Green Economy: Small Cities vs. Urban Centres

A Rome Business School study

Our colleagues at the Rome Business School, in collaboration with a smart cities expert, have been examining a contemporary and pressing topic: drivers of green economy. Though the focus is on Italy, topics relating to the green economy comprise a top priority for all European countries, including Cyprus.

The research investigates how small cities rather than the urban centers push the green economy in Italy.

The research conducted by Rome Business School (led by Dr Valerio Mancini, Director of the Rome Business School Research Center) in collaboration with Roberto Ramírez Basterrechea, smart cities expert (Cives Solutions), highlighted the following:  

  • By 2025, cities will represent the 60% of the global GDP, confirming themselves as the engine of economic growth;
  • In Italy, the cities most committed to sustainability are Trento, Mantua, Pordenone and Bolzano. At the bottom of the ranking are Pescara, Palermo, and Vibo Valentia;
  • Lombardy is the region most active in energy efficiency processes, circular economy and, in general, in initiatives and projects to reduce the environmental impact;
  • The covid pandemic showed the significance of reaching digital maturity, otherwise people risk being excluded from society.

The study unearths how the pandemic has accelerated the need for more technological and ecological cities, that is, “smarter”, and the challenge that this poses in the transformation towards a sustainable economy. These smart cities must be in harmony with nature and enjoy urban planning that combines the innovation of public services and a resilient as well as proactive urban culture.

Based on the report, it appears that it is smaller cities, not urban centres, that lead the way towards green development in Italy. The report revealed a two-speed Italy. On the one hand, there are cities that are dynamic and attentive to new urban choices, mobility services, renewable sources. On the other hand, there is a too slow trend in the environmental performance of metropoles, especially in terms of smog, transport, separate waste collection and water management.

The cities of Trento, Mantua, Pordenone, Bolzano, and Reggio Emilia at the top of the general classification testify to this; at the bottom of the ranking of the 104 cities analysed one finds Pescara, Palermo, and Vibo Valentia.

Lombardy is the region most active in energy efficiency processes, circular economy and in initiatives and projects to reduce the environmental impact. Lazio, Piedmont, and Tuscany follow. The cities most sensitive to environmental issues are those with the largest population; however, it is not the urban centers that support the data, but rather the smaller cities or those close to industrial areas. In general, large cities struggle to give answers to the critical issues that characterise them and for this reason one finds important cities such as Rome and Naples in 89th and 90th place, respectively. The exception is Milan (29th), which has been increasingly attentive in recent years to sustainable mobility and respect for the environment.

The authors conclude by identifying Italy’s main challenge to plan interventions in the best possible way, giving them continuity, taking a cue from the good performances of other European cities, starting and strengthening those projects that represent the only alternative to keep up with the rest of the world.

But as Valerio Mancini writes, the challenge is concrete: “those who still think of fantastic cities where technology will be the end to reach the goal, is out of any reality, as they have not understood that smart cities are created for society, where technology is simply the tool that will help us achieve the desired results and face future challenges.”

Moreover, there has been a concern about city management for years, because the increase in population brings with it problems of waste management, energy consumption and pollution. But the big cities are the engine of the economy in Europe, and even if their projected growth for 2040 was 65% and 70% for 2050, one has to now deal with the Covid-induced strong demographic change introduced. This situation has made inland areas throughout Europe and the world more attractive places to live and highlighted the strong need to incorporate technology into people’s lives given “a person with great digital maturity will be more efficient and resilient than a digitally backward one” and one finds themselves in a world where violent and changing technology define people’s needs.

Finally, the research showcases how the development of smart cities depends on cultural and technological transformation: those who fail to adapt to technology will risk, in the long term, being excluded from society. This is particularly true in the case of larger cities, which are estimated to account for over 60% of global GDP by 2025 (Deloitte, 2019), by which time the growing smart cities market is expected to reach 2.57 trillion dollars.  

You can find out more about the work conducted at the Rome Business School research centre here.

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