A Love in Every Harbor: Foundations for a Smart Reconnection of the Port City

19 Dicembre, 2023

As Smart City Cluster celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, it marks over a decade of evolution within the Smart City concept, which began around 2010, spearheaded by industry giants like IBM and Cisco. However, it’s crucial to note that this has not been a tranquil decade by any means.

Without delving into the well-documented disruptions that have rocked our world, it’s equally essential not to dismiss their significance. Over the past decade, we have witnessed a resounding and far-reaching impact resulting from the paradigm shift brought about by what we now refer to as ‘digiglobalization.’ The era of the 24/7 planet, a city that never sleeps, as famously sung by Frank Sinatra, has burst forth with colossal force. However, this is not a sporadic occurrence; it is a pervasive, all-encompassing phenomenon. No sector, company, or individual remains unaffected, even if passively so. This interconnectedness means that opportunities, innovations, and creativity are intertwined with challenges, problems, and vulnerabilities.

In other words, the era of the 20th-century assembly line, where each component was meticulously controlled by specialists, has drawn to a close during this past decade.

A decade ago, our industry relied primarily on ICT solution developers and device manufacturers who provided the market with what the industry appeared to require and demand: essentially, strategies for improving competitiveness, optimizing resources, and reducing costs. Information technologies, therefore, concentrated on their inherent strength – enhancing the acquisition, management, and distribution of information, better known as Big Data.

The Smart industry, epitomized by the Smart City concept as it encompasses all facets of inhabited areas, responded to the needs of cities and industries by introducing sensors and SIM cards capable of capturing real-time data and storing vast amounts of information for subsequent processing and analysis. These data primarily aimed to enhance efficiency by detecting failure points and areas of loss, thus enabling improvements, as well as to save costs by providing detailed insights into usage and consumption cycles and predicting material wear and tear for timely maintenance or replacement. Building on these fundamental principles, additional technological advancements have been integrated over the course of this decade, most notably Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and IoT networks, all contributing to the automation of processes across diverse industries.

Simultaneously, applications such as digital twins, virtual environments, and data analytics, in conjunction with the continuous progression towards the emerging 5G networking technology, have transformed the aggregated Big Data into the fuel driving many of the transformations we are currently witnessing.

This intensive decade has propelled us to a juncture where ‘Smart’ is no longer merely a model or concept; rather, it represents the transition from speculative possibilities to the delivery of tangible outcomes. Irrespective of the degree of success achieved in these transformations, this juncture compels us to question how we presently define an intelligent environment. We must cast our gaze toward the next decade or, at the very least, set our sights on the horizon of 2030, as is now a common institutional practice. What becomes apparent within our sector, thanks to the concrete results delivered by already deployed solutions, is that we are entering a phase where technology serves a purpose beyond rectifying imperfections, failures, or leaks, be it in territorial management or industrial operations. Up until now, digital technology played a supportive role in a pre-digital model, akin to implanting a bionic prosthesis to make someone run faster without altering the track, the stadium, or any other aspect. Smart solutions can only truly be deemed intelligent if the questions posed to our sector exhibit intelligence. In this new phase, the focus shifts from seeking superior answers to posing essential questions. Smart solutions empower us to accelerate without compromising precision in execution, a transformative capability already evident as some entities accelerate more rapidly than others and redefine their positions. Yet, an overarching question lingers: To what destination are we hastening our pace? Another pertinent and context-specific question for this era revolves around the coexistence of Smart City solutions on one front and Smart Port solutions on another – does this merger yield a Smart City Port?

Modern port represented by digital twin. (Image: generated by AI).

City management and industrial management can indeed employ similar tools and devices. Still, their distinct objectives and priorities necessitate an elevated form of intelligence to harmonize them effectively. The interface between these realms, or the friction zone, as it is at times, demands a level of integration that surpasses the capabilities of technological solutions. In which domains of the Smart industry does this city-port intelligence focus most intensely? It’s highly probable that the indispensable keyword within any transformation proposal for port cities is sustainability.

Sustainability, in this context, predominantly revolves around two critical aspects: mitigating environmental impacts (on land, sea, and air) and executing an energy transition that aligns with decarbonization objectives. Digital and network technologies serve as the cornerstone of knowledge in these domains, facilitating the attainment of goals such as zero emissions and the maximization of resource utilization within circular economy models.

However, these are not the exclusive focal points where the technology industry is contributing to the enhancement of relationships between the port and the city.

