What are “smart” cities? – They require developed infrastructure, as shown by Vienna
Autonomous buses in Aspern (Photo: Wiener Linien/Manfred Helmer )
Today, we hear increasingly often that cities strive toward being “green” and “smart”. What does this mean exactly? Which criteria does a city need to meet in order to be considered “smart”?
One of the most developed cities in the world is certainly Vienna. The Austrian capital has worked hard to provide a high quality of life to its citizens, meaning that all services in the city are available to everyone. Through its development strategy, Vienna has also chosen to be a “smart” city, and Dominic Weiss and Nikolaus Summer of the Urban Innovation Vienna agency talked to eKapija about how they did it.
Our interviewees believe that it is primarily important to define what the terms “green” and “smart” mean and say that Vienna is lucky to be located in an area with 50% green surfaces.
– That is why our strategy for the development of the smart city concept defined that we should maintain that level, where at least 50% of the city's territory is covered by green areas. Nevertheless, if we are talking about the development of Vienna as a “green” city, we primarily mean sustainability – the reduction of CO2 emissions, the amelioration of the consequences of climate change and energy efficiency. That is why Vienna has placed focus on sustainability within its smart city development strategy. All this needs to be realized through a range of all-encompassing measures, which pertain to mobility, construction, energy efficiency, more precisely, the entire infrastructure of Vienna – Dominic Weiss says for eKapija.
Citizens in the center of development concept
As he adds, the citizens themselves should be the central concern within the entire development concept. His colleague Nikolaus Summer agrees.
– It is important to emphasizes that the citizens and their desires and needs always have to be the central concern of any effort. We need to involve and activate them in these processes and have them do something themselves, whether it concerns energy efficiency or individual transport – Nikolaus Summer says.
The City of Vienna and its citizens are especially proud of their public transport system. The flawless subway system, the trams, the buses, the trains.... Since 2013, Vienna has had 13 electric buses as well, mostly active on lines in the city's center. However, eKapija's interviewees note that the vehicles operating on the periphery are also very modern – these are diesel buses that are so technologically advanced that they have very low CO2 emission values.
Dominic Weiss (Photo: Urban Innovation Vienna)
– We are working on it constantly. I have to say that our e-buses are merely one component, as the city of Vienna has a rolling stock of several thousand different vehicles within various services, and we have opted for each new vehicle we procure to be electric, so we are slowly replacing old vehicles with new ones, piece by piece. None of this is easy, either. Also, the Vienna Business Agency provides subsidies to all the companies which decide to buy electric vehicles. This means that 50% of the price of such a vehicle is paid through subsidies by the Vienna Business Agency – Dominic Weiss says.
Buses without drivers – New settlement as a laboratory
Last April, Vienna went a step further in developing its public transport and had the first test ride of a driverless bus carried out. Nikolaus Summer says that this science project is run by a consortium of several companies and institutions. In addition to the scientific side, there are also Wiener Linien, the French company Navia, Siemens and the Austrian Traffic Safety Agency. The legal component is very important as well, when it comes to all the related issues.
– Although we want this system to be implemented as soon as possible, this is still a project we are testing in real time in Aspern. This is a new part of Vienna, some of whose areas are still under construction. To us, it is a kind of an urban lab, a laboratory where we can test our ideas. There are currently around 7,000 residents there at the moment and we have determined that this area is suitable for testing this kind of transport, as it provides a high degree of safety – Summer says.
As he says, these buses will initially not be fully autonomous. Instead, an operator will be present in each vehicle at all times, who will be able to take over the control of the vehicle at a single push of a button in case there are problems.
– Safety comes first, and autonomous buses will be operational only at certain periods during the day, on certain lines. When we presented the project, the public was very interested indeed and I can say that citizens are not skeptical towards this type of transport, as may have been expected – Summer adds.
Wiener Linien already has two autonomous bus prototypes, which have been tested on the said location in the past year. The realization of the project is expected to start this spring, and these are electric buses with 11 seats, including the operator, eKapija's interviewee says.
Driverless buses, smart traffic lights... We asked our interviewees which other innovations make Vienna a smart city. They say that the whole process is horizontal and expanded to include all the city services in Vienna.
– This means that all the services of the city of Vienna implement all these smart city goals in some capacity, whether it's mobility, smart traffic lights, various trends within IT technologies – all these are spheres which can be included in the smart city concept. Regarding innovations, it's enough to take a look at the city. New facades are being put up everywhere. Also, citizens can use apps to receive various services online. I'd like to emphasize that we plan to establish a new subway line, U5, which will also be autonomous. So, it's an all-encompassing range of services, which are available to all citizens of Vienna – Dominic Weiss says.
