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Epcot meets The Jetsons: Futuristic city underway in Portugal

Posted by Chad O'Connor  October 11, 2012 11:00 AM

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The World Class Cities Partnership, an international research collaborative of municipal governments and universities headquartered at Northeastern University, is currently leading a delegation of Greater Boston's business, civic, academic and non-profit leaders on its annual Policy Exchange Mission to explore the Azores and Lisbon, Portugal. Portuguese officials are sharing their expertise in waterfront redevelopment, the innovation economy and an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Delegates, led by Michael Lake, WCCP executive director, will bring back their findings and look for opportunities to share and apply them in the Boston area, beginning with the WCCP's annual Chatham Forum.

LISBON/PAREDES - Boston has a long history of being an innovative city with creative, "revolutionary" ideas often in the works along with an educated, forward-thinking and passionate talent pool from around the globe. A recent trip begs the question, where else can Boston go? A group of business leaders had a chance to see the future first hand.

Photo courtesy of WCCP

The WCCP delegation visiting Lisbon and Paredes, Portugal

Living PlanIT, located in the town of Paredes about two hours north of Lisbon, Portugal just may be the city of the future. Living PlanIT is a project created and supported by Cisco, Microsoft and several other technology companies interested in innovation and creating a futuristic city. A real-life Epcot Center meets the Jetsons of sorts. These companies, in concert with the national government of Portugal, hope to create the world's "smartest city" and hope to do it by 2015. The World Class Cities Partnership delegation from Boston met at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon to discuss this futuristic city with Ceslo Ferreira, the Mayor of Paredes and with Nuno Ferraz de Carvalho, President of Cisco Portugal. Starting with a town of 90,000 inhabitants, the partners explained how four key elements lend to the creation of potential success: the need to be connected, well educated, creative, and adaptive. Collecting and then analyzing data will maximize the use of city resources and dramatically improve it's operating efficiency and thus costs. Data collection sensors will be added to everything from refrigerators to trash containers to traffic lights.

Imagine heading home from work and receiving a message from your smart phone letting you know that you're out of milk and it's available and on sale at the grocery store at the next intersection. Mayor Ferreira explained that of equal importance to producing more cost-effective government, this technology improves the quality of life for residents. In addition, gathering and synthesizing this data allows the control center to understand how the city's inhabitants are using resources and can respond to those needs almost instantly. The data center, a 30 million euro investment by Cisco, is designed to do just that.

Creating an innovative city has it's challenges and the impact can be both positive and negative. "What about the loss of personal privacy?" asked Richard Walker, Senior VP of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Mayor Ferreira responded that privacy is certainly an issue and there will be some adopters and some who will opt out. This is an implication of this type of data collection.

Boston and Paredes have partnered with a common organization in Fraunhofer of Germany, which has built its first two research institutions outside of Germany in Paredes and Boston's innovation district. In Boston, Fraunhofer North America is a research and development facility creating photovoltaic technology.

Like Lisbon/Paredes, Boston continues to draw new ideas and innovation from the many colleges and universities centered in our hub city. Boston is creating and promoting innovation in the areas of housing, transportation and healthcare, as well as workspaces and business centers. The creation of the Innovation District in Boston's Fort Point channel has attracted photovoltaic (PV) development creative working areas and the very successful MassChallenge. Given this development, how will Boston and it's innovative class drive the private investment, risk taking and financing to continue to grow this area of Boston?

While innovation is often organic, derived from serving a specific need or solving a specific problem, the need to create areas of innovation, identify partners for innovation, create effective networks and then add financial resources are a sure way to kick start the process.

In meeting with Paulo Carvalho, General Director for Economy and Innovation, of the Lisbon City Council, the delegation got a chance to understand how the city is taking bold steps to create innovative districts not unlike Boston's. (see the previous article in this series) Reiterating a main point of the delegation's meeting is that only through collaboration and cooperation will the process be successful. Through the reuse and moderate rehabilitation of defunct factories and warehouses, Lisbon has created a vibrant zone of new ideas, successful entertainment and dining areas, as well as several flexible individual and group work offices. The affordable alternatives for group work spaces in particular, have generated a lot of excitement along with people traffic to the area.

Innovation requires government, universities, business and the general public to be engaged in order to be successful. According to Mayor Ferreira, "with appropriate partnerships you could do this in the middle of the desert." Boston is positioned well for this type of success.

Rich Becker is Director of Asset Management for the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) a private, not-for-profit lender and syndicator of tax credits. Jeff Bellows leads Corporate Citizenship work at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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