How cities can become more digital and smarter

Towards the future with Smart Cities

How cities can become more digital and smarter

The smart home is now the norm. What is less well known is that neighborhoods and entire cities are also becoming increasingly digitized. However, the smart city is more of a gradual process and not a revolution, says Christian Rauch of the Federal Research Institute on Construction, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR): “Much is already being implemented. Smart applications will one day be part of public services like water or electricity, “he predicts.

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What is a smart city and what objectives does it achieve?

The BBSR understands this as equipping and upgrading cities and their infrastructures with digital technology, as well as linking previously separate infrastructures or their subsystems. In the context of the Smart City, the Internet of Things and Services, robots, drones and artificial intelligence (AI) are also mentioned.

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However, the focus should always be on people, Rauch points out: “The smart city uses digital processes to create added value.” Last but not least, it is about resource efficiency, climate neutrality, better energy management, inclusion and clean air. Jens Libbe from the German Institute for Urban Studies (Difu) talks about sustainable urban development. These include, for example, the sharing of offers, telemedicine, parking apps and intelligent driving systems for rescue vehicles. “Many projects are incorporated into the main strategies and are aimed at contributing to a better quality of life,” he explains.

What infrastructure is needed?

For Oliver Rottmann of the Competence Center Public Economy, Infrastructure and Services of General Interest at the University of Leipzig, this includes good broadband and public WLAN availability, as well as a well-developed IT and communication infrastructure. By means of sensors distributed throughout the city, it is possible to obtain a lot of data that can be used for urban development in the interest of citizens, adds Rauch. Steffen Braun of Fraunhofer IAO calls for an openness to technology. Various now established systems, such as sensors or Lorawan, should be installed in a future-proof way and be able to further develop depending on the state of the art.

Who is involved in the development?

“Smart city approaches are not generally developed and implemented by individual companies, but take shape in networks, at the interface of technologies and industries, and with the involvement of citizens or end users,” explains Rottmann. The public sector is just as involved as technology companies, science, the construction industry and business. For Rauch, politics and municipalities are also key players. In addition, municipal companies, educational institutions and medical care facilities should be involved. Libbe emphasizes the participatory aspect: citizens should be involved as much as possible.

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How is data security guaranteed and accepted?

Huge amounts of data are collected in the smart city. Some people fear that they will be misused and that they themselves will be monitored. In fact, it’s problematic when social problems become apparent, says Libbe. Consumer data should also not fall into the wrong hands. However, there is good data protection in Germany. The federal government has also set guidelines for this in a smart city charter. “Council has no interest in disclosing sensitive data,” says Libbe.

Rauch warns that citizens need to be made transparent about how data is handled and what benefits people and city society as a whole receive. Braun recommends recognizing collected data as a resource for the common good: “For the success of digitization of urban processes, it always depends on who is responsible and for what purpose the data is used,” he explains. According to Rottmann, these should therefore remain municipal property. He also advises municipalities to first develop applications that immediately have a recognizable practical benefit for residents.

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