CPG Newsletter: Smart Cities - The Digital Transformation

Email online ansehen & drucken

Logo CPG

Smart Cities - The Digital Transformation

Cities all around the world are growing at a rapid rate. In 1900 only 13 percent of people lived in cities; by 2007, for the first time in history, more people were living in urban areas than in rural ones. And the UN projects that by 2030 the number of people living in metropolitan areas will reach 60 percent, though it could be as high as 80 percent in industrialized countries. One harmful consequence of residing in metropolitan areas is the exposure to one of the biggest environmental health risks to date: air pollution. In 2010, around 600,000 people are estimated to have died prematurely due to air pollution. A further consequence of city life is its detrimental role in climate change brought about by high levels of energy consumption. 

What must cities do to address these problems? Megacities — notorious for traffic jams, air pollution, inadequate waste management and inefficient use of energy and other resources — are hardly role models. Cities are constantly adapting to new challenges, and they have been doing so since time immemorial. There are no “end states” at which cities cease to change. Right now, digitisation is a major source of transformation for cities as well as for many other areas of society. Though digitisation is no panacea, it does promise some solutions for the central issues cities will face over the next few decades. 

The digitalised city of the future already has a name: the smart city. In the most general sense, smart cities utilize innovative networks of information and communications technology (ICT) at various levels. But it is still unclear what shape smart cities will take. City councils, tech companies, start-ups, and citizens all have different ideas about what makes a smart city smart and which needs it should meet. While most large companies foresee smart cities creating new market opportunities, many inhabitants hope for better living standards and a higher percentage of civic engagement. Fundamental differences exist between cities as well.  For instance, Vienna’s smart city planning primarily focuses on social issues; other cities concentrate much more on technology or on improved energy and resource efficiency for the sake of the climate. 

Different Approaches to the Smart City

The majority of today’s planners favour technology-driven projects. Unlike Copenhagen, one of the few cities to emphasize the environment so prominently in their smart city plans, most city planners regard their smart city plans merely from a technological point of view. Two well-known technology-rich examples are the plans for Masdar City, in the United Arab Emirates, and Songdo International Business District, in South Korea. Both exemplify holistic, future-focused planning of climate-neutral, digitised cities. Masdar City, slated for completion by 2030, is designed to run entirely on renewables, while Songdo’s total energy and resource consumption will ultimately be 30% less than conventional cities. Because it, like Masdar City, is being built from the ground up, Songdo’s plans include several very innovative features. For instance, rubbish is collected in building cellars and is disposed of by means of an underground pipeline system similar to a pneumatic post system; any waste that can be burned for fuel is directly transported to a biogas plant. Although Songdo offers a lot of open space and parks, it – like many other cities that are built from scratch without developing over time – is having difficult time attracting residents and businesses. In an attempt to change this, planners have enticed several universities to open campuses in Songdo in the hope that the influx of students will bring life to the city, making it more appealing. But neither Songdo nor Masdar City have yet to achieve plans for digitally networking all aspects of life. And, as with many other smart city projects, their planners have given little attention to social concerns. 

Figure 1: View on Songdo City (Songdo International Business District).

Another approach to smart cities is to identify areas where the use of energy and resources can be reduced – both for the sake of municipal budgets and for the environment. This approach relies primarily on the so-called Internet of Things, or IoT, which supplies cities with detailed information from a complex network of connected objects. These objects, which can be linked to the Internet or to other digital networks, collect and exchange data regarding costs and energy efficiency. For instance, the city council of Santander, in northern Spain, installed over 10,000 sensors in the inner-city. The sensors measure light, air pressure, temperature, moisture, noise, and the movement of cars and people. A control centre then stores all retrieved data, including the location of buses, taxis, and police cars, their mileage and speed, and nitrogen oxide pollution levels. The collected data, which provides a detailed picture of the city’s energy use and its environmental conditions at any given time, can be used for a number of functions: street lights signal to the control centre when a lamp burns out to ensure its speedy replacement; street lights automatically dim if no one is around and shine brighter on dark rainy nights; rubbish bins signal to a control centre when they are full, optimising bin lorry pick-ups. 