Cybersecurity, driven by imminent regulatory changes and an essential adaptation to another industry – the one sailing under the pirate flag – has evolved just as globally, digitally, and expeditiously as our own, if not more so.

Tourism, particularly in the quest for superior methods to mitigate the impact of “landings” – this extends to city planning, mobility solutions, and various other aspects that have profoundly impacted city residents.

Furthermore, terrestrial traffic mobility has experienced advancements in the form of intelligent traffic lights, algorithmic systems, predictive maintenance, and the seamless integration of fleet management platforms, among other innovations.

In essence, it is within these realms of heightened friction that technological solutions are being cultivated and proposed to alleviate the consequences stemming from a prolonged era of disconnection and divergence between the interests of urban and port activities. These solutions address critical aspects such as air and water quality, which have garnered greater significance following the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the energy dependency on fossil fuels.

In broad terms, these are two intelligences that have historically operated on distinct criteria, priorities, objectives, and “clientele.” They are also integrated into macro-networks of varying nature and scope.

Illustration of an old port with sailing ships anchored near the coast. Small shops and markets line the pier, and people walk and trade, evoking a scene from the past. (Image: generated by AI).

Returning to the initial question, irrespective of the intelligence levels possessed by two interlocutors, the absence of a common language or a shared agenda can lead to substantial challenges. Do these key points, which underscore the primary demands, inherently illustrate what a port city requires to become Smart? Or are they remedial solutions addressing the immediate symptoms, while the underlying structural issues persist?

The ongoing collaborations between the port and the city, evident in the aforementioned areas, serve as a pathway for the Smart industry to contribute significantly to the evolution and vibrancy of all facets of port cities. This path is marked by coordinated decision-making between the port and the city.

As we emphasize at Smart City Cluster, there exists another form of intelligence, akin to artificial intelligence but grounded in networking: Associative Intelligence. The convergence of talents, experiences, interests, and criteria demanded by the new challenges facing port cities and urban ports finds its most valuable tool in digital technologies. These technologies provide essential data, information, relationships, and support for indispensable planning endeavors. Yet, the critical question remains – what precisely do we desire from this sector, one that likely harbors some of the most innovative talents within our nation? The solutions we offer must represent authentic improvements, characterized by creativity and the capacity to unlock new opportunities for citizens and industries – essentially, they must be intelligent.

In conclusion, the metaphorical title of this article, “Love in Every Harbor,” reflects the idea of establishing a personal connection at each port of call. The port serves as a point where the uncertainties of a voyage, wrought by the vast ocean, transform into security. Here, one sets foot on solid ground, where one can fall in love, celebrate, rest, and, fundamentally, engage in a personal relationship unburdened by the obligatory roles that accompany life at sea. The history of port cities represents a narrative of what was once a warm relationship – one could even call it affectionate, in the sense of sharing a mutual horizon – a relationship that has since evolved and, in many ways, fractured.

Emotional intelligence, a facet we should consider incorporating within the realm of ‘smart,’ highlights the pain points experienced by citizens. Millennia of coexistence seem to have been forgotten or disregarded due to industrialization, refrigeration, and ultimately, globalization and delocalization since the 90s. However, the challenges we face are shared. What questions may arise from these mutual challenges and opportunities, facilitating the mending and reorientation of the city-port relationship before new tsunamis emerge to impact our global market positioning? It is highly likely that the answers to these questions will emerge as innovative solutions, harnessing the immense talent pool present within our country’s Smart sector, especially in the context of the port industry, where Spain has earned global recognition.

HEAD IMAGE | Photo of a busy seaport during the day, with large cargo ships docked and cranes lifting containers. The water reflects the blue sky and the horizon is dotted with distant ships. (Image: generated by AI).

Article reference for citation:

GONZÁLEZ BOOTELLO, Daniel. “A Love in Every Harbor: Foundations for a Smart Reconnection of the Port City”. PORTUS | Port-city relationship and Urban Waterfront Redevelopment, 46 (December 2023). RETE Publisher, Venice. ISSN 2282-5789.
URL: https://portusonline.org/a-love-in-every-harbor-foundations-for-a-smart-reconnection-of-the-port-city/

GONZÁLEZ BOOTELLO, Daniel. “Un amor en cada puerto. Bases para una reconexión inteligente de la ciudad portuaria”.PORTUS | Port-city relationship and Urban Waterfront Redevelopment, 46 (December 2023). RETE Publisher, Venice. ISSN 2282-5789.
URL: https://portusonline.org/a-love-in-every-harbor-foundations-for-a-smart-reconnection-of-the-port-city/

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