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Special feature

Cities, territories and digital transformation


A city “enhanced” by digital technologies has been a dream for some fifteen years. “The dream of an omniscient smart city, capable of anticipating and solving any problem thanks to incredible technological tools”, summarised sociologist Bernard Cathelat, at the “Linking Cities” event organised by Netexplo on 15 April 2021. “But the crash test of Covid-19 showed the weaknesses and shortcomings of a technocentric city. (…) No AI [has remedied] the lack of anticipation, the logistical chaos, no algorithm has come to the aid of the less privileged. ”
On social networks, the voices of Eric Piolle, mayor of Grenoble, Johanna Rolland, mayor of Nantes, or engineers such as Philippe Bihouix, Deputy General Manager of AREP, who put low tech up against “technological solutionism”, underlining in passing the environmental cost of “this electronification”, are more widely shared than those of advocates of the “smart city”.

The environmental footprint of digital technology is very real, as shown by the latest Shift Project report of October 2020: it represents 4% of global carbon emissions (similar to the world’s truck fleet, but twice that of aircraft), and this footprint is growing by 10% per year, an increase equivalent to the growth of digital technology; it generates more than 50 million tons of electrical and electronic waste per year, three quarters of which is never recycled, ends up in landfill, pollutes the soil, not to mention the impacts on human health that this waste can cause.

From the current crisis, it is still the GAFAs that have come out on top: “Google emerges stronger from the coronavirus crisis”, “Facebook and Apple triumph after a year of pandemic”, “Amazon surfs on the Covid wave and posts record results” headlines “Les Echos” on 28, 29 and 30 April 2021.
Social inequalities have increased, cyber attacks on public, administrative or health services are on the rise…

“Digital tools are simply tools like any other,” cautions Michele Dominici, innovation project manager at Bouygues. “They cannot constitute the solution to the complex problems faced by every city: that would be confusing the ends with the means. Digital tools are only as good as what we decide to do with them. The challenge is to work in the best possible way with these tools, in a systemic approach, which is ethical, economic and social, without losing sight of the final objective: people and the environment. ”

“They are extraordinary instruments for redefining space-time,” says geographer and anthropologist Sonia Lavadinho, founder of Bfluid, at the “Roads of Tomorrow” forum in September 2019. They give citizens the gift of ubiquity, of being both further away (I can talk to someone who is in Japan) and closer to my neighbourhood, of creating an activity, a social link. We have the choice to speed up (thanks to the GPS), or to slow down. But they can also be formidable instruments of alienation, division and discord. ”

Territories will have to take up these issues in the same way as the State, and think in particular about the use of data. Some have already done so, in cooperation, in an action-research approach in which Bouygues Construction and Bouygues Energies & Services were partners. So that the “smart city” gives way to the “linking city”, an expression coined by Bernard Cathelat, a city where technology is at the service of its inhabitants.

Digital transformation and challenges

“The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states. The 21stcentury will be a century of cities.”

‐ Wellington E. Webb, Former Mayor of Denver (1999)

Two out of three people will live in cities or urban areas in 2050, according to the Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, published by the United Nations in 2018, compared to just over one in two today. The reason is “demographic change and global population growth”, explains the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). According to the same department, the expected growth will mainly be in Africa and Asia.
“Many countries will face challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, including housing, transport, energy systems and other infrastructure, as well as employment and basic services such as education and health care” DESA said, urging governments to adopt more integrated policies to improve the lives of urban and rural people.
“The great paradox of digital use,” emphasises Sébastien Missoffe, Managing Director of Google France, in an article published by Libération on 13 April 2021, “is that this global network offers local solutions” to accompany these transformations.


This use first of all makes it possible to establish a diagnosis of the state of the urban territories where it is practised.
“In this great organism that is the city, an organism that consumes, eats, drinks, produces waste, etc., a set of networks enables the various organs to carry out their functions and communicate with each other,” explains Matthieu Le Mèner, head of digital transformation at Bouygues Construction. In the digital city, these networks, including the telecommunications infrastructure (radio or wired), are brought to life by sensors that send back signals. These provide information on the state of the urban organism (e.g. oxygenation, temperature, traffic flow, etc.). This information, collected at a given moment, is the data, the city’s health data.
“AI [fed by this data] will be essential tomorrow to make transport more fluid, reduce energy consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately make the city more liveable (…). Housing and mobility are the biggest expenses for households. These two sectors together account for 80% of global energy consumption and are responsible for 49% of greenhouse gases and 70% of C02 production” says Christian Cléret, co-chair of the 2020-2050 Responsible Buildings (RBR) think tank, among other responsibilities