Santander is an interesting experiment for many, yet few see it as a model city. What’s missing is a concrete approach about what to do with sensory data. Moreover, the collecting and processing of sensory data produces its own ecological and economic costs, which must be offset by the improvements they bring. Though many ascribe a great deal of importance to IoT in optimising the way cities operate, for it to be a success its objectives will have to be clearer. London has already taken this lesson to heart and has formulated concrete goals for its smart city concept. 

For most cities, the path to becoming a smart city will consist of many small steps. When it comes to adopting digital technologies, it is mostly the big cities that are leading the way. The German cities of Hamburg, Berlin, and Cologne have drawn up smart city concepts. For the most part, however, their concepts consist of existing projects and how to coordinate future ones.  

Political Chances and Challenges

The speed at which ICT is changing our lives is astounding. In just a matter of years, entirely new business sectors will crop up, and international companies will all want to get a piece of the action. Politicians must prepare now by creating a political framework at the local and national levels. If they don’t, then systems might arise that do not serve the interests of society as a whole. And once these dominate the market, it will be difficult to initiate alternatives. 

The key to political action is technological know-how. In June 2017, the Federal Ministry of Environment published the Smart City Charta. Unlike most digitisation projects, in which municipal governments work together with experts from large tech companies, the Smart City Charta recommends a range of strategies and options with which cities can better reach their social, ecological, economic goals. One aim is to stop cities from becoming dependent on tech companies who use proprietary technology by making sure that they utilize open standards. And not every new technology automatically brings added benefit to a city. On the whole, cities need to define their objectives clearly if their smart city measures are to be effective. 

Given the pressure to become smart cities, municipalities must rely heavily on external expertise. For this very reason, though, much care needs to be taken when introducing digitisation. On the one hand, local governments must have just as much a say as businesses, and they must make sure that the goals they develop primarily serve the public good. This is where cooperative structures at the municipal level with clearly defined roles, resources and expertise can help. On the other hand, municipalities will also need to involve private enterprises in their digital transformation strategies if they wish to overcome many of the challenges that climate change mitigation brings with them. One promising approach is to train municipal companies so they can serve as experts with a leading role in implementing smart technologies and infrastructures. 

With the growth of the digital economy comes pressure to define top-down objectives that ensures its sustainability. In a recent study, the Internet industry association eco forecast continued growth for IT companies that provide municipal services. Current revenue projections are around 20 billion euros; by 2022, it could reach 44 billion. In this market, municipalities serve as intermediaries between the economic sector, research, and civil society. 

One particular innovation that has captured the attention of the public is the sharing economy. In the sharing economy model, customers buy goods and services from companies but they also, as members of specific platforms, distribute them with each other, either for money or for free as good neighbours. At the moment, two frontrunners in the sharing economy are Airbnb and Uber. Their models are not about providing neighbourly assistance, though. They aim at the lucrative business of matching service providers with customers. Though the success of Airbnb and Uber testifies to market demand, the underlying business models often rely on users’ circumventing local regulations governing private rentals. Legislators are currently being called on to prevent this from becoming the sole basis of services like these.

The Forschungsunion der Bundesregierung has proposed a so-called Industry 4.0 – a fourth industrial revolution – for deploying networked technology in the manufacturing sector. This is presented in greater detail in the following CPG Newsletter.

Transparency and Civic Engagement

Nowadays citizens have a say during the planning phases of larger projects. Current legislation presents a variety of options for civic engagement in these matters. Big data drawn from comprehensive opinion surveys might help expand the involvement of citizens. To ensure that urban planning projects reflect the preferences of the citizenry, decision makers can collect opinions from current local news outlets, relevant pieces from other media and data from previous research. The publication of evidence-based policy decisions, moreover, will give citizens the chance to evaluate the work of local governments and rebuild their trust in political decision making. Large quantities of data and automated services may endanger citizens’ basic rights and privacy, however. We shouldn’t live in a world where algorithms assume the responsibility for work entrusted to democratic bodies. 

