Paula PalermoSmart Cities Investment Analyst
Paula Palermo is currently a Smart Cities investment analyst at Plug and Play Tech Center, a company based in Sunnyvale, California, USA, whose main objective is to catalyze technological advancement.
In addition, she is involved in International Development Cooperation projects with a focus on cities.
Graduated in Architecture and Urban Planning and in Economics, Paula Palermo is one of the special guests in Connecting Stories by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS.
1. Can you tell us about your journey and your professional experience, as well as your current roles?
I am from São Paulo and that is where I developed my critical education. I started my professional career collaborating for social, research and urban planning projects while completing my not so traditional education. I opted for a longer path than usual when I decided to graduate from two faculties at the same time, crossing areas, themes and approaches to look at a very complex topic and full of cooperation within the most diverse areas of knowledge: cities.
Both in my Architecture and Urbanism and Economics courses, my first contacts with practice were with social movements, which was fundamental to understand how I could apply my knowledge to solve real problems. I have always been passionate about connecting ideas and cultures and what different experiences can show us in interesting projects and ways to solve complex problems.
In the year 2018, I completed my education, having the possibility to represent the School of the City Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism in the Sustainable Development forum of the UN regional headquarters in Latin America, together with social organizations, governments and international cooperation bodies.
2. How did you become interested in studying urban planning?
I have always been an anxious person about social issues and inequalities in the world. Ever since I was a little girl, I wondered why it is that at the same time we see so much development and witness so much misery. I began to realize that cities concentrated many of these issues and, simultaneously, presented many opportunities for development.
I see the built world as a mirror of the way we relate to each other, so social, organizational and physical changes in our cities can be a concrete key to solving these issues.
Planning cities is about thinking about the past, the present and also the future. The pandemic highlighted the worst we could expect from unprepared public services and lack of access to basic services like sanitation, housing and health. Historical cases like these open our eyes to the way we organize ourselves socially and spatially, showing the main problems, but also possible solutions.
3. And Smart Cities?
The worlds of innovation and technology are very curious. When looking for solutions for cities it is hard not to be interested in those that, through technology, present numerous possibilities for improving services and broadening access. At the same time, such solutions demonstrate many contradictions, such as issues related to privacy, control and lack of access to digital services in many regions of the world, especially those south of the Equator, where connectivity and the promises of Smart Cities do not apply to everyone in the same way.
That's where my interest emerged, namely because of the great challenge presented to change reality: not only installing devices and sensors, but seeing technology and innovation as tools to enhance services and improve the quality of life of the population exponentially.
4. You have a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning and a degree in Economics. What led you to study these two areas? What do they have in common?
I entered the School of Economics because I was curious to know the origin of these inequalities and I saw that, in the same way, the economy was the root of many of these problems, and we can also build solutions through it. I had to trace my own path to be able to discuss these issues, both in the academy and in practical life, so I decided to major in Architecture and Urbanism at the same time. The combination of social development solutions with physical space planning has always caught my attention. In the end, all the proposals to change structures that we know go through economic discussions, and it is very important to take them into consideration for the success of the application of any architecture or urbanism project, because they will depend on these factors for their short and long term viability.
Through a scholarship from Banco Santander, I participated in an executive course at Georgetown Business School, where I was the only architect and urban planner. Therefore, I was able to contribute to debates related to Social Innovation and Financial Inclusion from another perspective. I advocate multidisciplinarity and believe that all areas can have something in common. Bringing together different ideas and visions, we can reach more productive and coherent results.
5. How can a company contribute to the development of Smart Cities?
Companies play a key role in the digital transformation of cities, and I deal with this topic a lot in my day-to-day life. I see, every day, new solutions coming from small and startup innovation companies that have a different vision of the world and put it into practice. It is an ecosystem, where many make up a whole, from governments to companies, universities and civil society in general.
I remember the discussions in the Economics course about the limits of the private sector in providing basic needs with the business logic of less cost and more return. These limits provide the population with access to basic needs, even if it is not economically viable, such as housing, clean water, education, health services and the protection of the environment.
These are fundamental issues for society and can be solved by society together, through new business models that include these perspectives with the use of technology. Increasingly, companies need to be aligned with social and environmental values, recognizing that solutions that respond creatively to society's crucial issues will be lasting and effective in the long term.
6. How can urban planning and Smart Cities improve the quality of life of the population?
The pandemic hits people in different ways. If we look at the cities, they show us exactly the absence of quality of life for many. Isolation has not happened for everyone in the same way and basic issues like sanitation and access to technology and connectivity have affected those without access. Quality of life, in my opinion, is a right for everyone and is reflected in many aspects, such as education, work, mobility, as well as quality spaces, both public and private, that fulfill our daily needs.