City must be sustainable, but also competitive
The development of a city into a smart city is accompanied by numerous benefits, both for the city itself and for its citizens, eKapija's interviewees believe.
– As for the development of the city as an economic center, this smart city concept is very important for us. It's not just about sustainability, but about competitiveness as well – we must remain competitive as an economic center. That is why it's important to create the adequate infrastructure, which Vienna-based companies need in order to operate as well as possible. Also, the city must be at its citizens' service. We have a saying here that Vienna follows its citizens from the cradle to the grave. The smart city concept, then, provides people with everything they need – from infrastructure to various services, which certainly raises the quality of life in the city – Dominic Weiss says.
As he says, all the services the citizens need – from the birth of a child in a public hospital, through kindergartens, schools, the power system, public transport and public areas – it's all in the hands of the city.
– All these are public institutions and, although we will develop the digitization process itself in cooperation with private companies in order to be as efficient as possible, in the end, all this remains in the hands of the city. The very fact that the city is in charge of all these spheres – the development of the infrastructure, education, public space, recreation, the possibility of using various features in the city – allows for the high quality of life in the city 24 hours day, seven days a week – Weiss says.
His colleague adds that a smart city needs to be available to its citizens.
– If something is too expensive and not available to all citizens, we can't say it's a smart city – Nikolaus Summer points out.
Subway line U6 (Photo: Wiener Linien/Zinner)
Can a city without developed public transport be smart?
Like Vienna, Belgrade strives towards becoming a smart city. Still, unlike the Austrian capital, which has gone far in developing its infrastructure, Belgrade cannot exactly boast of its achievements. This especially pertains to the public transport, which is disastrous at the moment, to put it mildly. At a smart city conference in Belgrade, it was said that the construction of a subway system was more important than sensors and the development of technologies. We asked our interviewees whether they agree that the power of IT is not unlimited and that an insufficiently developed city cannot be “smart”.
– When observing a certain situation, I believe that we should always have a local approach to a certain problem. I could list a large number of cities which are smart, which don't have a subway system. For example, Innsbruck is a city which has numerous developed technologies, a developed infrastructure, and its facades are in a better condition than those in other cities in Austria. If we're talking mobility only, the construction of a subway system is a very important thing. Each smart city needs to have regulated public transport, but the technology itself can't be considered outside the context of other things in the city. For example, if your are developing a 5G network without the citizens or the city services being able to use them, it means nothing. It's clear that well organized transport is an important question for a city such as Belgrade. Therefore, without the construction of a subway system, finding a solution to this problem will not be easy – Dominic Weiss says.
Nikolaus Summer agrees and points out that each innovation must be supported by adequate infrastructure.
– There are plenty of e-scooters on the streets of Vienna, but it wasn't enough just to offer this type of vehicle, but to also provide public areas where they can be used. Also, if you are developing a piece of software, while not having adequate hardware or some other solutions that can support it, it's of no use. The same goes for mobility. To us in Vienna, the subway system is of great importance, but so is everything that is offered alongside it. Good public transport is fundamental for us, but what's even more important is for there to be a public space where all the innovations can be utilized. So, there has to be an adequate accompanying infrastructure – Summer says.
Green construction as a challenge
Another important question for Vienna is energy efficiency in construction. As eKapija's interviewees say, there are two components there – new projects and the reconstruction of existing facilities. Vienna is involved in these projects to a great extent, especially those that have received subsidies from the city.
– There are various options for Vienna as a city in that respect, as it can open tendering procedures in the capacity of the owner of the land, where it can also set certain criteria which pertain to green building. Also, within its own legislative capacity, the city can influence the manner of housing construction. Since 2018, all the EU regulations apply when it comes to buildings in public areas. All these measures will be enforced even more strictly beginning with 2020, which the city of Vienna aims for – Nikolaus Summer says.
Dominic Weiss says that new buildings are not a challenge for the city of Vienna.
– Take a look around and you'll see that the biggest challenge for us are existing facilities and their reconstruction. Vienna is a city with a very small amount of free areas, so this is a very important question for us. Another important factor is the fact that the city owns a large number of buildings with the so-called communal apartments, so the city needs to implement all its energy efficiency standards in reconstructing such facilities, where the consumption of energy will be reduced by 40%. It's obvious that most of the energy is spent on heating, so it's necessary to solve this problem through a combination of various measures within the strategy of the development of Vienna as a smart city. There are numerous exploration projects which aim to address this situation, and Vienna's advantage is that, as the owner of these buildings, it can demand that certain criteria be met and place focus on everything that needs to be fulfilled. All this is then reflected in private construction – Dominic Weiss says.