Co-creating smart and sustainable cities: a year in focus

Looking back over our first full year, IRIS Smart Cities is proving to be a dynamic collective, confident in its ability to deliver on a promise: to ‘make urban environments better places for citizens and the planet’. Project manager Roel Massink shares a few highlights…

Joining the dots between developing energy, mobility and ICT solutions and instigating sustainable behaviour change is a colossal task. It requires careful analysis, thoughtful engagement and carefully identified innovative solutions. So you might not be surprised to learn that much of our first year has been dedicated to just this.

IRIS has taken a fresh and in-depth look at five major urban challenges – from the perspectives of end-users, citizens, businesses and technical requirements. We call them our ‘transition tracks’. Behind each of them is a selection of mature, innovative and ambitious solutions.

Lighthouse cities, UtrechtGothenburg and Métropole Nice Cote d’Azur have dived deep with their respective city partners to establish where they are today, where they want to be tomorrow – and a strategy of how to get there. At first glance, its’ a common approach that every city needs to do; but I have been impressed at everyone’s dedication to put themselves in each other’s shoes, address complexity head on and discuss frankly where – or where not! – citizens are really taken into account. The project consortium has also dived into ways of measuring the impact of the innovative solutions using Key Performance Indicators. Here, preceding European smart city projects and initiatives have been instrumental. Feeling part of a smart cities and communities family and exchanging with platforms like the smart cities info system (SCIS) has been very encouraging.

At each stage of this process, four highly ambitious fellow cities have been part of the process. They have had a front row seat and, lead by replication lead the city of Vaasa, have challenged all of us to think about the actions and solutions ahead. “Do our residents really need this?”, “Explain to me exactly how this is financed, by who and on what terms?” and so on. They are demanding internal ‘customers’ whose questions will hopefully benefit countless additional cities as we prepare an open access replication toolkit to help accelerate economic, environmental and social impact elsewhere.

As you can see, collaboration is key, especially in this first year of working intensively together. With three consortium meetings in three great lighthouse cities, countless interactions between team members and their extensive stakeholders beyond, we see a team that has grown together and ready to make a lasting impact. Each gathering is also an opportunity to see first hand and in detail developments and particular strengths in each city.

In Gothenburg, their deep commitment to sustainability accompanied by collaborations between academia, industry, local government and science park test-beds was inspiring. We saw with our own eyes, experiments with new shared spaces in the HSB Living Lab, high-speed charging electric buses and Riksbyggen’s VIVA development creating housing with such deeply embedded sustainable mobility and efficiency that there are no car parking spaces and household energy bills unrecognisable. This mindset also earned the city a well-deserved spot as EU Innovation Capital 2018 competition finalists and a pace of work that could make your head spin. Delegations from around the world, boot camps, ‘do-zones’ and matchmaking are all in a months’ work for IRIS lighthouse city Gothenburg!

On the south coast of France, Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur’s expanding reputation as a digital hub proceeded it, making for a fascinating visit. Although the Metropole’s economy has long depended on tourism, Nice is undergoing a digital transformation. In 2015 it was ranked as one of the top five smart cities in the world, alongside megacities like London, New York and Singapore, punching well above its weight in terms of population size. Nothing encapsulated this better than the Smart City Innovation Center (SCIC) an open technological platform analysing air quality, noise, water and energy consumption and much more in real-time across the entire city. Among the features here, clear visualisations transform data from a network of nearly 3,000 micro sensors across 160 hectares to empower better decision-making, planning and engagement of all urban actors.

Even trying to be objective, I am very proud and impressed by everything happening in Utrecht too! In May this year, we were home to a European first: 20 full electric vehicles got charged with solar power – simultaneously and after sunset and the city recently signed a ‘green deal’ for car-sharing inspiring a nationwide target of 100.000 shared cars and 700.000 clients of car sharing platforms by 2021. We have also been keen to put an end to ‘end’ users…putting people at the heart of innovation. As my colleague Carolien van Hemel, director of the Utrecht Sustainability Institute said better than I could about our smart energy system efforts: “our innovations evolve around three questions: how can we reduce energy demand in buildings? How can we move towards clean and sustainable mobility, which should cost less than owning a private car? And how can we tie in local production of renewable energy?”

As you can see, it has been a full first year, without even touching in more detail about developments such as Vassa Energy Week, Santa Cruz’s ‘Green 2030’ strategy and so much, much more. There is one final item I want to highlight though, because I think it has as much potential impact as any innovation or initiative. That is the work done through FIWARE and the recent agreement with TMForum on common data models for smart cities. Simply put, it places IRIS at the forefront of open, reusable and reliable data working to improve city services and citizen’s lives. Replicating and deploying solutions at speed is difficult, costly and a major challenge for smart city programs – and this could be a game-changer. It will certainly be a major source of collaboration with our follower cities, from which I will bring you more news next time.

What an exciting start to our second year. I hope you will join us online with one of our many social media channels, discuss with one of our consortium members face to face and challenge or inspire us in 2019. A range of public deliverables are available on the IRIS website to get the thoughts flowing in the meantime.

11 Dec 2018

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