AI supports the development of megacities in China, and is helping to ensure the functioning of these cities of more than 10 million inhabitants. “Intelligent systems will systematically complement infrastructure,” explains Tai Wei Lim in Industrial Revolution 4.0 – Tech Giants and Digitized Societies (2019). “They are being implemented (…) [in] a hyper-connected megacity known as Jing Jin Ji (Beijing, Tinaju and Hebei), which stretches over 212,380 square kilometres, to monitor the highways and bridges that weave links across this immense territory. Sensors provide real-time data to commuters [to make it easier for them to get around]. They also help to manage the city’s infrastructure needs”.
In Europe, on the other hand, digital technology will help to weave new social and economic links between urban and rural areas, predicts sociologist Bernard Cathelat, and between cities: tomorrow there will be “linking cities”, connected “regiopoles”, which he defines as mosaics of neovillages. It confirms the vision of “a polymorphous, networked, recycled city, open to all” of Dominique Alba, CEO of the Atelier Parisien d’Urbanisme (APUR), which she sets out in the Finance Innovation and Smart Building Alliance white paper, Sustainable Buildings, Cities and Territories, New Uses and Economic Models (2020).


The data produced by cities is a valuable and strategic resource, and not only for its leaders. “Data, the new black gold of the 21st century” is a common saying. “Data, the new black gold of the 21st century” is a common saying. “Whoever has the data has the power”. But who owns it? “Who holds the keys to the city?” Axelle Lemaire, former Secretary of State for Digital and Innovation, asked on Twitter in April 2021. Axelle Lemaire pleads for a digital municipalism: “Asking how to build a digital city means asking what place to reserve for citizens in the governance decisions of this city and how to transpose this reflection into the technologies themselves. What makes cities smart is first and foremost their inhabitants”
Public-private partnerships, which are set to increase in number, and the shared governance of the city raise concerns. “On this delicate issue of digital data and its governance, we need to work at the individual level but also in collaboration with the territory,” explains Jean-François Lucas, consultant at Chronos. This is the purpose of the open and collaborative approach DataCités2 which is being conducted with five local authorities over a period of one year, and in which Bouygues Construction and Bouygues Energies & Services are partners. The final report formulates 16 recommendations for territories.
Some cities, such as Nantes, are examining the issue with their residents. In May, Poitiers entrusts the debate on responsible digital technology to a citizens’ convention of 30 Poitiers residents. It will have two months to prepare its proposals for elected representatives.

“Public-private partnerships have existed for a very long time, says Professor Bertrand Quelin, holder of the Bouygues Chair at HEC Paris, ‘Smart City and the Common Good’. They take on a new dimension with citizen participation; governance becomes tripartite. Local residents have opinions, as do NGOs and activists, without any negative connotation. It is in our interest to listen to them: if a project is started and then legally challenged, the cost is enormous! On the question of how digital transformation will create value: there is satisfaction for the inhabitants, because the answers to the question of the sustainability of urban development with digital technology can only be arrived at with the inhabitants”

Digital transformation: what are the consequences for the city?

Whenever there was talk of digital in the service of the city in the 2010s, one image came to mind: a bird’s-eye view of the Centro de Operações Rio (COR), the Operations Centre of the city of Rio de Janeiro, an 80 m2 control room in which dozens of staff in front of their computers, all wearing the same uniform, face a wide wall lined with a hundred screens.
Why has this photo been shared so much? Under 24/7 surveillance, the city of Rio seems to be akin to George Orwell’s fictional 1984.
But it also gives glimpse of the potential of digital tools, “which are only what we decide to make of them”, as Michele Dominici reminded us in the introduction to this dossier: combining efficient urban management and environmental preservation, offering new services to city dwellers to help them in their daily lives, and strengthening links between citizens. It’s up to the towns to determine how, with which partners.


