Former IPEA president, Glauco Arbix explains the challenges of making cities more sustainable and his relation to the Industry 4.0 - topics of his panel at Virada Sustentável

Professor at USP and at Observatório de Inovação do Instituto de Estudos Avançados (Innovation Observatory of the Institute of Advanced Studies), Glauco Arbix will be a speaker in the panel Smart and Sustainable Cities | Internet, innovation and technological impacts, held at the opening of 2019 Virada Sustentável, São Paulo city edition (on 08/22, at 11:00 a.m., at Unibes Cultural).

In an interview with bluevision, Arbix ellaborated on his reflections, which  he’ll present at the sustainability festival. He explains the need to design a city globally and orderly in such a way that efficiency and intelligence are aligned with sustainability pillars, and shows his input on the  perspectives of a future transformed by the Industry 4.0 revolution.

The extensive resumé of the sociologist specialized [GLK1] in innovation theory and economic sociology shows he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, and the London School of Economics, and also presided the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

Read the interview that follows:

bluevision: When we combine the notions of smart city and sustainable city, what are we really saying?

Glauco Arbix: Basically, a smart city is a sustainable city. It’s not smart if it’s not sustainable. Most cities in the world suffer with big issues, and they hugely impair the development of economy and generation of jobs, aside from producing waste, pollution, violence… The idea of thinking about a smart city is to get away from these labels.

To think smart is to make a global planning of this city, and it’s not only about technology. People think that a smart city needs technology all over the place. Surely technology is important! It’s part of our lives, it changes the way we live, interact, communicate and entertain ourselves. But when we say smart city, I think of a city that doesn’t generate waste, that has a more efficient energy control, more efficient mobility, and that is safer for people.

A city that doesn’t work on inclusion isn’t smart. It may be an “efficient city for a few people” or a “city with technology,” but it isn’t smart. And this is even more pronounced in developing countries, because they have great fiscal problems and structural deficits regarding qualification and work quality.

b: What efficiency goal should big cities set? How can we balance economic, social and environmental impacts on public policies?

GA: There is no cake recipe. Big cities are very distinct from each other, even if they work with general concepts. If you think of India, which since 2015 has had a plan of turning 100 cities in smart cities, that means having cities with better mobility and basic sanitation, and it introduces questions we have already touched here.

The major contribution in this context is a call to think globally, without loopholes. Ultra-efficient cities in traffic control, for example, with artificial intelligence that calculates the flow of vehicles, are not enough. Surely traffic improvement [GLK2] is important – it’s significant, but that’s far from enough to be a smart city. It’s a city that works better, but with old issues.

Public and private actions respond to their own logic and change fast. Therefore, it’s very important to mitigate poverty and inequality, but also to invite people to integrate the city.

b: In your view, will a technology boost in cities come from the private sector or the government? And how can both balance action in this context?

GA: In a country like Brazil – take São Paulo as an example, a city almost as big as a country -, things won’t solve themselves. If someone promises this, this person is fooling the public. If the private sector says it’s going to do it, if the university announces that it has proposals… All that requires action channels. They should work together.

Due to the fiscal crisis in Brazil, public authorities need to make strong appeals to get private investment. It’s different from China, which has a very strong government participation,  resources and it’s extremely centralised. Even there, in the upscale regions, priorities are defined taking into account the need for a better place to live, with jobs, education and qualification, and less waste. It’s easy to talk about technology, that the private sector is going to implement this everywhere, but, without proper care, technology may take jobs. We don’t know if jobs will be abundant and, therefore, qualification to live in an orderly and health city is vital.

It has to attract the entire intelligence of society. Therefore, at Virada Sustentável I will suggest the formation of a council: the private sector needs to discuss public projects and the public sector needs to engage with the private sector and understand what it needs, and the university may be a qualified intermediate in this debate.

b: The Industry 4.0 generates some fears. For example, an eventual extermination of jobs. What’s your view on that?

GA: When we talk about 4.0, we talk about the next generation industry, of brand-new technologies. This arouses imagination, but it’s not a reality yet. In reality, only few countries are leading this movement and only in some segments of economy. Since the Industry 4.0 is still in its infancy, there are no conclusive studies on the generation of more or less jobs. But the signs are definitely positive and indicate a significant change in work structure.

Some say it’s always been like this, that technology took jobs but created others and streamlined work in the end, and that’s how it happened in the 20th century. That seems true if you look back and think the same dynamics will repeat, maybe with a more painful transition to certain segments of society. Others think the other way: the extremely qualified nature of automation not only replaces repetitive and routine work, like industrial work, but also affects management levels and professionals like doctors, lawyers and teachers. If you look this way, you see a dark future.

All I can say is: be prepared. We need to wait until we get safer answers, but what we can say is that the nature of work is being transformed and getting qualified should be a priority. Especially in cities like São Paulo, which is an industrial center, hub of economy and services, where all that is good happens first, but with side effects.

b: In a global context, how does improving the environmental conditions of cities helps to reduce impact on the planet? 

GA: Cities are generators of perverse effects, like the emission of greenhouse gases, which impact the weather – and not only animal husbandry and agriculture are accountable for this. Other effects are: excessive waste being produced and stored, uncontrolled consumption, generation of energy and transmission with dissipation.

Half of the world’s population live in urban areas and that may go as up as 70%. Thinking about smart cities doesn’t mean just having a better life in orderly cities, but also a better planet and more commitment. Since the First Industrial Revolution, some habits have been institutionalized, like thirst for profits and greed. It’s hard to restructure all that, but it’s worthwhile and necessary to invest in that field. It’s possible to have a better, healthier, more efficient, more sustainable city with better wellbeing, but there’s a cost to that. Now, we need to be inventive and creative to generate resources and make such transformations possible.

Content published in August 28, 2019

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