Smart City Scenarios – Industry stepping into municipal authority (Part 2)

Would you want to live in Google-City? Or any other city created by a big corporation? Technically there are various corporations that could offer such a scenario. And already do! Think of PANASONIC with Fujisawa – “a smart town through the concerted efforts of local government, businesses, and residents”. Covering all the aspects of smart energy, -mobility, -security, -health a.s.o. people would put on their that’s-where-I-wanna-live-list.

Is Fujisawa thinkable for Europe? What is so much different form the stereotype new housing estates that keep growing in the outskirts of cities? And how big is the step from providing “external” infrastructure to “internal” structures and say?
Think of a city administration that is managed like a global corporation.
Of citizens that are data recorded like employees. Of city management organized in processes like corporations do. The “City” provides superior living and working conditions, attracts business and people and grows successfully. This scenario offers great scalability for technical solutions, as the successfull “Corporate”-City can easily be replicated in any other part of the nation. With growing globalization maybe even globally. If citizens travel they can rely on familiar infrastructure, the share of and access to systems is most convenient – like switching on your computer at home and being connected automatically. Police is a mixture of facility management and HR department – make sure they don’t sack you :-). The various restaurants in town are like a lushes canteene – you just pay with your name, the amount gets deducted with your local tax and if you have fish & chips 3 times a week your city’s physician sends an invite for a nutrition seminar. You really get cared!

But still – why does the thought give me goosebumps?

The remaining silos can be crossed and we finally manage to apply and transfer internet thinking for holistic solutions spanning various segments. It would be easy to set standards for infrastructure like mobility-, energy-, security-, health-, governance-models. If one corporation alone cannot cover all requirements strategic partners fill the portfolio gaps. These consortia ensure the cross-semgent interoperability for a frictionless, probably web-based management system.
Supply and disposal of the city is mainly centralized. Due to the lack of public control prices are rising. The rising costs for energy lead to a growing demand for energy management solutions. The risen costs of mobility lead to a decline in recreational-mobility, however mobility itself decreases, due to the new home-focus, encouraged by telepresence-solutions. IT security is quite important and centrally provided with the free Wifi. Also in real life urban space is covered with surveillance systems but still people feel uncomfortable due to the competitive atmosphere in town and lacking solidarity.

Ok, I admit, it might be a bit extreme. But therefore it is a scenario!
How far are we from such a scenario? Is it thinkable for Europe 2030?

Ørestad – first the infrastructure, than buildings on landfill

• Ørestad is the youngest quarter of Copenhagen build on the island of Amager – a landfill-area, previously used by military. Since 1992 it is turned into a mixed quarter for living and working. The quarter stretches north-south with 5km in length and 600m wide.
• There will be another 20 to 30 years before Ørestad is finished. The planning aims for 20.000 inhabitants and 60.000 workplaces.
• Quite unlikely for urban development in Denmark is that infrastructure is in place before buildings. That is due to the financing model applied:
In 1993 the Ørestadsselskab company was founded to develop the area. Their main task is to set up the infrastructure, a Metro-line, for the area. The project shall be financed by the revenue gained from selling ground to investors. Ørestadsselskab is owned by 55% from the municipality of Copenhagen and with 45% the Danish State.
• The Metro connects the various parts of Ørestad with the centre of Copenhagen and runs parallel to the Europe highway that gives a good connection to Sweden and the airport Kastrup.
• The guiding thought of this new urban development could be „Open Live“:
• There are private buildings comprising flats of 30m2 to over 100m2 all one open space.
• A newly built student-home conceptionally follows the analogy to chinese housing – being little groups within a bigger community. There are living groups of 12 students sharing kitchen and lounge facilities. Several of these groups are clustered in a section and 4 sections build the circle of the whole community.
• The „Gymnasium“ is the first highschool build in Denmark within the last 35 years. There are no traditional class rooms, learning is all open space.
• The „Concert Hall“ opened in 2009. It is built according to the plans of the french architect Jean Nouvel. It is covered in blue canvas that allows the projection of the play to the fassade.
• Besides all these good approaches for sustainable urban development Ørestad is also a great example for topics to be cautious about.
• The infrastructure (metro and main road) makes the quarter easily accessible but also cuts through, destructing the slightest effort for atmosphere and coziness. This development seems to make the same mistake as the car centered developments of german towns in the late 60s, early 70s.
• The groundlevel of the buildings was supposed for shops and retail. However this approach didn’t work so far, as most of the retail is concentrated in the newly built shopping center „Fields“ – the biggest in Scandinavia. This complex sucked all shops out of the neighbourhood and leaves the groundlevels around empty.

Why does it seem to be so difficult to create the coziness we love in grown city structures? Developing a greenfield is a unique chance – however we always seem to know exactly what went wrong afterwards.


The new urban development quarter I visited wants to encourage people not to have their own car:
• When moving there public transportation and car sharing are free of charge for the first 6 months (financed by the city – I was told).
• Parking space per flat is calculated with 0,8 cars (in Germany mostly 1,0).
• No through traffic; narrow streets
• Multipurpose spaces (e.g. for cars, pedestrians, bikes, restaurants)

Keep OUT!

Cities grow at an extreme speed – so does traffic. In Sao Paulo / Brazil more and more rich people switch to helicopter commute, as traffic congestion is getting worse. Cities address the congestion issue by making individual mobility unattractive through reducing parking space downtown, like e.g. in Zurich / Switzerland (1-2% year on year) or by introducing a city maut, like in London / UK (GBP 8,- / day). While in Hong Kong the average travel time to work is 11 minutes – it is 4 hours in Mexico City. Building tall for working and living is an answer to reduce commuting time.

Building tall vs low-rise office parks enables compact land use, shorter distances and encourage people to bike and or walk. The closer people live together the better mobility concepts work and trip chaining encourages lower car ownership, resulting in a congestion relief and eventually less pollution. A recent example is Renzo Piano’s “The Shard” in London. It is West-Europe’s tallest building set up right above a railway station and equipped with 47 parking sports for disabled, located right in the center of town. But to be honest – living space is … well lets say … quite selective: 10 flats each approx. 50Mio GBP. But – you most definitely have a downtown London address and the best burgers in London round the corner at Borough Market (Stoney St / Park St).

Cities have been designed around cars not people

Individual transportation set the structure for city redesign and development. Today, challenged by climate change and the public discussion on natural resources deployment nutures the creativity to find alternatives. 

Mobility and infrastructure concepts pop up. As long as one entity is the sovereign of data it works quite nicely. Think of car sharing or rent-a-bike. However if you start trying multimodal concepts or cross entities …. wow… the hurdle gets quite high.
There is a widespread use of new ICTs for all means of transport, which allow for real-time information or variable signaling according to traffic conditions. However data, different types of streets (at least in Germany) belong to different sovereigns. And they often don’t interface. So if the intelligent sensors of the Autobahn tell the car driver to take the next exit when on his way to a big public event (e.g. soccer game) to avoid traffic jams – he is quite lost, if the city authorities “dont take over”. The Autobahn is in the sovereign of the state, the streets in town however are organizes by the city. Sorry… lost in space!

What needs to be done in order to change that. No fingerpointing please!

Parking-Spot Finder

Have you ever looked for a parking spot in downtown San Francisco?
In 2011 the city invested 20 Mio US$ to equip 19.250 parking spots with sensors that indicate availability to smart-phone users. The solution gets enhanced this year by the feature of parking fares depending on demand-and-supply. If there is a lot of availability parking is cheap and vice versa.

(Source: Robert Thielicke, Technology Review, January 2013, pg. 38)