29 June 2017
The Transformation To Smarter Cities

By Anna Lisa Boni, EUROCITIES Secretary General
Winter 2015


More than half the world's population now lives in cities. This figure is set to rise to 70% by 2050. When faced with rapid growth, it is up to local leaders and managers to ensure the liveability, sustainability and resilience of our cities. Cities are turning to digital technologies to improve services, reduce costs, save resources and engage more effectively and actively with citizens. They are becoming 'smarter'.

The smart cities approach makes sense in terms of cost and resource efficiency: it is estimated that worldwide, cities will need to spend around €24 trillion1 over the next 25 years on modernising and expanding their infrastructure. A large part of this will be smart cities solutions and services, which are expected to occupy a global market of €364 billion by 2020.

Cities need to ensure they are meeting constantly evolving needs and challenges. Becoming a smarter city is a continuous and transformative process, not an end goal. Smart citizens should play a key role in this process, with cities using technology and innovation to engage and empower citizens to develop ideas and solutions. There are new governance and transparency tools available to encourage this co-creation, such as living labs, ways to integrate citizen input into urban planning, and space and support for start-ups. Successful smart cities will facilitate this participation, cocreation and co-production with citizens and other local partners.

There are plenty of opportunities for cities to learn from each other on this journey. At EUROCITIES, we bring together 130 major European cities to share good practices, expertise and ideas. While we recognise that there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a smart city, cities can be inspired by the successes and mistakes of others. We are involved in a number of EU-funded projects that are part of the move from paper to action. Our GuiDanCe project coordinates activities through the Green Digital Charter (www.greendigitalcharter.eu), a commitment for cities to become smarter through ICT. It encourages cities to deliver on the EU's smart city and sustainability objectives through urban digital strategies; large scale ICT-based solutions; establishing cities as open innovation platforms; using common standards and facilitating the opening of data; and creating new partnerships under a green and urban digital agenda. It now comprises a community of almost 50 signatories.

CITYkeys (www.citykeys-project.eu) is a project developing performance indicators and data collection procedures for smart city solutions and projects. It will allow European cities to monitor and compare their progress and strategies, and assess which solutions and projects would work best for them.

In the field of intelligent transport solutions (ITS), OPTICITIES (www.opticities.com) develops and tests interoperable ITS in six of our member cities. Its goal is to provide citizens with the best possible travel options and optimise urban freight logistics.

A further six of our member cities were involved in TRANSFORM (www.urbantransform.eu), which explored the processes and methodologies cities use when developing smart energy plans and projects together with stakeholders. These cities have since signed a memorandum of understanding to continue their collaboration beyond the project.

Some of our cities are already leading the way globally when it comes to becoming smarter. Among these is Amsterdam, which set up its own smart city initiative in 2009. This now comprises 79 projects being developed in collaboration with citizens, businesses and government. One is ‘Buurtbegroting’, which allows citizens to better understand the city's finances using open data platforms and infographics. It aims to improve the way city finances and decision making are communicated with citizens.

Barcelona has opened its public spaces for tests and pilot projects on services and products that are in the pre-market stage. It is also creating spaces for citizens to learn new skills and co-create solutions. Eindhoven is doing something similar, opening up the city as an 'urban lab' for products and services that meet the needs of consumers. Its approach builds on the triple helix model of city government, academia and industry working together for local economic development and better quality of life.

Milan is leading discussions on the 'sharing economy', which promises to bring multiple benefits through the sharing of goods and services rather than the constant creation of new ones.

Becoming a smarter city is full of opportunities, but also challenges. The continued opening of new data, for example, begs the question of how personal or citizen-centric data can remain under the control of the individual, and how we can ensure that it remains publicly accessible, non-proprietary and transparent.

The first wave of smart startups and mobile applications brought with it questions about new business models that can ensure the sustainability of these projects, and also the need for open interfaces and platforms to ensure interoperability between applications, cities and user groups.

Access to high speed broadband is a pre-requisite for many smart city solutions. This requires research and investment into broadband infrastructure in cities. And with an increasingly digitalised public sector, new risks of cyberattacks emerge. When city systems such as transport, healthcare and electricity are controlled by technology, the effects can be disastrous. Cities need structured responses and specific technology to keep on top of the threat.

There will be ups and downs along the way, but becoming 'smarter cities' is a chance to rise to the challenges of rapid urbanisation. It is essential that cities and citizens are at the heart of this process so that smart city solutions meet the real needs on the ground.


1. Figure taken from http://uk-chinasmartcities.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Smart-Cities-Solutions-Challenge.doc (£17 trillion)