (AR) local company in Singapore that has scaled with large enterprises. She has been in the field of AR and Virtual Reality (VR) for six years, with experiences doing businesses in China and Singapore. 

Marcelo, based in Switzerland, is a member of the Explorers Club and a Smart Cities Expert with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and IESE. His journey in smart cities started when he was involved in the transition from analog to digital television and the creation of massive-scale WiFi networks. He is also the creator of the Wisdom Accelerator for Youth (WAY) concept, which supports ambitious teenagers worldwide.

Boyd, currently in Barcelona, is an urban strategist focused on urban innovation, entrepreneurship, smart cities, and urban mobility. He has spent 20 years focusing on sustainable innovation and smart cities. Boyd created the Smart Cities Wheel and the Smart Cities Index to understand the comparable aspects of smart cities around the globe. Over the last three years, he has focused exclusively on smart mobility in urban areas and regional and inter-city.

Which area of smart cities is of your interest?

Boyd said it is hard to narrow down to one area, because: 

“There is no smart city if there is not more of a holistic approach to improving quality of life, inclusive access to opportunities, sustainability; they are all intertwined.”

His core focus is mobility. But at the same time, mobility allows people access to jobs, opportunities, cultures, and social interactions in a sustainable way to reduce environmental impacts as our cities and regions grow. 

“So, is mobility by itself like a category that is isolated from everything else in the city? No, it’s a fundamental part of it, just like an urban plan, [which] penetrates everything in the city and our lives.”

Marcelo started by answering the title of our webinar. He said the concept of smart cities is utopic by definition. SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, has the vision of making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” He said the concept of smart cities is like an infinite curve. We can always keep on going and improve our cities. 

“Cities are already smart, you’re just trying to make them smarter, and you want to accelerate the speed of adoption.”

He said we are not trying to achieve an end goal with smart cities. It is more of a continuous improvement; transformation along the way is also key. 

Transformation is key when we are trying to find investors who can give us financial capital, effort, and time to accelerate the speed of adoption. An example he gave was on WiFi. WiFi was a failure at the beginning because there was insufficient technology or market. But the WiFi infrastructures were not just thrown away. Instead, the WiFi infrastructures were utilized in city services. WiFi has transformed and hence gained momentum over the years. 

Bell said that the first exposure to AR for most people was through games like Pokemon Go. That is why her work mostly targets millennials. She feels like the city as a whole is not only infrastructures or networks; we must first integrate it into every human.

“I believe in the power of youth. I believe in millennials. I believe in young people. This is why I want to start early and build our work to be so intuitive to younger generations.”

She loves how Nintendo started the waves for different companies to roll out more games, so more people can get exposed to AR through games and potentially get inspired to use AR for other things or contribute to smart cities.

One of her projects involves using AR for wayfinding at Marina Bay Sands: The whole 200,000 square meter venue is empowered by Buzz AR’s wayfinding functions. She said it is much more intuitive than the traditional way. It is like an extension of our bodies.

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