The German Institute for Urbanism has observed that climate change mitigation measures must often rely on the involvement of residents, which makes civic engagement all the more crucial. If local governments do not consider the public when drafting new measures, then these will most likely be met by direct resistance from the citizenry. In fact, local residents should be encouraged to share their expertise and put it to good use – not only to serve the interests of city governments but also to spread the expertise of volunteers and local start-ups among residents and integrate it in their daily lives. The Smart City Charta calls for city administrators to promote bottom-up schemes like these. FixMyStreet demonstrates what a bottom-up project might look like. It’s an open source app from England with which citizens notify local councils about problems they come across on the street – potholes, say. Since its inception, the app has expanded its functionality; now you can even track repairs. A similar app is currently being developed in Germany. For more, please see www.markaspot.de

As technology rapidly infuses daily life, a crucial issue has increasing come to the fore:  the digital divide. The growing level of digital skills and computer literacy required by citizens has and will continue to leave some groups behind. Data from Germany’s Federal Statistical Office shows that, in 2015, 85 percent of the population over the age of ten used the Internet. Conversely, this means that around 11 million people over the age of ten did not. Factors that affect people’s level of technological literacy include age, education, social class, language, culture, regional factors, and physical and mental disability.

Figure 2: 'Chaos macht Schule' wants to teach young people the knowledge that they can not only use modern technology, but really control and master it. Symbolic picture of the Chaos Communication Camp 2015.

More user-friendliness – especially in products introduced city governments – could certainly help minimise exclusion. And it must be accompanied by better access to new technologies and educational programs. This is not just about expanding school curricula. Constant technological innovation requires life-long learning. Here, too, there are bottom-up approaches. The `Chaos macht Schule’ initiative, established in 2007, brings together members of Germany’s famous Chaos Computer Club to teach pupils, teachers, and interested parents at local schools how to operate different types of technology. 


Mobility plays a crucial role in city life, but transport is also a major source of pollution. Creating cleaner, more efficient mobility will be one of the major challenges faced by smart cities. Achieving it will save energy, improve air quality and make cities more appealing places in general. For instance, sensors strategically placed around a city can prevent traffic congestions by redirecting it whenever needed. 

One innovation many cities have begun introducing to combat poor air quality is electric vehicles. In July 2017, as part of the European Clean Bus Deployment Initiative, 36 European cities committed themselves to creating climate-neutral public transport systems. Two of the participating cities are Berlin and Hamburg. As part of this initiative, Berlin has agreed to no longer purchase buses with conventional powertrains after 2019. If electric vehicle use in cities is to spread, however, financial incentives will be needed in addition to a convenient infrastructure. This includes a dense network of charging stations, but also much more. For instance, the app ParkHere, by the Munich start-up of the same name, uses ground sensors to tell smart-phone users whether which nearby charging stations have free parking spaces. The sensors run on a small generator that stores energy from the movement and pressure of cars. No extra energy source is needed and the sensors require no maintenance. This technology can also be used in inner cities with parking problems, car parks, and carsharing. Currently, the system is already being used in Munich and St. Gallen. The city administrators of Reutlingen estimate that 30 to 40 percent of its traffic comes from people driving around looking for a parking space. For more information on electric vehicles and their ecological impact, see the CPG newsletter on electro mobility

City governments can introduce incentives to reduce the number of private vehicles on their roads. Two methods to achieve this would be to expand public transportation and improve bike lanes. Several German cities now offer bike freeways that make it easier to ride longer distances. What’s more, electric bikes are becoming a viable substitute for private cars because they also enable cyclists to travel greater distances with less effort. Carsharing in cities has become another appealing alternative to owning a private vehicle. Apps have played a significant role in providing more environmentally friendly travel alternatives. In the not too distant future, cities will also introduce self-driving cars, though how they integrate with the city traffic has yet to be decided. There are many different pilot projects testing self-driving cars for delivery services, taxis, or public transportation. One example is Olli, a small, disabled-accessible driverless electric bus. If its creators at Local Motors have their way, Olli will soon be on the roads, designed for distances that are too short for conventional public transport. 

