What Businesses Can Learn from Barcelona, the Smart City

It’s an ‘Eixample’ for us all

Clark Boyd
11 min readJun 13, 2022


I’m just back from Barcelona and, in the grand tradition, I’m going to bore you with stories about my holiday.

Well, sort of. I actually had three draft articles about “Barcelona, the Smart City” partially written, from across the last few years.

I kept reading about the new technology initiatives in Barcelona, but I was really struck by both their invisibility and their impact last week.

It’s like all good digital transformations, huh? The tech becomes that invisible hand, guiding people to better, more informed outcomes.

You may have read about DALL-E 2, the OpenAI image generator. A developer has created a mini-app that provides access to a (slightly limited) version of DALL-E 2 — you can give it a spin here.

The tool is named after both Salvador Dalí and Pixar’s WALL-E. Dalí was Catalan, so I asked DALL-E 2 to make me some Barcelona images.

Here’s what he came up with:

We can detect here the absorption of ideas in the collective consciousness, both about the city and the artist.

The developer that created the DALL-E 2 mini-app said,

“The hardest part is definitely people. If you draw a landscape with Dall-E, it’s amazing, because if there’s a small problem with a tree, nobody notices it and the landscape still looks great.”

It’s a little like city planning, isn’t it?

“The hardest part is definitely people.”

Cities are patterns of accidents. They can be rigorously designed, but people will use, reshape, and expand them to their own needs. The product-market fit is identified when ideas meet concrete reality.

When building a “smart city” it is not enough to add some sensors or “digitise” a few components; the city must plan for the full range of consequences.

Cities are formed as much by ideas as they are by things; in either case more often than not they are the product of unintended consequences.



Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.