There is no single answer, and when we deal with cities, we are looking at complex issues that are impossible to solve with a single solution. In the end, the city is not one element. The city is the people, collectives and individuals, and more and more we need cooperation to work on these projects together. The cities are us, what we do, think and consume. It is important to think about education and dissemination of these technologies so that they are coherent, widely accessible and justify their implementation.
7. Do you think that exist (or should exist) a relationship between sustainability and Smart Cities?
Smart cities are also those that know how to use resources in sustainable ways. I deal with businesses of all scales that seek to propose solutions. On one hand, more and more, the innovation areas of large corporations seek to adopt new technologies to present new products, being complacent with the themes of social and corporate responsibility. On the other hand, new, recently created companies that are investing in technology and innovation, the so-called startups, are taking risks with less common ideas to change the status quo, radicalizing the world view we have today, anticipating what will be the future application of various forms of innovation.
Looking at the big picture, the concept of Smart Cities aggregates many topics that surround us and that are directly related to the environment. After all, cities are the result of our interactions to produce, create and destroy.
Within each discussion of urban topics, such as mobility, energy and construction, we consider smart the solutions that optimize resources and promote previously non-existent access to the required services. Unsustainable behavior is inconsistent with the meaning of the word intelligence. The natural and social metabolism and balance is fundamental for all of us.
Today, we can no longer think about the future without considering the environment and society, which must always be a premise for the long-term success of any company, especially those operating in the Smart Cities sector. We see on a daily basis that including innovation and sustainability strategies is not an option. It is a necessity.
8. Being from Brazil, how do you see the development of a Smart City in Europe compared to South America? What are the main challenges?
We are going through one of the most difficult periods in our history, and definitely the most complex for certain generations. Brazil is witnessing an extreme scenario of irresponsibility and retrogression, as well as a lack of concern for human life, which unfortunately coincided with the pandemic. Many latin american cities that already lacked basic infrastructure were left with even more complex problems. How can we think about technology if a large part of the population lacks the basics, such as access to housing, drinking water and connection?
When we relate latin american cities to european cities, the big differences are visible and correspond to the development history of each reality, including the impact of the colonial past, slavery and dependence, that is reflected even today in the inefficiency of infrastructure and public policies, often failed or almost non-existent.
Some problems are global, such as poverty and inequality, and others concern places with specific organizational forms and characteristics. The concept of Smart Cities is broad and includes different ways of applying technologies in urban spaces. We see several cities that are investing in many solutions and we have many keys for the entire latin american region to be competitive and to take advantage of the development of these new technologies in their various scales in a sustainable, fair and inclusive way.
Latin America has many innovation projects, whether they come from companies, startups, the academy or social movements. I believe there is a lot of value in what is produced, and the world has a lot to learn from the region, already recognized as a leader in several sectors.
9. How do you think the cities of the future will be like?
I see the possibility of many dystopian scenarios, in the radicalization of the technologies that are already applied to granularly control the population. We need to recognize the risk and work to ensure that projects do not result in ends that are contrary to human freedom, education and quality of life, and that is where the real challenge lies.
When working with innovation, we are already thinking about what will be solutions for the cities of the present and the future. To design is to idealize what is to come, including the steps we need to take to apply ideas to reality.
Every idea for change is a construction of tomorrow, and to arrive at long-term solutions that match the vision we want, we need to work today. Investing is thinking about tomorrow, and we need to invest in people, in securing their well-being for prosperity and to protect the environment.
10. Being PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS a company that develops and manufactures multimedia kiosks, self-service equipment, digital billboards, interactive tables and other digital solutions for all kind of industries and at international level, how can this equipment and technology in general contribute to the development of Smart Cities?
The interaction between people and technology is a key issue for Smart Cities and this is exactly the area of work of PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS. Dynamic kiosks and interactive and multifunctional screens are very important equipment for the application of new technologies in urban spaces, so that we can actively take advantage of the data produced, optimizing systems, promoting information and expanding the access to services.
Increasingly, new communication technologies enable live streaming data processing that can, for example, display, through interactive urban objects, weather information, transportation, among other fundamental issues for the connected operation in cities.
What is the point of investing in complex solutions without being able to deliver them to those who will use them? Communication is fundamental and cities can't be completely intelligent if they don't translate information to the population in an intelligent way, making the content that needs to be shared reach the end users.
PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS is a company that invests in a priority area for Smart Cities and is building, together with other solutions, the future of our cities.
Connecting Stories is an editorial space led by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS which consists of conducting exclusive interviews, directed at influential personalities who work in different sectors of activity.
The project, conceived by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS, includes the publication of success stories, through small interviews with influencers who want to share details about their projects, opinions, plans for the future, among other subjects.
The idea is to connect stories, share knowledge, develop networking and generate content that can provide new visions, opportunities and ideas.
Founded in 2000, PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS is a world renowned Portuguese IT company, manufacturer of indoor and outdoor multimedia kiosks, self-service equipment, digital billboards, interactive tables and other digital solutions, for all types of sectors and industries. To know more about our story, click here.