Thanks to the popularity of smartphones, transport apps have a convenient way to use other mobility services as well:  finding the fastest route via public transport, bike lane status reports, route recommendations. App creators aren’t all from tech companies. Some are publicly funded, some are from private companies, and others are open source.  The Deutsche Bahn has a transport app and many other businesses offer transport apps and maps, which are often open-source or freeware. The Citymapper app collects traffic data and uses it to inform users about traffic levels. In London, Citymapper led to the introduction of a new bus route in July 2017 after its data indicated that the stretch was underserved. 

A particularly beneficial app is Wheelmap.org, from the `Sozialhelden’ association. Its data comes from OpenStreetMap and can be accessed either online or on a mobile device. Its interactive map provides information for disabled users. Users rate whether shops, restaurants, and stores have step-free access or not. The information allows the disabled and the elderly wheeled-walker users to plan where they can go ahead of time, so that they can participate more in public life.

Figure 3: Example image of the Wheelmap for finding wheelchair accessible places. Places can be entered by every user and arranged with a traffic light system.


Another area where smart city concepts can be put to use is in crisis prevention. Many projects already exist to manage the prevention of crises and natural disasters. The idea behind the measures is to use big data to anticipate events and speed up the responses from relief organisations and emergency services. As part of a study in Berlin TankNotStrom, hospitals and fire stations simulated a 24-hour power outage. They were testing ways in which to supply their emergency vehicles by an emergency generator. Sensors were installed in the emergency generator, which communicated via radio with emergency services. The health systems of many smart cities will benefit greatly from ICT. 

While smart cities provide many efficient crisis prevention measures, they are also vulnerable to the very crises they want to prevent. The Smart City Charta urges new systems to plan for electrical outages and technological malfunctions. In particular, analogue back-up systems should be in place for critical areas such as emergency service communication, drinking water supply, and general health care systems. 

It is of utmost importance that data from future technologies will be handled responsibly. If data is put in the hands of the companies that install the IoT, this will be hard to guarantee. (Recently, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer proposed to sell information on floor plans and furnishings of households that it had collected over the past few years.) When it comes to data privacy, the Smart City Charta recommends to follow the principles of Privacy by Design and keeping personal data to a minimum. Cities that work to ensure the privacy of people’s data can serve to attract more residents. Francesca Bria, the chief innovation officer for Barcelona, said recently in an interview: “In a world where machines are doing more and more work, it’s important to acknowledge that data belongs to the people, not the government.”


Although the digital transformation of cities is still in its early stages, digital ICT networks are creating many new potential opportunities. With the help of new technology, improvements will be seen in the economy, in climate change mitigation strategies, in civic engagement and in political transparency. Another area that will benefit from a digital transformation is the service industry. Intelligent feedback loops will enhance delivery and waste disposal services while the individual real-time coordination of transport and other services will make getting around much easier. The volumes of data that accompany these smart systems come with great responsibility. Citizens must be given full assurance that none of their data will be misused and that they will not be turned into transparent citizens. For a successful IoT approach, city governments must set clear objectives from the start. New technologies are expensive and risky for municipalities; their acquisition is only beneficial if they help cities reach their objectives. If public spaces consistently employ more complex technologies, then municipalities must ensure that no social groups are excluded due to a lack of digital know-how. 

City governments are under pressure to reach out to external businesses to help keep up with the demands of a rapidly transitioning society. At the same time, entirely new economic sectors will emerge over the next years and decades as more and more technologies appear. In the process, city governments will have to contend with a remarkably wide range of business interests. The true challenge lies in steering those interests towards the creation of sustainable, environmentally friendly and liveable cities. 

