Future

Smart Cities International: Vienna Data, Tahiti Tech, Berlin Bins

Here is a preview of our exclusive newsletter to keep up-to-date and stay inspired by Smart City innovations from around the world.

Garbage cans in Berlin
Garbage cans in Berlin
Emily Liedel

Cities collect data about everything, from economic trends to pollution to the daily habits of their citizens. As our tools for collecting information become increasingly sophisticated, municipalities risk being flooded with data. The simple fact of having the information does not actually mean anything â€" big data without analysis adds up to nothing. Worse still, is when the mountains of data are manipulated or altered to fit political goals.

This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll see how Vienna has been analyzing its data and how NGOs and volunteers are helping the Chinese government both collect and interpret environmental indicators.

â€" Emily Liedel

ANALYZING IN AUSTRIA

In 2013, Vienna became the first city to pilot Siemens' City Performance Tool, which offered more advanced ways to analyze available data the city was already collecting on climate, traffic, buildings and more than 300 other data points. The aim was to more clearly understand how the city is working, and better measure the environmental effects of different activities, OE Journal reports (German). Vienna also discovered that with the right investments, it can likely reach its environmental targets for 2030 five years ahead of time. Since Vienna started using the City Performance Tool, some 20 other cities worldwide have followed suit.

SMART CITY BRIDGE IN MOROCCO

Morocco's goals in developing smart cities capabilities sound familiar: reducing energy consumption, better managing traffic and taking advantage of the city’s lighting system. But the kingdom is also paying special attention to maintaining the local urban culture and building style, reports Les Echos (French). As Morocco searches for its own path towards being a country of smart cities, it also hopes to become a bridge between Europe's smart city culture and the urban development happening throughout Africa.

VERBATIM

“A smart city starts with smart transportation, and smart transportation requires us â€" the citizens and the government â€" to work together,” Igor Albin, the vice-Governor of St. Petersburg, Russia, said as he traveled by public transportation instead of his usual car on the international "car-free’" day last month.

ISLAND CONNECTIONS

ringing modern information technology to islands has always been challenging, but a group of foreign investors is building a fiber optic cable from China to South America that will pass through French Polynesia and give the islands a second connection to the mainland, reports Tahiti newspaper La Depeche de Tahiti (French). The new cable will also play a role in the development of the first smart city project in French Polynesia, in Arue, on the east coast of Tahiti.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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