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ICLEI Says Smart Cities Need Citizen Buy-In

Global Town Hall 2014

"A smart city is a city which can provide - with fewer resources - more efficiency, more services for its citizens and a higher quality of life in a rapidly urbanizing world," according to Gino Van Begin, the Secretary General of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

He was giving this definition at the ICLEI Global Town Hall 2014, part of the Metropolitan Solutions trade show in Hannover, at the end of last week.

But he added something important: a smart city is about much more than just smart technology. As cities move towards becoming smart cities, the intricacies of networking, involvement and innovation become a reality, said Van Begin.

Many speakers felt that there was a great need for citizen engagement, people getting involved from the grassroots phase of sustainable development, as well as business, academics, scientists, national institutions and voluntary organisations.

They also need to have their concerns addressed about privacy, security and intrusion. It cannot be sufficient for cities to become technologically 'wired' under the pretext of becoming more green without genuine sustainability principles being part of the process.

Cities and businesses can individually propose projects, form action plans and even work towards implementation, but unless they involve their citizens they can never truly be sustainable. As Hans-Jochen Schneider, CEO, EnergieCity Leipzig said: "Smart cities need smart citizens!"


This week tech giant Cisco reiterated a partnership with Amsterdam to become, ostensibly, the first wired up smart city in the European Union. The California-based company sees a huge business opportunity in implementing the infrastructure of sensors, networks and so on needed to wire everything up. 

It's five years since it first announced this project, with new line of smart grid technologies and a partnership with Duke Energy to speed smart grid development for the utility's 11 million customers while also helping GE and the City of Miami tackle a $200 million smart grid initiative

This year, smart city communications networks alone are slated to become a $3.5 billion global market by 2020, according to Navigant Research. It's easy to see that in the scramble to make money and gain the contracts, citizen engagement can be left well behind.

"It has become obvious that we need much more interconnectivity and interaction of all responsibilities within a city and also within businesses to work towards creating smart cities", observed Monika Zimmermann, Deputy Secretary General of ICLEI, at the Global Town Hall 2014, pointing out that "solutions no longer work in a bubble, a city's needs are never singular and therefore solutions cannot be limited to one sphere".

The Global Town Hall themes

Bristol, Belo Horizonte and Tokyo Presenting at ICLEI Global Town HallA total of three themes were explored at the gathering: Urban EcoMobility, Low Carbon Cities and Smart Cities.

Attendees witnessed presentations from cities such as Munster in Germany, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Belo Horizonte in Brazil and Seoul in South Korea. (Bristol, Belo Horizonte and Tokyo are shown right presenting.)

Representatives came from cities at various stages along the path of sustainable development, such as Rajkot in India, Balikapapan in the Phillipines, KwaDukuza in South Africa, and Fortaleza and Recife in Brazil.

These cities are working hard towards adapting and mitigating carbon emissions and in particular were seeking simple solutions such as educating citizens to turn off their lights, urban gardening and cycling to work, as well as more complex solutions such as:Siyabonga and Mava from @Urban_LEDS model city KwaDukuza with ICLEI president David Cadman in Hannover Town Hall retrofitting buildings, installing green building codes, green sustainable procurement and building infrastructure to support urban mobility.

Right: Siyabonga and Mava from @Urban_LEDS model city KwaDukuza with ICLEI president David Cadman in Hannover Town Hall.

Back in Amsterdam, they have goals of becoming one of the world's most sustainable cities by 2040 and of cutting CO2 emissions by 40% by 2025, from a 1990 baseline. The city is already ranked fifth in Siemens European Green City Index.

About 60% of the smart city projects are expected to come from global companies such as Cisco, and 20% each from local companies and citizens, "because nobody understands life in Amsterdam better than the people who live there," said Wim Elfrink, Cisco's executive vice president of industry solutions and chief globalization officer.

The key will be open data, the ability for it to be used by anyone. "Everyone is talking about open data and many people see interesting perspectives, but it is not happening enough," according to Amsterdam's mayor, Eberhard van der Laan.