When it comes to smart cities, Barcelona is often held up as a prime example of how well they can work.

May 25, 2016

3 Min Read
Smart City Spotlight Barcelona
Dawn in Barcelona, Spain.

A troubling symptom of distracted driving is emergency vehicles not getting to where they need to be on time because of drivers paying attention to their phones over the road. But imagine you lived in a city where street lights were smart enough to let emergency vehicles through without disrupting the flow of traffic. Welcome to Barcelona.

The smart system that controls the traffic lights in Spain’s second largest city manages the traffic light route to the fire or accident. The system sets the lights green along the approximate route to the destination until the emergency vehicles have passed and then returns them to their standard setting, leaving the route clear of traffic.

When it comes to smart cities, Barcelona is often held up as a prime example of how well they can work. The city was named the top global smart city in 2015 by Juniper Research, which called Barcelona “an exciting model of success from which others can learn, bolstered by strong environmentally sustainable initiatives.”

The former city chief architect of Barcelona, Vincente Guallart, who served in the role from 2011-2015, said in an interview with ArchDaily in January 2014 that “the first sign of success” for smart cities came “from the fact that the municipalities are copying each other.”

“If something is working in one place, for example the bus system or the light system, others will try to copy this,” Guallart said. “The best way to measure the success is to see how much they copy you or how much they are looking at your solutions. But more than copying directly, which can be done in the wrong way, we should learn to share knowledge in order to promote a collective progress for the cities around the world. This is exactly what City Protocol is trying to do. There would be some recommendations and standards, but what is important is not to say what is good and what is bad. Instead we want to walk together, to make common trips in order to develop cities and improve the quality of the city.”


City Protocol is an interoperable city platform that aims to define the Internet of Cities and provide common solutions across “silos within and between cities.” The framework involves 40 countries, 80 organizations, and 12 city projects. Cities involved with City Protocol include Barcelona, Amsterdam, Dubai, Genova, Moscow, and Dublin.

Aside from smart traffic lights, Barcelona has a number of other smart projects including a city-owned Wi-Fi system that offers the largest, free Wi-Fi networking in Spain, and asmart water system that optimizes water use in several of the city’s parks, measuring how much water is needed by specific plants that automatically stops when it starts raining to prevent water waste.  

While the projects are in the early stages (Barcelona started its smart city push in 2013), Juniper Research predicts that cities will save about $17 billion a year in energy bills by installing smart streetlights and other measures to conserve energy.

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