Sustainable Living in the Cities of Tomorrow – Part 4

Communication in the
“City of Tomorrow”

In the last part of our series “Sustainable Life in the Cities of Tomorrow”, we concentrate on the core subject of “Communication”. The mobile Internet is bringing about a rapid change in communication in practically all areas of our society: Both the worlds of work and home life reflect the age of digitalisation, bringing with it new possibilities for accessing and using information. About the potential of digital technologies we spoke to Steffen Braun from Fraunhofer IAO.  

The digital revolution is in full swing 

“Internet of Things”

Today, Smartphones, tablet PCs and WiFi are already playing a leading role in everyday communication and dynamically driving forward networking with the real world. Experts estimate that by the end of the decade, 50 billion everyday things will be connected with the Internet. Linked with each other through sensors, these digital connections will open up completely new ways of working for cities and municipalities.

Smart City: Improved quality of life with reduced resource consumption

Starting from this background, the concept of the “Smart City” has established itself as the primary vision for a future-proof city. Smart City is based on holistic, urban development concepts that help to design the different areas of the city, such as traffic planning and control, energy supply, environmental protection, efficient administration, healthcare services or civic involvement through integrated networking, in a more attractive and a more efficient way.

Technical conditions

The increased use of the Internet and the permanently growing amount of data traffic are presenting existing communication networks with new challenges. Increasingly, these no longer have the necessary capacities to process and transfer the enormous data flow securely. 
Powerful, blanket broadband coverage with high transmission speeds, the reliable storage of data in so-called Cloud platforms as well as comprehensive realtime data analysis have proved to be important pre-requirements for intelligent data networking.

Cities drive Smart City concepts forward

Today, many cities around the world are concentrating on intelligent network solutions, in order to give their residents a better quality of life, within the ethos of a smart city.
On the following pages, we are presenting two Smart City EU-funded flagship projects. By using the potential of modern information and communication technologies, they are focussing on lowering energy consumption and CO2 emissions, on renewable energy sources as well as on sustainable and networked mobility solutions.

Using digitalisation as an opportunity 

Santander (Spain): Test laboratory for an intelligent city of the future

“Smart Santander” is a pioneer project for research and development into urban networking solutions, based around the eponymous coastal city on Spain’s northern coastline, with around 180,000 residents. It qualifies as Europe’s best networked city. The aim of the EU-funded project, run in cooperation with the University of Cantabria and other research institutes, is to demonstrate what everyday life in an intelligent city looks like.

Urban sensor network

As a first step, the city was equipped with a network of 20,000 sensors. They are buried under the asphalt and installed in litter bins and transmit daily some 150,000 data records about what is going on in the city to a central control point. Car drivers for example, are guided to the nearest available parking space through GPS and LED display boards. And the sensors installed in the litter bins automatically send a signal when they need emptying.
Apart from the traffic guidance system the city has also successfully networked other areas. Small boxes with integrated temperature sensors on house walls and street lighting masts deliver real-time data about the city’s climate. The majority of the boxes also have light-sensitive modules that determine brightness levels. This enables the need-based regulation of street lighting and brings the city savings in power costs of up to 80%. In addition, sensors in the city’s parks measure moisture levels in the ground. And when it’s too dry, the sprinkler system is activated.

“Smart Santander” - A success story

The city has worked intensively with this intelligent networking since 2010. In the meantime it has gained a reputation as a world-leader and regularly receives delegations from abroad who want to find out about the successfully implemented concepts, where it is all happening.
Photo 1: Santander is the pioneer for urban intelligence and qualifies as Europe’s best networked city. (Photo: fotolia/Foto Zihlmann)
Photo 2: It is in Santander's town hall, one of the most visited tourist landmarks in the city, where the digital expansion is being driven forward. (Photo: Shutterstock/Philip Lange)
Photo 3: Sensors in the city’s parks measure moisture levels in the ground. And when it’s too dry, the sprinkler system is activated. (Photo: Shutterstock/lorenzobovi)

 “Smarter Together“: Innovation for Munich

European flagship project

A further flagship project for the intelligently networked city of tomorrow is “Smarter Together”, which the cities of Munich, Vienna and Lyon have been involved in since the end of 2015. We are taking a look at Munich.
Working together with residents, experts and partners from industry and research, the city wants to put the comprehensive deployment of innovative energy and mobility solutions using digital networking to the test until 2021, in the model regions of Neuaubing-Westkreuz and Freiham. In this way they are picking up on the core topics for the city of tomorrow that we have already presented in previous articles in the series “Sustainable Life in the Cities of Tomorrow”.

