The drive to digitise and make our cities and towns "smart" has been around for twenty years. Over 150 cities worldwide currently boast the title of "smart city", with many more in the pipeline.
There are now a variety of event formats that inform and discuss the future of the smart city. The implementers of this initiative - mostly experts from academia, local politicians and administrative staff - come together to develop strategies and identify measures.
How can we make our cities and municipalities smart so that they serve us, the citizens, and create added value? We present five ideas.
- Appreciate the individuality of the locality
Every city and every municipality is different and this individuality, fed by the inhabitants and the architectural, social, economic, political characteristics, should be appreciated. Not every smart solution is the right one. An administration that knows its city and its inhabitants and has a clear profile and vision of the future of its city or municipality will be more likely to know which path it wants to take. Physical, historical conditions shape the cityscape just as much as the demographics and mentality of its citizens. Every city, municipality and region is unique and requires individual smart solutions.
- Involving citizens - right from the start
Citizens have a wealth of experience and wishes about how they and their children want to live in their city or municipality today and tomorrow. To involve them in the transformation process from an analogue to a digital city right from the start, tailor-made participation and information formats are needed that reflect the diversity of citizens.
For citizens, it is important to break down technical innovations into their everyday lives. "What does this innovation bring to my everyday life, what added value does it offer me? Small, low-threshold measures are often more impressive and successful than the "big bang": the digitalisation of the administration, community-wide free W-LAN or smart transport systems are good starting points.
A smart city is a networked city
Networking is key. Knowing the actors in a municipality or city and involving them in the transformation process is an important starting point. The more local and regional resources can be used, the more resilient and independent the municipality will remain. Which start-ups exist in the area? What players are there beyond the "usual suspects"? An analysis of social, economic and societal enterprises and organisations is an important component to build a solid network on. The city of Schwandorf, for example, regularly organises networking evenings of entrepreneurs and service providers who present their products and services and contribute to the further development of Schwandorf's city centre. But it also makes sense to look at other smart regions in Germany or even the world in order to capture local and global expertise, evaluate it and, if necessary, make it useful for your own community or city.
- Think holistically
A smart city or municipality is more than a digital city. Technology and innovation are not seen as progressive and desirable by all residents, nor are they if they are not embedded in a holistic concept. A smart city, municipality or region is one that knows how to use technology and innovation in a low-threshold and citizen-oriented way and knows what its citizens need and will need. A smart city grows with its inhabitants and does not run ahead. A smart city or municipality is one that is holistically smart and thinks about social and societal factors as well as technological ones.
- Demonstrate successes, acknowledge failures
How well are new technical innovations accepted? What has worked and what less so? Mayors of cities and municipalities continuously report on their successes, but also on initiatives that have proved less fruitful. Smart cities are not born, they evolve. Trial and error is how we learn. Looking over the shoulder of other cities, municipalities and regions often helps, but individual factors should be considered.
An open dialogue and a transparent process help to make urban landscapes better. Successful measures should be celebrated in a big and public way. Projects that have achieved few successes are also part of the public, transparent discourse.