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The European Union promotes the paradigm of ecological modernization and the effectiveness of eco-innovations (European Environment Agency, 2014). This is evident, in particular, from the political and financial support that the Institution is devoting to smart cities. Thus far, most of the ‘smart’ projects developed in European cities focus on the theme of the environment and its efficient management (European Union, 2014). However, what has not yet been adequately investigated is the issue of the social impact of these smart environmental projects (Beretta, 2014a, b, c). In particular, what seems important is the question of whether the projects with environmental objectives also yield beneficial results from the social point of view, with special reference to the issue of social inclusion. Who are the real beneficiaries of the projects of eco-innovation? Do the benefits extend to all citizens or are they likely to go to only some sectors of the population, often the wealthier ones, risking - among other things - promotion of the phenomenon of eco-gentrification? In more general terms, can we say that smart cities represent the ‘ideal’ settings for the achievement of simultaneous environmental, economic and social development? This paper reports results from research conducted on smart environmental projects implemented in Italy and posted on the national web platform italiansmartcity.it. The project consisted in a qualitative analysis of the environmental projects presented, in order to analyze their social impacts, especially referring to the question of social inclusiveness and the risk of eco-gentrification. More generally, the analysis helps clarify whether the eco -innovations represent an effective tool for achieving sustainable development in the Italian context. Having said that, it cannot be assumed that readers are familiar with the European and Italian contexts. Par. 1 opens with a table that gives definitions of terms which are potentially not clear. It then shows ways that the European Union is institutionalizing eco-innovation and smart cities, remaining on the latest debate on them. Par. 2 highlights the risk of the technological rut the European Union is falling into; par. 3 illustrates the main results of research carried out on the smart cities in the Lombardy Region regarding the social effects of ecoinnovations; par. 4 attempts to draw a provisional conclusion.
In this paper, we have focused upon the actual ‘intelligence’ of environmental innovations, meaning by intelligence that they contribute to the achievement of sustainable.
development, a development that it is not only environmental, but also economic and social. More specifically, therefore, we have asked about the social effects of the eco-innovative interventions (smart environmental projects) in the context of Italian smart cities. Although, in fact, the European Union's confidence in technologically-advanced solutions is clear (Section 1), some empirical evidence does not always show that the benefits are distributed in a manner that is uniform among the different social groups and different areas of the city (Section 4). In such cases, the risk of the technological rut in which the European Union sometimes seems to fall, through the process of institutionalization of eco-innovations which we are frequently witnessing, proves to be valid (Section 2). This risk is due to the fact that technology is not fool-proof, cannot be a solution to every problem and often is neither ‘free-standing’ nor ‘fair’ because it is linked to specific social, political and economic contexts.
This paper reports results from research conducted on the smart environmental projects implemented in Italy and posted on the national web platform italiansmartcity.it. The project consisted of a qualitative analysis of the environmental projects presented, in order to analyze their social impacts, especially referring to the question of social inclusiveness and eco-gentrification. More generally, the analysis helps clarify whether the eco-innovations represent an effective tool for achieving sustainable development in the Italian context.