The phenomenon of urbanization is of the utmost importance in relation to the global and local interactions between population, environment and development, to such an extent that any reflection concerning the elaboration of possible sustainable development patterns leads to wonder about the future of cities. The term “globalisation”, though being today a notoriously over-used word, comprises the concept of concentration of economic activities into major cities, which are destined for an increasingly crucial role as physical places, where large amounts of goods, advanced services and various economic and financial activities converge, and as nodes of international networks, where material and immaterial flows occur. Thus, cities become the expression of a new social structure, the Network Society typical of the Information Age, and play the new role of links between global issues and local experience, the latter defining the quality of individual life in a specific context peculiar to the ethos of each city, as a synthesis of the political, cultural, and economic life able to oppose the homogenizing tendencies of globalization. Therefore, the governance of the new cities should be based on a strategic development vision which takes into account both the global space of flows and the local one of physical spaces, with a view to finding a dynamic balance between the contradictory expressions of the values and interests of the numerous subjects living and operating in them. Some local governments are particularly active in the diffusion of their urban management practices (urban governance flows) through cooperation and, in promoting this exchange of practices, they intervene in global governance and act as network-makers or sub-nodes of the global governance network. Furthermore, on an international level, many cities are pursuing the goal to become “smart”, in the broadest sense of the concept with its multiple structuring elements - smart economy, smart people, smart governance, smart mobility, smart environment, smart living –, by working in synergy with local public and private actors to build a project and operational platform which enables them to produce high technology, reduce building energy consumption, promote clean transport and improve the overall quality of life of its inhabitants focusing on low CO2 emissions. At a European level, the European Commission encourages the sharing of experience and best practice solutions at global level, particularly with countries which have innovative, cost-effective and socially inclusive solutions to enhance quality of life in cities, while reducing their carbon footprint. This is also the direction of the recent initiative “Smart Cities & Communities European Innovation Partnership” (SCC), which aims to stimulate the development and introduction of smart technologies in cities by pooling energy, transport and ICT research resources and concentrating them in a limited set of demonstration projects to be carried out in collaboration with cities themselves. Its goal is to devise smart specialisation strategies in order to contribute to the creation of strategic partnerships between industries (in the energy, ICT and transport sectors) and European cities, aimed at developing and implementing future urban systems and infrastructures. The Strategic planning for identification, integration and optimisation of flows (energy, emissions, people, goods, services) is one of the cross-cutting themes of the initiative. In the light of these remarks, this paper will be divided into three main parts: the first part will be focussed on the above-mentioned central issues of the international scientific debate; the second part will examine the most significant European initiatives and experiences; the third part will analyse critically ongoing trends and draw preliminary conclusions and directions for further research and for a fruitful comparison with other international realities.
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