I had the pleasure last week of attending the EU Open Days event in Brussels; four days where cities and regions present the latest on how they are investing EU monies to deliver on the EU 2020 objectives of Smart Sustainable and Inclusive Growth. It may be me but I felt that there was really a lot of emphasis, increasing emphasis on Smart.
It is interesting as an aside to see how terminology and programmes move on; so there was a session about a programme called Regions of Knowledge – apparently a highly successful programme but it is being wound down and so there was a sort of wake which celebrated its successes and looked how it might influence future programmes – one such successor was identified as the Smart Specialisation approach involved in developing Regional Innovation Strategies – so the drift towards Smart was evidenced. Now I have written fairly recently about Smart Specialisation and I intend to write a little bit more shortly about the dangers of an unthinking approach to S3 but that is for another day. Today I want to write a bit about Smart Cities. I saw a number of presentations where this was a key theme; at one such event a questioner remarked that cities presenting once were presenting themselves as Sustainable Cities were now presenting them as Smart Cities ….again further evidence for the drift towards Smart.
Now I could define here what a Smart City is or might be but there are far better and more qualified commentators out there who cover this extremely well. I would recommend Dr Rick Robinson who knocks spots of everyone else – his blog – The Urban Technologist– can be found here
So back to Open Days. I was impressed by two particular presentations; both from Scandinavia; firstly on how Malmo had turned itself round; and used a smart sustainable approach to both significantly reduce its environmental impact but also importantly to create new green jobs (leaflet here) and secondly by the approach of Oslo who for instance are ensuring all new public buildings are built to passive haus standards. What was telling was that the two presentations came from politicians who not only understood the imperative of change and the ability of a smart approach to drive change but also politicians who had and are delivering on this agenda.
But I was also impressed with how the European Commission was responding to this rise of the Smart City. It is easy to criticise the Commission; who has heard of any organisation with so many Directorates or Director Generals; its a necessary nonsense to ensure all countries feel they have some equal control over budgets and decision making. However the Commission have recognised that something as fundamental and cross cutting as Smart Cities require co-ordination and I believe 6 Directorates are co-operating on this agenda.
There was a presentation on the Commission’s approach to the ‘Smart Cities and Communities European Innovation Partnership‘ (SCCEIP) by Mrs Henriette Van Eijl from DG MOVE. European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) are relatively new partnership approaches to tackling key issues, to stimulating innovation and to co-ordinating EC action and funding. This presentation to the Committee of the Regions earlier this year gives an overview of the EIPs launched to date – here– Unfortunately the presentation from Mrs Van Eijl on the SCCEIP is not on the Open Days website however this presentation to the ERRIN network in May 2013 is almost as up to date – here. What is important for cities to note that the Smart Cities and Communities EIP is due to allocate €365m in 2013 alone and I would imagine that this budget will only increase in the new 2014-2020 programme period as the Commission is making a big thing out of these new vehicles.
Importantly the next stage in the SCCEIP (really sorry about the acronyms but I tire of writing it all out) is the production of the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP). Draft copies were circulated at the event and I have scanned it in for all to see the thinking that is emerging – here. This will be launched on November 26th 2013 in Brussels.
Key elements of this are really interesting ….and on reading this I suddenly realised where another word had come from. In asking questions at one of the smart city events as to whether the cities were going to use Structural Funds to develop their smart city approaches the speakers referred to establishing Lighthouse Projects and where did I find reference to such projects – in the draft SIP. So mark my words – ‘Lighthouse projects’ is and will be one of the new words/catch phrases for 2013/2014.
Lighthouse projects are really interesting for cities as they are envisaged to be – significant in scale – demonstrators of new approaches that deliver common solutions (creating scale and confidence for decision makers and investors providing a showcase for European Industry)- with a number of cities and their collaborators working together within them. They envisage a modest number of these Lighthouse projects each with 6-10 cities involved. So it is not about spreading the resources thinly but in scaling up to find common solutions.
The SIP is built around tackling the 20/20/20 agenda by actions in three ‘vertical’ areas. Namely
- Sustainable Urban Mobility
- Sustainable Districts and Built Environment
- Integrated Infrastructures across Energy, ICT and Transport
Other key ideas include
- Innovation Zones that free cities from the constraints of policy and regulation in selected domains ( a bit like Smart Enterprise Zones/Free Trade Areas)
- Driving Open Data by Default in Cities
- Smart City Planning using new techniques such as simulation and visualisation tools
The executive summary will give you a bit more of a taste of this draft SIP and is only 2 pages long at the front of the draft SIP.
So my message to you if your city is looking seriously at becoming a smart city and realistically what city is not then you should start to follow what is going on in this EIP as there may well be resources and approaches that flow from it in the near future. In the words of a very old American TV series – the time is right to ‘Get Smart’.