Ambitious goals

Munich is pursuing some demanding goals within the scope of the project. High priority is being given to the energy-related modernisation of buildings from the 1950s, 60s and 70s in the area of Neuaubing-Westkreuz, where currently 30,000 people are living. A total of 42,000 m2 of living space will be renovated and upgraded to a high energy standard. Another part of the project is the building of low-energy accommodation using a district heating supply system fed by geothermal energy on the 350 hectare housing development area of Freiham. In the future, up to 20,000 people should be living here with a further 7,500 working there.
“The magic number for the project area is “20”,” according to Mayor Josef Schmid. “We want to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 20%, use more than 20% renewable energy and increase energy efficiency by more than 20%.” By the year Jahr 2050 Munich even wants to achieve CO2 neutrality in Neuaubing-Westkreuz.“ 
The focus is also on building up smarter infrastructures through smart data management platforms and smart service offerings such as intelligent street lighting masts and area-based sharing economy approaches. Eight e-mobility stations are also planned, oriented on the pilot location at the Münchner Freiheit (a square in Munich's Schwabing district). They will combine car sharing vehicles, pedelecs, bikes for hire from the Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft (Munich Transport Company) MVG, charging stations for electric cars, parcel distribution stations and digital information centres. Access to all the services and offerings will be made using an app, which, for example, will give information about the availability of the vehicles.

Active participation by the citizens

Another important aspect of the project is the active participation of the citizens in planning processes. The residents can discuss with experts from the city and partners from industry and develop concrete solutions for their direct living environment. To this end a special "suburb laboratory" was opened in Neuaubing-Westkreuz. This co-designing process, a form of citizen participation, is characterised by joint research and testing. Locally but also using scenarios, situations should be examined, problems recognised, prototypes created and tested, as well as alternatives worked out. In this way the residents have opportunities to actually make an impact on the concepts and design of the planned measures.

Smart solutions as a template

The networking solutions that are being created in Munich, working for example on the basis of apps, should not just benefit the city itself. They should also serve to encourage other cities and regions to develop their own concepts in the area of mobility and energy efficiency. Holistic digitalisation strategies in your own community that are worked on and implemented in cooperation with different stakeholders, open up many options for shaping the progress of town developments to the benefit of the residents, thereby ensuring an improved quality of life.
Photo 1: Reduced energy consumption. Buildings from the 1950s, 60s and 70s in the area of Neuaubing-Westkreuz are being redeveloped to a high energy standard. (Photo: MGS/G. Schmidt)
Photo 2: Environmentally friendly mobility. At eight central intersections, car sharing vehicles, pedelecs and bikes for hire should meet individual mobility needs. (Photo: MVG München)
Photo 3: Focus on resident participation: Regular intensive exchanges of ideas between residents and project partners are held in the “Suburb laboratory” in Neuaubing-Westkreuz. (Photo: MGS/C. Mendes )

Expert Interview

We spoke to Steffen Braun, one of the driving forces behind the “City of Tomorrow”  Initiative and Head of Competence Team Urban Systems Engineering at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in Stuttgart, about the potential of digital communication technologies for the city of tomorrow.

1. These days, the mobile Internet is making more and more of an impact on all aspects of both public and private life. How dos the “Internet of Things” change communication and the exchange of information in cities and municipalities?

Essentially we can say that as a result of the “Internet of Things”, we are communicating much more. However we are not necessarily always conscious of the fact that we are doing it. We are experiencing a completely new kind of interaction between us humans and our environment. For example we communicate with vehicles, with streets, with public buildings or with offices. This new type of communication opens up new avenues and new ways of working within cities that enable us to design more attractive and more efficient business processes and services and to empower residents to be able to participate more effectively in decisions and processes that affect the way their city is run.

