3rd Jul 2022

Portugal gets own Silicon Valley

  • Ortelius map of Thomas More's Utopia, a 16th century ideal society (Photo: Wikipedia)

Not too far from the northern Portuguese city of Porto, a city is being built from scratch. On a plot of 17 square kilometres, it is to accommodate 225,000 people, cost about €10 billion and should be ready by 2015. It will be Europe's first purpose-built, super-efficient, carbon-neutral smart city.

Headed up by former Microsoft and IBM employee Steve Lewis, the project will see thousands of engineers, scientists and technicians jet in to live in and work on the most energy efficient urban space in Europe, a sort of Portuguese Silicon Valley.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"The purpose of PlanIT Valley is to house on a world scale the largest incubation place for development of technologies that impact urban living," said British-born Lewis.

The first residents - around 35 percent will be European, the rest will be R&D experts from the US and Asia - will start arriving in September. By the time the city is ready, its inhabitants will live in buildings with grass and solar panels on their roofs, have their rubbish sorted and recycled in their building; and drink their own recycled waste water. Automatic lighting systems will be able to predict the homeowner's lighting needs while service upgrades to a building will be a touchpad away.

Apps can be downloaded to secure their homes if they go on holiday or to monitor them if they are ill. Outside public transport will be run on a smart system so they will never crash into anything and it is always possible to know exactly when the next bus is coming. Traffic jams should be – almost – a thing of the past.

Starting with the bricks and mortar

While the concept seems utopian, Lewis himself is pragmatic in his outlook. He says he approached the whole project, which will be funded from capital raised on the public markets, after realising that the efficiency gains made in aircraft or submarine building over the past decades had simply not been applied to the building sector.

"So we started to look at buildings and say 'what can we do?' How do you alter buildings' physics and how do you orchestrate that with electronics and software to make them that much more efficient?"

As Lewis tells it, a fortuitous meeting with a Portuguese entrepreneur three years ago made him concentrate his sights on the now debt-ridden Iberian country.

The original idea to have some engineers working on innovating the building sector morphed into the more ambitious "they need somewhere to live" as thousands of R&D specialists - employees of tech companies such as Cisco - indicated they were prepared to come on board.

A real city with a twist

It will be a real city with shops, entertainment and schools, but with a twist. It will be the first to be designed like software, complete with its own urban operating system, a single platform for managing waste, water, electricity or traffic. All will be connected through cloud computing. And its inhabitants will be living in a giant experiment.

"The city will be used as an ongoing basis for continuous research," said Lewis, adding: "We are taking technology that we know works and playing it out on an urban scale."

While green activists often struggle with people's apathy and reluctance to change their behaviour for the good of the environment, Lewis says his city is designed to do that for them.

"We're effectively recycling, reharvesting, purifying, re-using everything. We have done it in a way that individuals don't have to change their behaviours."


But there is a big downside to having constantly monitoring intelligence and remote sensors built into the very fabric of the city: the potential loss of privacy.

In a place where sensors track all movements, it is possible to know when people are at home; when they are having showers or using the washing machine. Some have even claimed that such intricate data can even show if a couple is having marital problems.

Europeans dislike the idea of being monitored. German fury caused Google to halt plans to expand its street view mapping system in the country. The Dutch rose up in protest a few years ago at the idea of smart metering - the minute recording of energy use.

Lewis, who remarks by way of argument that London is one of most surveilled cities on earth and no one knows exactly who has access to the data, says a person's virtual identity will be separated from their physical identity. "The representation of you in PlanIT Valley is an avatar."

"It has no relation to the individual and only when the individual chooses, for let's say consumer benefits, to share elements of their data do we have a right to engage. But the data cannot be sold on anywhere else."

Lewis admits that the city will have a trial and error element. But if the prototype is successful, which he is counting on, the rapid urbanisation of the world as well as the dwindling of natural resources means he is unlikely to run out of customers soon.

"Thousands of these cities will need be built between now and 2050," he reckons.

Read more about innovation here

IT bugs haunt work of EU fraud busters

EU efforts to fight fraud have been hampered by bugs and delays in an €29m IT system meant to help manage investigations more efficiently.

EU reaches deal on flagship cybersecurity law

The European Parliament and EU member states have reached an agreement over new rules intended to protect Europe's public and private critical entities from cyberattacks.

EU Commission won't probe 'Pegasus' spyware abuse

The European Commission says people should file their complaints with national authorities in countries whose governments are suspected of using an Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against them.


The CPDP conference wants multidisciplinary digital future

During the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) conference, many high-level discussions will touch upon the dynamics of decision-making in the design of new technologies, including the importance of inclusion, diversity, and ethics perspectives within these processes.

EU Commission won't probe 'Pegasus' spyware abuse

The European Commission says people should file their complaints with national authorities in countries whose governments are suspected of using an Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against them.

News in Brief

  1. EU Parliament 'photographs protesting interpreters'
  2. Poland still failing to meet EU judicial criteria
  3. Report: Polish president fishing for UN job
  4. Auditors raise alarm on EU Commission use of consultants
  5. Kaliningrad talks needed with Russia, says Polish PM
  6. Report: EU to curb state-backed foreign takeovers
  7. EU announces trade deal with New Zealand
  8. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways
  2. Czech presidency to fortify EU embrace of Ukraine
  3. Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief
  4. EU pollution and cancer — it doesn't have to be this way
  5. Israel smeared Palestinian activists, EU admits
  6. MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship
  7. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  8. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us