Full steam ahead to a Smart and Sustainable City
What makes a city smart and sustainable? Denkstatt recently tried to answer this question – both in theory by developing a new position paper on smart cities together with stakeholders from the real estate and urban development sectors and in practice by integrating sustainability in a district development project in the Austrian city Amstetten.
A Smart City puts People First
There are various approaches to and definitions of a smart city – what unites them is that they are usually either driven by technology or social factors. For us, it is clear that it’s not data and technology but human beings that are at the heart of a smart city.
Innovative urban development and technological solutions need to secure quality of life and decrease resource consumption to create liveable human environments and foster social inclusion (a smart city also has to reach its most vulnerable citizens). This should be reflected in the vision and attitude of a city while at the same time it is essential to ensure financial feasibility and affordability of any implemented actions.
As illustrated in this idealised picture of a smart city, a holistic approach to smart city development addresses a myriad of diverse and challenging topics:
- The city and its environs
- Community and communication
- Interconnections and networks
- Innovation and adaptation
- Urban spaces (green/open/public space)
- Buildings and (mixed) uses
- Smart development/transformation of existing buildings and areas
- Transportation (of people and goods)
- Resource efficiency, emissions reduction
- Connected infrastructure and technology for the people
Holistic Processes are crucial for a Successful Transformation to a Smart City
While it can even be a challenge to develop a vision of a smart city, it is usually an even bigger challenge to actually transform a city into a smart and sustainable city. Here, holistic processes are crucial to make the journey to smartness successful for all people involved. In this regard, a city needs to address the challenges and demands of the future while also being adaptive enough to react to innovative and/or unexpected developments. This attitude, adaptability and flexibility requires a long-term political commitment to smart and sustainable urban planning. Thus, major challenges for a smart city include:
- Governance structures and processes that foster creativity and cooperation
- Innovative and flexible infrastructure
- Behaviour (changes) and participation
- Systematic, interdisciplinary and holistic development and renewal of districts
- Economic development (including financing and affordability)
As illustrated in this picture, a city cannot become smart and sustainable overnight but usually faces a challenging, interdisciplinary journey that requires strong political leadership and the contribution of various players. A major challenge is to develop a story of where we want and need to go in order to accelerate this transformation. The following steps resemble a best practice approach for a successful transformation:
- Develop simple and clear objectives
- Check the individual strengths and stress factors of the respective city together with experts and stakeholders
- Adjust the existing objectives (if necessary) and find a broad consensus on objectives in the municipality
- Define specific topics and fields of actions
- Work with experts to implement individual projects
On this journey, it is important for a municipality to be open to new developments and to always have the big picture in mind. In order to ensure a successful transformation with broad participation and clear progress, it is useful to implement a transparent monitoring process, to integrate the main stakeholders, and to use the expertise of an experienced and innovative external consultant in this process.
Implementation in Practice: Defining and embedding Sustainability Objectives for Quartier A
Developing a vision for a role model for a sustainable district in a medium-sized city
So, how can this process look like in practice? Denkstatt accompanies the Austrian Federal Railways on their journey to develop a new urban district named Quartier A in the Austrian city Amstetten which encompasses an area of 100,000 m² that isn’t used for railway purposes anymore. Amstetten has around 25,000 inhabitants and lies at the country’s most important railway line, with the third-largest city Linz and the capital Vienna just a 25 or 50 minute train ride away.
Thus, Quartier A can serve as a role model for smart and sustainable districts in medium-sized cities with excellent mobility connections and aims at creating a vibrant, urban character with smart mobility solutions, innovative housing and future-proof work concepts, excellent health services, and mixed uses in a rather rural region.
How sustainability qualities become sustainability objectives and specific criteria and indicators
Therefore, it was essential to define right at the beginning what is exactly meant by sustainability in Quartier A in order to align planning and implementation with the defined sustainability criteria. In two workshops, visible and tangible sustainability qualities that should use the potential of the city were developed around the topics of mobility, society, ecology, energy, and economy. These qualities were drawn, discussed, structured and formulated, resulting in ten strategic sustainability objectives around the following key objective on mobility:
Quartier A is the mobility hub of the future for spatial and virtual mobility in the Mostviertel region – with connections to everywhere. To achieve this, sustainable and innovative mobility solutions which focus on shared use are offered, tested and developed.
The complete set of sustainability objectives aims at creating a diverse and open, flexible and cooperative, modern and green, as well as vibrant and restful environment which fosters community, co-creation, encounters and experiments and is flexible to future changes in use. This will create long-term value for the municipality, the land owner, the developer and the citizens.
The next steps
These sustainability objectives are currently integrated in the master plan through the definition of specific sustainability criteria and indicators. Moreover, a sustainability concept is developed as a basis for all future thematic plans. Our experience in such projects shows that you can never think early enough about sustainability in urban development processes.
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