Links and references

Auf dem Weg zum Smart Citizen - Digitale Kompetenzen definieren, verorten und fördern
Quelle: Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung im Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung

Smart Cities International - Strategien, Strukturen und Pilotvorhaben
Quelle: Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung im Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung

Die Weisheit der Vielen – Bürgerbeteiligung im digitalen Zeitalter
Quelle: Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung im Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung

Digitalisierung und die Transformation des urbanen Akteursgefüges
Quelle: Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung im Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung

Mind the Gap – Digitale Integration als Basis für smarte Städte
Quelle: Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung im Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung

Smart City Charta
Quelle: Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit

Akteure im kommunalen Klimaschutz erfolgreich beteiligen
Quelle: Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik gGmbH

Standpunkt: Smart City: Herausforderung für die Stadtentwicklung
Quelle: Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik gGmbH

Rethinking Smart Cities from the ground up
Quelle: Nesta

Smart City: Zur Bedeutung des aktuellen Diskurses für die Arbeit am Zentrum Technik und Gesellschaft
Quelle: Arbeitsgruppe Smart City der Technischen Universität Berlin

UMID 02/2013: Themenheft Bürgerbeteiligung
Quelle: Umweltbundesamt, Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung, Robert-Koch-Institut

World Cities Report 2016: Urbanization and Development – Emerging Futures

Szenario eines großflächigen, lang anhaltenden Stromausfalls
Quelle: KomRe AG

Chaos macht Schule
Quelle: Chaos Computer Club e. V.



Smart Cities - Deutsche Hochtechnologie für die Stadt der Zukunft - Aufgaben und Chancen
Quelle: acatech (Hrsg.) erschienen im Springer Verlag


Schweden: Regierungsdaten in der Cloud mit eingebauter Sicherheitslücke
Quelle: Heise online des Verlag Heise Medien

Der Spion, der aus der Küche kam
Quelle: Zeit Online GmbH

Building the networked city from the ground up with citizens – Interview with Francesca Bria
Quelle: OuiShare Magazine

A South Korean City Designed For The Future Takes On A Life Of Its Own
Quelle: National Public Radio (npr)

Essen auf autonomen Rädern
Quelle: Technology Review des Verlag Heise Medien

Local Motors: Auto aus regionalem Anbau
Quelle: Technology Review des Verlag Heise Medien

Ein selbstfahrender Bus, der Gebärden beherrscht
Quelle: Technology Review des Verlag Heise Medien

Europa will nur noch saubere Busse
Quelle: Heise online des Verlag Heise Medien

Bosch will Robotertaxis bereits 2018 auf die Straße schicken
Quelle: Heise online des Verlag Heise Medien

Parksensoren von ParkHere in München im Einsatz
Quelle: eMobilität – der Blog / BE2 Elektromobilitätsgesellschaft

Smart Cities in Europa – die Innenstädte schlauer machen
Quelle: eMobilität – der Blog / BE2 Elektromobilitätsgesellschaft

Transport app Citymapper launches first ever night bus serving east London party-goers
Quelle: London Evening Standard

Chaos macht Schule: Wie Hacker sich die Digitalbildung wünschen
Quelle: netzpolitik.org e. V.

Studie prophezeit urbaner Vernetzung rasantes Wachstum
Quelle: CIO.de / IDG Business Media GmbH

In Reutlingen gehen bald Mülleimer, Ampeln und Eiscremeläden online
Quelle: Südwest Presse / NPG Digital GmbH

Thüga: Zukunft gemeinsam gestalten
Quelle: stadt+werk / K21 media AG


NewCities Summit Vorträge von 2012 bis 2017


Kulturkapital – Episode 22 – Jugend hackt

CRE Technik Kultur Gesellschaft – Episode 200 – Stadtplanung





German Environment Agency
Division III 2.4 (Waste Technology, Waste Technology Transfer)
Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau


Editorial department: Ulrike von Schlippenbach; Ralf Menzel; Anne Bachmann

Author: Joscha Steinbrenner

This Newsletter contains external links. CPG has no influence on the content of these linked websites. At the time of production of these newsletters no illigal content was detected. In case of any illigal, inaccurate or incomplete content, as well as damages deriving from using external information only the provider of those websites that are linked is to be hold liable. 

Figure 1: Sharon Hahn Darlin, CC BY 2.0
Figure 2: BlinkenArea.org, CC BY 2.0
Figure 3: Wheelmap.org

Powered by AcyMailing