Smart cities: innovating for Europe

85% of the EU’s GDP is generated in cities; and now some 78% of European citizens live in cities. In the transition towards a low carbon, resource efficient and competitive economy, cities have a crucial role to play (and, indeed, are already delivering success in this area).

According to the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP SCC) – a major market-changing undertaking supported by the European Commission bringing together cities, industries, SMEs, investors, researchers and other smart city actors – smart cities are central to delivering on key challenges for Europe’s society and economy. These include jobs, growth and investment, innovation, energy efficiency, low-carbon development and CO2 reduction – to name just a few.

As such, the EIP aims to improve urban life through more sustainable integrated solutions and to address city-specific challenges from different policy areas such as energy, mobility and transport, and ICT.

Speaking to Innovation News Network, Graham Colclough, the EIP-SCC Integrated Infrastructure Action Cluster Chair, reflects on the progress made thus far and discusses some of the challenges and activities taking place, from addressing market fragmentation to enabling Earth Observation technologies to fulfil their potential in the smart cities space.

What role does the EIP-SCC initiative play in Europe in terms of addressing market fragmentation, and how does it bring together cities, businesses and researchers?

The EIP is central to supporting collaboration amongst the various currently highly fragmented actors in the smart cities market.  It exploits the ‘convening’ power of the European Commission to bring together cities, industry, investors, governments, scientific partners and the like to address general market policy matters in such events as the annual General Assembly with Commissioners, as well as more regular ‘Action Cluster’ working sessions. There are six Action Clusters addressing domain-specific and enabling topics, and there are around 20 initiatives that span these six clusters.

The EIP seeks to deliver evidenced impact, at scale and pace through developing open, more-common and integrated smart cities, and, indeed, by establishing a strong collaboration amongst the various market actors.

What are the main achievements of the EIP-SCC’s action clusters so far with regard to new concepts and solutions which have been implemented?

The EIP has reached some 4,000 organisations since its inception in 2012. The initiatives have mobilised multiple experts across a wide variety of topics and have delivered various openly-available guidance materials to support market improvements. For example, the Urban Platform initiative has 100 industry players signed up through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), as well as a similar number of cities. This initiative has published around half a dozen detailed standards and guides to support cities in better exploiting their city data.

The focus of the EIP has shifted more recently towards investment. The ‘Towards a Joint Investment for EU Smart Cities’ white paper sets out the market context and proposes a set of 21 more specific action lines that will help cities develop investable projects. In addition, the Marketplace has established a ‘Matchmaking’ process that brings project promoters together with investors to stimulate market action.

Importantly, the European Commission has a major €500m budget programme to establish smart city demonstrators around some 100 cities throughout Europe. Alignment between the EIP-SCC Marketplace and these funded ‘Lighthouse’ programmes offers scope for scale implementation.

What are the key challenges in balancing citizens’ needs and financial competitiveness when it comes to achieving carbon efficient, sustainable smart cities, and how will the EIP-SCC overcome these barriers?

Citizen-Focus is one of the six Action Clusters. Engaging society is utterly essential for smart cities to work as almost all of these solutions require a change in behaviour for them to be successful. Cities too often take very traditional approaches to engaging society, so the work of the Citizen-Focus cluster on things like a societal engagement toolkit, participatory budgeting, and policy lab are examples of how we seek to build capacity to engage far better.

Citizen needs and financial competitiveness can often work in harmony, so balance is not always the challenge. Focused engagement and action are what is key.

What role do you feel Earth Observation techniques will play moving forward with regard to urban planning and in creating innovative solutions to upgrade existing services and technologies for smart cities?

We have a ‘Space for Cities’ initiative that has recently launched. This recognises the important role that Earth Observation technologies play in supporting better planning and indeed operations (e.g. satellite technologies used for public transport positioning). An interesting angle is understanding how, for instance, the Space for Cities and Urban Air Mobility initiatives complement each other to collectively support long-range planning through to short term response – combining views of the Earth from different altitudes.

What are your hopes for scaling up existing smart cities projects, and for the future of the EIP-SCC undertaking?

Scaling up common solutions is the crucial goal of the EIP-SCC. It is the only way by which we can accelerate our response to what are very clearly now profoundly complex, interdependent, global challenges. We can no longer hide our heads in the sand. We cannot as cities afford to acquire bespoke solutions slowly (it takes on average 4.5 years for a public body to move from idea to implementation). We must work in collaboration to develop innovative solutions and business models that can scale-up fast.

It is through neutral co-operative vehicles like the EIP that we have a shot at making a better future for our children. Or averting a rather nasty one.

Graham Colclough

EIP-SCC Integrated Infrastructure Action Cluster Chair

Partner, UrbanDNA

Tweet @EUSmartCities

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