In the Centro de Operações Rio, all the staff wear the same uniform, and one of the major advantages of the command platform is not obvious: that of bringing together in the same room several different departments (roads, lighting, traffic, communication, etc.) to monitor and co-pilot the urban flows of a city of 1,260 km2, in order to “minimise the impact [on the city] of major events”, as it says on the Centre’s Twitter site (riots or torrential rain).
In France, Dijon Métropole has seen all the benefits that the territory and its inhabitants could derive from this mode of operation and has equipped its services with a connected control center which allows all the urban equipments of the 23 municipalities of the territory (traffic lights, public lighting, video protection, etc.) to be managed remotely and centrally. In this city, “six departments have been brought together in a single location, equipped with a common digital tool: a platform called On Dijon, for greater efficiency in terms of coordination and management,” explains Magali Le Coze, head of the Smart City division at Bouygues Energies & Services, member of the consortium in charge of building and managing the tool. “Take the example of a motorist who has an accident; let’s imagine that he hits a lamppost; the departments will be able to mobilize together to alert the emergency services, inform the population via information panels, put in place the most appropriate signage to avoid traffic jams and repair the equipment.” And to conclude: “The inhabitants are the main beneficiaries of the tool thanks to services that are both closer to their uses and their needs and more efficient, in all areas: cleanliness, mobility, safety, public lighting, etc. By contributing to the construction of a modern and inclusive metropolis, this large-scale Open Data and data governance project contributes to strengthening the attractiveness of the territory.”
The issue is also environmental: relieving traffic congestion gives a “sustainable reduction in air pollution in our cities. Not only during peaks that require urgent treatment of the symptoms. But by taking long-term action to restore quality air every day of the year” emphasised Elisabeth Borne, then Minister for Ecological Transition and Solidarity, at the 19th conference on cities in 2019. Some cities are installing sensors to measure the damage, like Paris with Pollutrack or Nantes, Villeurbanne or Grenoble with AtmoTrack. Tucson (Arizona) and Newark (New York) are entrusting artificial intelligence with the task of gathering and administering data to analyse and even predict their water treatment.
Tools such as the City Information Model simulate the impact of urban changes on the well-being of inhabitants, and help to avoid planning errors (badly designed corona cycleways, forgotten delivery spaces, noise pollution from terraces in the evening, etc.) as well as wasted energy and materials. The Building Information Model is also a useful tool for building modular and better insulated spaces to increase their usage rate.
To involve citizens in their quest for frugality, as well as apartments, some builders provide residents with an application to monitor their energy consumption and optimise management, as in the case of the ABC building in Grenoble, delivered by Linkcity, or Eikenott, an eco-neighbourhood in Gland, in Norman Switzerland (AllThings application).


At the level of the home and the neighbourhood, these applications contribute to simplifying the daily life of users, for example by providing them with bus or tram timetables, and possibly, in the case of the AllThings application, by allowing them to create a mini social support network, to reserve a time slot to use the laundry room, and to pay for this service via their mobile phone.
Dijon is preparing an application at city level, to manage both ones municipal library card and ones urban journeys from a smartphone, optimised thanks to multimodality… At the same time, car-sharing and car-pooling services are trying to establish themselves in the city, such as Mobilize, proposed by Renault, which has already been established in Madrid. However, they require parking areas that cities are not always prepared to provide and, for electric vehicles, the limited number of charging points is a barrier to development.
At the regional level, the Ile-de-France Smart Services platform based on Siradel’s creation of its digital twin (a 3D representation of the region with its 2.5 million buildings), aims to offer the 12 million inhabitants of the Ile-de-France region “innovative services covering a wide range of fields (environment, energy, employment, health, transport, etc.)”, says the website. “My Solar Potential” makes the capacity of a roof to produce solar energy immediately visible, provides information on qualified professionals to install the necessary technology; with “smart work” you can find a workspace near your location for the day or for a shorter period of time, and “my local products” allows you to find the nearest distributors. Open data encourages students and start-ups to propose urban services.


Are we witnessing the “return of digital citizen democracy”, as the magazine “Smart City” headlined in March 2020? The ConsultVox platform, a tool for consultation and citizen participation, counted “thirty or so requests from all over France during the lockdown” according to the co-founder, Rémi de Saint Aubert. Several cities have created their own platforms during lockdown, to stimulate local life, save businesses but also engage citizens in lockdown-opening up measures as well as in urban planning projects. The website of the Association of French Mayors lists their initiatives.
The Réseau des Quartiers en Transition project, conceived by students at the Centre Michel Serres, involves citizens, local associations, businesses and municipalities in the diagnosis and improvement of their neighbourhood. The platform’s objectives go far beyond those of the DansMaRue app for Paris or RenCitéZen for Rennes, which allow residents and shopkeepers to notify municipal services of the malfunctions they encounter on a daily basis (littering, potholes, damaged street furniture): the network’s goal is to build a low-carbon neighbourhood in 2040 thanks to different, responsible lifestyles that leave no one behind.
Linking cities will not happen without their inhabitants.

