The Europe on Track conference “Smart Cities: Can you hear the ECO?” was the kick-off event for Europe on Track #5 and took place in the beautiful city of Thessaloniki from the 15th until the 18th of March 2018. Organised by Europe on Track in collaboration with AEGEE-Thessaloniki, this international conference touched upon many burning issues related to environmental sustainability, which is considered by AEGEE to be an essential part of civic education.
The opening ceremony
On the 15th of March, 120 people from all over the world – among them, participants, ambassadors, organisers and members of the project team – gathered in the city hall of Thessaloniki for the opening ceremony of the event and had a first taste of the topic of Smart Cities and Sustainability. Together with them, we joined the sessions and workshops that took place over the next three days where we gained a lot of insights about smart cities.
On Friday the 16th we returned to the city hall, as an intensive day of learning and brainstorming was ahead of us. Starting off with an introduction to Smart Cities and three different workshops on how to apply the features of smart cities in real life, participants had the chance to dive into the concept of smart living and to further elaborate on their views regarding the topic. The next series of workshops enlightened us as to what smart economy, connectivity, digitization, and smart governance are and how they can change the way we act on a commercial, digital and administrative level.
The panel discussions
The panel discussion on urban planning in the context of climate change and growing urbanisation that followed brought local specialists such as university professors and members of the city council in contact with the participants. During this fruitful conversation we tried to study and familiarise ourselves with problems regarding the dysfunctional transportation system of Thessaloniki in particular, by comparing it to that of other cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam. It turned out that the attempt to make Thessaloniki itself a smart city is a big challenge but the young members of the conference seemed to be up for it. Jumping into the next panel discussion, we talked with Artemis Psaltoglou, researcher at URENIO on the concept of urban intelligence and Margarita Angelidou, a senior research consultant in European research projects, about the social implications of technological fixes, an issue that concerns the vast majority of young adults nowadays. During this conversation we asked ourselves: “Is it possible that technology promotes excuses? Do we consume more than normal with the alibi that we recycle?” The catchbox microphones were on fire while the passionate participants shared their thoughts on the matter of technology and ethics in today’s society.
With the help of Mr. Pernet, co-founder of Youth for Public Transport (Y4PT), a hackathon took place in the International Exhibition and Congress Centre of Thessaloniki. The participants worked hard in groups of 5 people for 8 straight hours on original projects aimed to help the population of Thessaloniki tackle problems such as transportation malfunctions, poor recycling methods and a lack of green space.
With limited time and the eyes on the prize, the productivity levels in the room were high. The attendees brainstormed, elaborated on ideas and joined forces to create together. With the help of Mr. Akylas, Consultant of Urban Resilience and Mr. Goniadis, an expert in sustainable development, the teams found answers to their questions and managed to finish their projects on time for the closing ceremony, where a winner would be announced.
The closing ceremony
The final day of the event was full of anticipation and emotional tension. As the teams were presenting their unique ideas it was clear that the jury would face a challenge in order to choose a winner between all those equally innovative projects. At last, the winning team was announced, whose project, “happy soil”, aimed to manage the organic waste in the city of Thessaloniki. The conference was wrapped up with the speeches of the project team and the organisers, who were thrilled to see their month-long efforts and dreams being realised. In retrospect, the conference was a characteristic example of youth in action in favour of humanity, because, as Mr. Akylas pointed out in his speech, in order to see change in the world, “we should think globally and act locally”.
Written by Maria Tiaka, AEGEE-Thessaloniki