2. In this respect, “digitalisation” is a key aspect. What does digitalisation mean
for you?

Personally, I see digitalisation as technological progress, which we have to play an active part in. It’s comparable with industrialisation or electrification. It’s not just a short-term fad, it’s a major trend that over the course of the next ten to twenty years, will significantly alter the “operating system” of our society. The speed of the spread of digitalisation is often accompanied by a feeling of insecurity about how it will be possible to add value in the future. We see for example, risks resulting from automation in the workplace, without considering the possible positive effects that can result. At the end of the day, digitalisation is what you make of it!
The digital change is still very much in its infancy. In terms of solutions and strategies, we are, so to speak, in the “early middle ages” of digitalisation. And that is partly due to the fact that we don’t really know where the journey is going to take us. Future scenarios and city-run test projects will have to provide us with orientation points.

3. What opportunities does digitalisation offer for cities and municipalities?  

Increasingly, digitalisation is becoming a significant force behind urban development. Essentially, all significant economic and societal challenges and changes together with all opportunities and future expectations first come to the surface in cities and municipalities. For this reason, they are effectively shop windows for investigating, for advancing, for implementing and for making use of the digital transformation.
Digitalisation offers many opportunities and additional capacities to rethink and redesign urban processes, such as administration, safety and security, parking management or civic involvement. In the first instance, the residents themselves should benefit from this, for example by using networked mobility solutions to organise the daily journey from home to work more efficiently.

4. The volume of digital data is growing rapidly. What has to be considered when it comes to being able to access useful information and online services from this data, for example in relation to public transportation, to the environment or to achieving a better quality of life?

Many cities are only just realising that they are playing a central role in the age of digitalisation. Through their role as public service providers, they already have access to a large amount of statistical data that can provide information about local population structures, health services, companies, industries, housing stock or infrastructures.
The confidential and secure storage of this data as well as the creation of benefits and added values for the residents are the individual responsibility of the city. But working on its own, the city is scarcely capable of managing this task. What is called for are strategic partnerships between the public sector and authorities, industry, business and research establishments to develop holistic solutions which have collective added value. 

5. What is the potential for a networked city and what advantages does it offer its residents? 

The greatest potential for a networked city is that increasingly, systems that were previously viewed as being stand-alone systems can now be replaced by complex, networked systems. This may sound complicated to start with. In reality however, it simplifies things such that a networked city can be run with fewer resources while at the same time increasing the quality of life. So in the future I won’t have to work as much, I shall have more flexibility between working at home or working at the office, I will only go shopping when I want to and I won’t have to sit in endless traffic jams any more.
Looking at it more abstractly: The integration of information and communication systems in different, existing technical infrastructures makes it possible to create novel solutions in the areas of mobility, infrastructure, administration, energy, health services, buildings, construction processes and resident participation.
Residents, companies, institutions and administration will have frequent and lively exchanges of ideas and through this flow of information, they will drive up the city’s quality of life and increase its comfort. And last but not least, networking will in the future increasingly become a unique selling point, which will enable the city to distinguish itself as an attractive business location.

6. How are German cities and municipalities positioned when it comes to digitalisation and networking? 

We have been working on Smart City research projects in large and small cities across the country, for some years. However, it is noticeable that many towns and cities across the spectrum are only now starting to ask questions about digitalisation and proactively addressing the issue of technological change. So, many standalone solutions have resulted, for example handling energy supply or traffic control projects.
It would now be desirable to have a widespread or even a country-wide implementation of existing tried-and-tested solutions, an intensive “learning from each other” between towns and cities. To achieve this, we have to spread the word and to strive for interaction between municipalities, businesses, the public sector and research institutes. This is what we have been doing since 2012 in our Fraunhofer Innovation Network, City of Tomorrow.

7. What will the digital infrastructure of the future look like?

It will actually be very simple. The digital infrastructure will be invisible. In the future, we won’t need to give any thought to infrastructure. It will be embedded in our everyday lives and will naturally support them. What was just a street lamp yesterday, will tomorrow be a WiFi hotspot, giving us information, and also a place where e-bikes can be charged up. Functional integration will increase, while at the same time however, retaining many of today’s objects.
At the moment, it is difficult to imagine what will be networked together in the future. But in the best case, we can work towards a unification or at least towards achieving the maximum benefits from a digital infrastructure.
My hope is that rather than talking about the technology, I will be deploying it intelligently, in order to find solutions for some of the pressing issues that are facing our society.
Thank you for the interview.

Further information

Further Information on the mentioned Smart City Projects „Smart Santander“ and „Smarter Together“ are available under: