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City Focus: Copenhagen, the world’s smartest city?


Copenhagen has long been regarded as one of the smartest cities in the world, an achievement that was crowned by the city being awarded the Smart City Award in November 2014. There will be a strong Danish presence in London at Smart to Future Cities 2015, with four speakers discussing sustainable cities and urban development, implementing smart traffic management and parking systems, and developing standards and protocols for future city governance and IoT management. We caught up with two of these experts – Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab and Else Kloppenborg, Special Advisor, Smart Cities – to discuss smart cities, smart citizens and the priorities for the industry in 2015.

Else Kloppenborg, Special Adviser, Smart Cities City of Copenhagen

Else Kloppenborg, Special Adviser, Smart Cities City of Copenhagen

Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab, Denmark

Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab, Denmark

We start by thinking about how the smart city concept is evolving for 2015, and what the priorities for the industry should be. For Else, collaboration and flexibility are key, with cities that are “eager to develop comprehensive solutions that avoid vendor lock-in and allow flexible adaptation to changing needs over time”, with fruitful collaborations that “begin with high ambitions, based on dialogue, that make room for innovation to help us solve urban challenges of true value” to citizens. Patrick takes an alternative point of view, focusing on the complexity of urban planning and a perceived distance from citizens leading to a so-called ‘trough of disillusionment’. Therefore, he advises that industry priorities should be “1) security (sensor, network, data, critical infrastructure); 2) a strong push toward interoperability and open system standards; 3) citizen engagement, including the development of a clear governance framework concerning tracking, use of data, and most importantly the vision for why SC are the way forward”.

There has been an increasing focus on urban IoT and related services in the city, what are the reasons for this? According to Patrick, urban IoT offers “significant cost-saving potential for municipal authorities as well as the possibility for better understanding of real-time and historic patterns of material, energy, and people flows within the urban space”. Else looks at it from a service perspective: “the ambition in Copenhagen is to leverage services across sectors. We want to increase the quality of life and ensure good opportunities for growth, and generally develop our city, using for instance cheap RFID chips in the City’s own material to track it, increase security, efficient use and planning”.

“One of the truly revolutionary aspects of IoT that is under-appreciated is the ability to move past the traditional dichotomy of “dumb packages/smart networks (train networks)-smart packages/dumb networks (the Internet) to develop a “smart packages/smart networks” within the urban space that uses autonomous distributed architecture to create cheap, fault-tolerant, and resilient systems and networks” – Patrick Driscoll, Smart City Lab, Denmark

It goes without saying that the role of the citizen within the smart city is crucial, but how is this role developing? According to Else Kloppenborg, even though digital services are generally well developed in Copenhagen, “we can only do so much, using new technologies, IoT and data. Without citizens that experience added value of new services and use, for instance, new apps or share data to improve services, we will not be able to reap the full potential of what a smart city can be”. Patrick agrees that getting buy-in from citizens is vital, which is perhaps something that hasn’t been taken into account thus far: “Many of the existing SC strategies are elite- or industry-driven, leaving many citizens in the dark. This is a crucial mistake for two reasons. One is that given the potential for misuse, there will be inevitable blowback from civil society about the nature and extent of surveillance within the urban space. The European Court of Justice’s ruling on the right to be forgotten is only the beginning of a trend within the EU to value privacy over commerce. Involving citizens from the beginning is slower, but will lead to higher levels of acceptance of SC systems”.

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