Vienna, Austria, is at the forefront of smart city development, as Dominic Weiss of the Smart City Vienna project emphasises
IN recent years, making cities smarter has become a key priority for countries across Europe. In 2014, the UN predicted that around 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, which – when combined with expected total population growth – could see an expansion of around 2.5 billion people globally. In anticipation of this, Europe’s cities are building smart concepts and innovations into their foundational frameworks, and setting targets for every sector in the years leading up to 2050.
One such city is Vienna, which introduced its Smart City Vienna initiative in 2014 as a strategy for the future development of the city. PEN spoke to Dominic Weiss, head of the Smart City Vienna Agency, about the role of the undertaking as a framework for the city, the European Commission’s role in promoting the initiative and others like it across the continent, and some of the key projects Vienna has undertaken to drive smart innovations in this area.
What role does the Smart City Vienna project play in shaping the future of the city?
Smart City Vienna is more than a project. The entire idea behind it is a broad initiative and a framework for the city of Vienna. When the smart city issue became popular a couple of years ago, we decided to take that as a chance to create an overall framework strategy for our city which affects almost everything we can do to make our city fit for the future.
In 2014, along with our mayor and our city council – which is the highest legislative body in the city – we signed a 120-page paper called the Smart City Vienna Framework Strategy, which outlines 54 goals in different areas to try to give the entire city administration and relevant partners a guide in terms of what a smart city should be.
Our definition of a ‘smart city’ might be different to that of other cities, I would say. Many other cities have a very narrow focus; they concentrate on ICT, or on energy, or on CO2. For us, it should be a much broader approach. How can we offer the highest quality of living for our citizens in 2020, and in 2030, and in 2050? We think we can achieve that by protecting resources and by taking advantage of innovation. All of the sectoral goals, like CO2, the mobility sector or energy goals, should be an enabler allowing us to offer the highest quality of living. That’s the structure of Smart City Vienna, and under that framework there are actually many projects in different areas.
In light of the UN’s statistic on population expansion, how is Vienna expanding and preparing for growth while ensuring the city becomes more sustainable?
We have already seen expansion in Vienna. In 2015, we grew by around 40,000 people in a year. Vienna has 1.8 million inhabitants, so 40,000 more people per year is a very big challenge. We’re growing very quickly and we have to be prepared and be resilient in terms of how we handle that growth as we want to offer quality of living for everyone.
All our strategic approaches take into account how the city will look in 20 or 40 years, and how we can offer the infrastructure that will be needed then. For example, energy: what energy needs will we have in 30 years? How will people use mobility? We’re working hard on this because we know people will need these things, but because we’re talking about the future, we don’t exactly know what they’ll look like. What we do know is that all these people will need a place to live, they’ll need schools, they’ll need good jobs and they’ll need a good urban infrastructure like the provision of energy, mobility, housing, water and much more. For example, living is getting more and more expensive, so what we’re again doing at the moment is investing in social housing projects within the city, because we want to offer people an affordable place to live.
How important are environmental concerns when planning new developments in the city?
We focus on three main areas with regard to the environment: energy, mobility and buildings. We have big sectoral projects in each of these areas and a big project co-financed by the European Commission called Smarter Together, through which we’re trying to retrofit specific buildings in a crossed-linked quarter of our city.
The project is a combination, as most smart city projects are, of retrofitting building standards along with the introduction of lots of new renewable energy sources, adding more mobility points, and linking everything together with ICT. The project, thanks to financing by the EU, allows us to try out certain things which we understand should be part of a smart city project.
In addition, we’re also working on a new city area, which is our lakeside city Aspern. We’ve put a metro line there first, and it’s a totally new area for 25,000 people to live and work. It’s also a place where, along with partners from the private sector, we can try out certain innovations like smart metering, the internet of things, sensors and many more. In some areas, we are trying to offer conditions which allow us to use the city like a living lab, and these are some of the projects we’re currently undertaking.
We also work hard to involve our citizens in the area of renewable energies. We have a solar power plant initiative, where we’re offering people a model for investing in solar power plants that is making it more financially attractive than simply putting their money in the bank. Through encouraging citizens to invest in our renewable energy projects, we’ve already established around 25 solar power plants on roofs across the city.
How effective has the EU’s overall approach to smart cities been?
In terms of funding we’re very happy at the moment because of several projects we are part of. Our project Smarter Together is currently one of the biggest lighthouse projects and is co-financed by the European Union.
One area where the commission could focus more is on offering a platform so that we in Vienna can exchange our views with other cities.
In the discussion around smart cities, the European Commission isn’t completely synchronised, because the phrase ‘smart cities’ is not a definition or guideline in itself. DG Energy has a different definition from DG Move, which has a different definition from DG Connect.
However, I think this is fine. Smart cities always need a local approach, and I think it’s good that the commission is not setting standards for what this has to look like. So overall, I think we’re very happy with the EU itself.
Smart City Vienna
This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Smart Cities 1, which will be published in May 2017.