At the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities 2017 Annual General Meeting, leaders of cities and industry shared their visions of the future, mapping out plans for working together to implement innovative technologies, discussing ways to come together and exploit their combined weight to generate savings and investment.
Can smart solutions be replicated on an enormous scale? How can Structural Funds maximally stimulate investment? Just how smart can smart lamp posts get? These were among the questions as cities, industry and investors came together to plan for the stimulation of joint investment in the smart cities market at scale. We’ll answer some of them here!
Sharing Cities, a Smart City Lighthouse project, engaged participants to foster collaboration in the scale-up and implementation of smart city solutions. The idea was to pave the way to an EU investment plan and to create cooperation between public and private sectors to hammer out a realistic path towards deploying EU-wide SCC solutions. The speakers and attendees included European officials, civic leaders, city representatives, investors, industry and entrepreneurs, all exchanging ideas on working together.
Smart cities are synergy
Much of the exciting groundwork got going at the marketplace breakfast, before the talks had even begun. Here, at themed breakfast tables, leaders in the public and private sphere mapped out the smart city terrain and plotted a course towards successful collaboration. What is the role of structural funds in stimulating blending of finances? Bernadett Köteles-Degrendele, Sharing Cities replication lead, together with Anja De Cunto from EUROCITIES, which is currently leading the action cluster on business models, finance and procurement of the EIP-SCC, led the table dedicated to this issue.
The table explored whether Structural Funds could be better integrated so cities could benefit from the synergies created amongst the different financing and funding opportunities. Ruska Boyadzhieva, Deputy Mayor of Burgas, a Sharing Cities partner, presented some of the challenges her city faces when investing in smart city solutions and collaborating with local and international banks. For example, the city is not managing to use structural funds for innovation projects related to Horizon2020 projects as ‘innovation’ is not recognised in the operational programme of many Central/Eastern European countries.
Louis-Philippe Carrier, Project Economist for the JASPERS initiative at the European Investment Bank explained some of the factors preventing a successful use of financial instruments in cohesion funds. For example, he mentioned that may cities still do not have experts in their administrations aware of the possibilities related to the use of financial instruments.
All participants concurred that, above all, smart city investment requires strong coordination between different city departments and different areas of actions.
Easier said than done
The necessity of working together is more easily stated than achieved; there are tonnes of programmes and each of them is a massively technical undertaking, so cities need support to understand which projects are bankable and to close the gap between different funds. Greater levels of innovation are necessary if smart cities are to succeed.
Having laid out the fundaments of the situation, the group set their mind to developing actionable steps for taking the situation forward: a single entry point must be developed for funds at different levels, not only at local but also at EU level, in order to promote understanding and synergies between different types of research and financial instruments; steps should be taken for integration and coordination of different funds and financing schemes, particularly in the next MFF, for example by including ‘innovation’ in the cohesion funds; the flexibility of technical assistance and financial instruments must be increased, for example by opening them up so that they are no longer issue specific.
Packaging your solution
Naturally, if cities are to achieve this synergy, it is essential for them to package solutions for scale replication, and this was the topic of another table, in which Nathan Pierce of Sharing Cities participated. Perhaps inspired by the breakfast in the centre of the table, this group explored their question through the metaphor of food. In a supermarket, a customer is unlikely to buy something if he does not know what the box contains – smart solutions need to be packaged in such a way that cities know what to expect from them.
Packaging your needs
When you package food, there is also a sense in which you market hunger, and packaging solutions should include clearly expressing the needs that they are designed to fulfil. Helping cities to identify common needs is the first step to achieving common solutions, and articulating these needs will help to engage politicians and citizens, inspiring shared visions.
Just as a chocolate bar depicts hazelnuts plunging into the liquid chocolate, the packaging of replication solutions must include should not focus only on the finished product, but must include the process itself – a clear understanding of process is vital to replication. Bottles of wine tend not to be advertised with superheroes or teddy bears, and identifying your customer and how they stand to gain may be the most important step in packaging – does this solution involve a direct benefit to citizens, does it save money, or pave the way for future generations?
It is essential to consider the impact before the implementation, and to acknowledge responsibility. There must be a clear-sighted view of both the positive and negative results of any undertaking, and of which measures should be packaged together in light of this. Finally, a balance needs to be struck between aggregating demand by linking cities in their public procurement, and at the same time calibrating solutions to the particularities of each city.
The actionable conclusions of this table were that lighthouse cities must share their use cases; that cities must work with the business model action cluster and the EIP to standardize solutions and corresponding business models; and that the process from needs to tailored local investment must be clearly defined. Our voices must break out of the smart city echo chamber, which means targeting municipal politicians and everyday city workers in on the smart city agenda.
Shedding light on smart lamp posts
Moving from the larger questions of operational modes to particular examples of smart city projects, the table at which Graham Colclough of UrbanDNA, Sharing Cities and EIP partner participated dealt with the concrete topic of smart lamp posts. Eindhoven’s head of EU office, Anthony van de Ven spoke of the level of imagination necessary to envisage the solutions of the future: “In Eindhoven we experimented with drones providing people with individual lighting; most people don’t consider that the smart lamp posts of the future may not even have posts”.
While across the Atlantic the so-called ‘humble lamp post’ are already deployed at scale, Europe is struggling to follow up on its many successful trials, as a sufficient level of intercity coordination for joint procurement has yet to be achieved. The barriers to such procurement range from local aesthetics to civic structures. Different cities, and even different localities within cities, have strict codes regulating the style and general appearance of their lamp posts, which must be in keeping with the local architecture. With this in mind, how can groups of cities work together to batch order hundreds of thousands of them?
At the moment city lighting is all wired up to one on/off switch, so massive works might have to be undertaken to allow power to continue to travel to the posts while the lights themselves are off. On a structural level, the lamp posts are controlled by a particular authority within the city. How would roles and responsibilities be redistributed once lamp posts were carrying out a bunch of diverse functions for the city?
In terms of actionable next steps, the need was identified to get different parties on board by demonstrating the concrete advantages that these lamp posts could offer; to get people thinking of them not just as gadgets, but as a new kind of infrastructure that would open cities up to the future. Just as these future lamp posts may not have posts, so their capacity to bear light should not take centre stage; it is their even distribution, placed wherever humans go and move in and around the city, that makes them ideal vessels for future sensing technology.
Safety and freedom
The first street lamp that cracked open the night skies gave humans unprecedented safety and freedom in the sunless hours. Now the smart lamp post, by collecting and sharing integrated city data, can fuel innovation for as yet inconceivable degrees of human advancement. This narrative simply needs to be seized and spread.
From the superstructures to the substructures, to concrete examples, the EIP SCC AGM fuelled a cogeneration of ideas that invited leaders from cities, industry and investment into a shared narrative and vision, not just of our cities’ future, but of the road to it.
Bernadett Köteles-Degrendele (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement N°691895
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