Is a digital and sustainable city possible?

(Français) A gauche, FRÉDÉRIC GAL, responsable du projet de modernisation des métiers de Bouygues Construction. A droite, PHILIPPE KERIGNARD, responsable innovation, architecture transverse et gouvernance de la donnée chez Bouygues Telecom.


How does digital transformation change the city, its organisation, its functioning and the experience of its users? How to combine technology and environment? What governance is required for a better use of data?
Answers from FRÉDÉRIC GAL, head of the Bouygues Construction business line modernisation project and PHILIPPE KERIGNARD, head of innovation, transverse architecture and data governance at Bouygues Construction.


P. K. – Because technology allows us to do things that we could not do without it: to accurately measure the level and type of air and water pollution, to help make wiser decisions, to ensure more intelligent management of urban space by aggregating a large amount of data.
Simulations on the digital twins of cities make it possible to anticipate the consequences of a decision and to avoid mistakes. Some corona cycleway, planned during the first lockdown, had perverse collateral effects that could have been anticipated by the simulation. A map such as IDF-3D [Ile de France 3D] will show the impact of the creation of a cycle lane that could not be seen without this simulation and Artificial Intelligence tools.
In addition, it will help the city to manage flows, when it previously had to manage stocks. At present, in the evening there are stocks of cars in car parks that are unoccupied during the day. If we want to make these car parks profitable, they will have to accommodate different flows of vehicles depending on the time of day, the type of day (non-working, working), and the weather (when it rains, we use our cars more). Autonomous electric cars will contribute to making these spaces profitable by intensifying the flows: they will need to recharge in a charger-equipped parking space. Technology helps us to develop the best flow management solutions, at the lowest cost, and to prepare ourselves for these new uses of urban space.


F. G. – We have established a partnership with Dassault Systèmes. Although construction is not their core business, we wanted to benefit from their industrial know-how. Why should their tools which are so successful in the automotive, aviation or shipbuilding industries not work here in the wider construction sector, on a site and city scale?
We asked ourselves how we could adapt their 3DExperience platform to our needs, to push for customisation, to set up the right logistics, which would lead to the least possible loss. We want to draw inspiration from the way a vehicle is built: knowing at a very early stage what needs to be done to minimise the environmental impact.
We hope to make it even more productive: the 3DExperience platform is currently only used for the design of buildings, and our aim is to make it useful during the operational monitoring phase, to facilitate maintenance, monitoring, and checking that the desired performances are achieved in terms of lighting and energy consumption.


F. G. – The test, conducted by Bouygues Energies et Services, is being carried out on the scale of a medium-sized town, La Grande-Motte, in the Hérault department. The platform is used for the management of public lighting to facilitate exchanges with the customer as well as the management of the contract. It’s a maintenance tool that tracks consumption; we compare the various data to improve it. It is imperceptible to the inhabitants: we are not touching the street furniture, those lampposts which are part of the heritage of La Grande-Motte.
To better visualise the problems (a faulty bulb for example) we modelled the city in 3D, a digital model on which each element managed by BYES is shown (position, energy consumption).


F. G. – Many services can be offerd, for example those enjoyed by the Grand Est region. The Strasbourg University Hospital Institute (IHU) has integrated all the daily health data available (Covid-19 tests, hospital activity) into the Dassault platform. The platform has become Predict-Est, a tool for modelling the epidemic: the IHU can follow its progress, anticipate pressure on hospitals and the pressure from Covid on a regional scale. This allows policy-makers to better understand the epidemic, and to project forward, up to two weeks, instead of being in total uncertainty.
We would like to offer this kind of service.


P. K. – The governance of the city and territory’s data does not stop at establishing rules for the collection, storage and use of data – which is already an extremely complex exercise. It must help to make its use more dynamic, to ensure that it is used for policy-making and for the creation and development of services for the inhabitants and the local ecosystem.
The Ile-de-France region, for example, currently has more than a hundred partners and provides access to 10,000 sets of data: it must establish in advance who has the right to do what, how, with what data, for what purpose, and this is almost impossible without equipping itself with tools, new skills, new professions (Data Protection Officer, Chief Data Officer, Data Manager, Data Scientists, etc.) and a solid organisation: it must ensure total data transparency and, even more so, provide proof of this, otherwise it will lose the trust of citizens.
At the same time, it is necessary to develop training for citizens on data and the uses made of it by certain companies (particularly social networks). Students should be informed and trained from secondary school onwards.

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