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Smart Cities

Urban development in the digital age

The term "smart cities" signifies the development and use of digital technologies in almost all areas of urban development. Technologies are advancing rapidly, and corporations and people are putting them to use more often and in more contexts. The public expects cities and municipalities to take advantage of these new options.

In some areas, technologies are already having a noticeable impact on urban spaces, for instance the impact of e-commerce on less attractive high streets and city districts. Impacts of other digital technologies remain to be seen. Will the digital transformation lead to more resource efficiency? Will new, more sustainable forms of production really become possible? What will working life look like in future and what skills will we need?

Smart Cities Dialogue Platform

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) established the Smart Cities Dialogue Platform in mid-2016 for discussing these questions and identifying the opportunities and risks of digital transformation at municipal level. Germany's State Secretary Committee for Sustainable Development charged the BMUB with this task. The dialogue platform was set up under the auspices of the interministerial working group "Sustainable urban development from a national and international perspective" (IMA Stadt).

As part of the platform, representatives from cities, towns, districts and municipalities, local government associations, various ministries, Land-level urban development authorities, the scientific community, professional, economic and social organisations and civil society all came together to discuss smart cities in the context of integrated and sustainable urban development.

Starting with four cross-cutting topics (big data, local economies, the digital divide and governance), participants evaluated the opportunities and risks of going digital and then examined scenarios and safeguards for urban development in the digital age. Results from pioneer cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna and Barcelona informed the discussions. Reports from the "smart nation" of Asia, Singapore, and from France and Spain also gave participants food for thought.

These discussions and expert input from the BMUB/BBSR research cluster on smart cities provided the basis for drawing preliminary conclusions. Finally, during in-depth discussion and coordination sessions, four guidelines and twelve recommendations were drafted. These aim to ensure that future-proof digital transformation in cities, districts and municipalities takes place in a way that benefits all. The resulting document is the Smart City Charter. It was presented on 13 June 2017 at the Federal Congress on National Urban Development Policy in Hamburg.

Smart City Charter

The Smart Cities Dialogue Platform developed the Smart City Charter in order to harness digital transformation for sustainable, integrated urban development, rather than just letting it happen. The dialogue platform does not believe that digital technology automatically leads to better administration, better infrastructure – for example more sustainable, more accessible and less expensive urban transport – or greater energy efficiency. The digital transformation on its own will not strengthen local economies, promote innovation, improve education or foster inclusion.

These goals are also part of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities. To achieve them in the digital era, cities and towns must actively use digital technologies and, moreover, these must be designed and managed in a targeted way. The Smart City Charter outlines the standard model for a smart, future-oriented city. The charter shares the mission of both the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities and New Urban Agenda of the United Nations. The latter, the outcome of the Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in October 2016, set worldwide standards for urban development for the upcoming twenty years.

The Smart City Charter is intended as a basis for discussions on the future of cities in the digital age and aims to broaden the public scope of these discussions.

Smart Cities research cluster

The BMUB and the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) established the Smart Cities research cluster to study the specific relationship between the digital transformation and urban development.

The research cluster aims to understand the impact that societal adoption of digital technologies has on urban development, to repurpose digital and big data methods and instruments for urban development, to rethink action areas in urban policy with digital know-how and to work with professionals from cities, municipalities and businesses on drawing up recommendations that can help cities on their path towards becoming digital cities of the future.

In addition to urban governance, city economies, big data and the digital divide, issues such as urban mobility, e-commerce, e-participation and new forms of collecting and processing knowledge will be analysed. The results of this work also informed the discussions of the dialogue platform.

Digital Agenda of the German government

In the Digital Agenda 2014-2017, the German government set out the basic principles and short-term measures of its digital strategy for Germany. The purpose of the agenda is to shape the digital transformation in order to smooth the way for new developments and to counteract potential undesirable developments. Important issues here include data protection and individuals' rights to control the use of their own data ("informational self-determination"), the protection of intellectual property and privacy, consumer protection, protection of minors from harmful media and protection of computers and data.

The Digital Agenda receives support from and is being implemented by a number of federal initiatives and funding programmes. With regard to smart cities, the BMUB is committed to broad social and political discussion on the pros and cons of digital transformation in urban and community development – the focus is not limited to technical issues.

Last update: 08.06.2017