Infrastructure & Urbanisation: Building Cities of the Future

Infrastructure & Urbanisation: Building Cities of the Future

ABOUT: India has embarked on an ambitious quest to create 100 Smart Cities. A vast number of existing cities will need to be re-imagined and converted into Smart Cities.
By Karin Wanngard   Delhi     Print Edition: January 17, 2016
(Photo: Raj Verma)

Karin Wanngard, Mayor of Stockholm


ABOUT: India has embarked on an ambitious quest to create 100 Smart Cities. A vast number of existing cities will need to be re-imagined and converted into Smart Cities. The challenges in the process of doing so are unique. Karin Wanngard, Mayor of Stockholm, deliberates on how to transform an old city into a Smart City? the Stockholm way.


The capital of Sweden, Stockholm, was founded in the year 1252. Today, my city is at the forefront of the technological revolution. It attracts the leading IT companies as well as skilled professionals from all over the world. Indeed, new and thriving companies are started here every week. Stockholm is also the fastest growing capital in Europe. Many factors contribute to this. Stockholm is a beautiful, old and quaint city to live in. We have a high-skilled labour force, mainly due to education - from kindergarten to university - being free of charge. Health care is universal and Stockholm offers a wide range of cultural activities and plenty of green areas.

Solid infrastructure is, of course, a pre-requisite when building smart cities. But application is crucial. There's no point in installing faucets in every home, if the water is undrinkable.

Stockholm has five 'unicorns' or billion-dollar tech start-ups. In fact, we have almost as many unicorns per capita as Silicon Valley. 'Programmer' is the most common job in Stockholm. Some 18 per cent of the workforce is employed in high-tech related jobs - the highest in Europe. The start-ups in Stockholm are attracting funding from global investors and growing rapidly. There are hundreds of open job positions in just a handful of the fastest growing start-ups.

We recently introduced programming as a topic in elementary school. We believe that one should see code as a new language, much as we, in the past, have put great importance to our children learning foreign languages, such as English.

Stockholm's fast-paced growth is a success story, but there is a wide range of challenges. We have a housing shortage that, if not fixed, may deter people from moving here, which will be detrimental to economic growth in the long run. We need to expand the city, but this must be done in a sustainable way. After all, Stockholm's good environment is a key reason for many to live and work here. I strongly believe that the solution lies in welcoming and applying new technology. The transition from an old city to a smart city has to be made while keeping and respecting the historical heritage.

This year, we set ourselves the ambitious goal to make Stockholm the smartest and most connected city in the world. When it comes to connectivity, we are far ahead, having established a company owned by the city, Stokab, that provides dark fibre - its network reaches 90 per cent of the households and 100 per cent of businesses. The basic philosophy behind it is that access to fibre infrastructure is a strategic utility for the city, just like water.

Solid infrastructure is, of course, a pre-requisite when building smart cities. But again, application is crucial. There's no point in installing faucets in every home, if the water is undrinkable. This is where political will and decision-making comes in.

Tackling climate change is a growth opportunity for cities as it raises the standard of living of citizens and helps attract businesses. Those cities that can offer a good environment and show that sustainability is at the top of their agenda will be more attractive to people and businesses alike. Cities can succeed if there is political will and an openness to embrace new technology.

I believe the cities that have the ability to embrace and apply new technology will be able to make this transition quite rapidly. It will also greatly benefit people living in cities as well as improve conditions for businesses. Some of the most interesting things are the developments made in open data, big data and Internet of Things (IoT). We now have the capacity to really put these things to use. Next year, Stockholm will adapt a new strategy to make these tools a natural part of the services provided by the city. Combining big data, open data and IoT provides endless possibilities.

There are many examples. Trash bins "announcing" when they need to be emptied; automatic control of flow in storm drains to avoid flooding; parking spaces that communicate when they are free; smart and connected lamp posts providing street lighting when required to save energy and that can measure particle concentrations in the air; as well as providing Wi-Fi and installing sensors in homes to detect a rise in the levels of mould and moisture before they damage the building. The list is endless.

New technology can also be applied when designing more large-scale innovations. Soon, traffic planning can be done in real time, based on open and big data, providing information on traffic jams before they occur, to speed up transport and decrease congestion.

But this is not enough to build the city of the future. A smart city is also a sustainable city. I strongly believe that this will be truer in the future. Fighting climate change is not only necessary for the survival of the planet, but finding ways to build sustainable cities and regions will provide those that succeed with a competitive advantage. Most people want to live in a healthy and good environment; this will in turn attract talent and businesses to cities that can offer this.

Soon, traffi c planning can be done in real time, based on open and big data, providing information on traffic jams before they occur, to speed up transport and decrease congestion.

There is also a growing market for new innovations in this area. For Stockholm, having companies that can produce environmentally friendly solutions in a wide range of areas - from transport to how we build sustainable housing - is a great export opportunity, creating new jobs in an economy that is becoming increasingly internationalised. We do not compete so much with other regions or cities in Sweden, as we do with other cities in the world, be it Silicon Valley or Bangalore.

Therefore, those that want to make the transition from old to smart, need to focus on sustainability as well as new technology. And these two things correlate. A sustainable city cannot be built without the use of new technology. I have set ambitious goals for the city of Stockholm to be not just climate neutral, but also fossil-fuel-free by 2040. To do this, several things are needed.

Since 2006, we have been using a successful system, charging a fee on cars entering and leaving the city. This has cut traffic significantly. And we are continuously seeking innovative solutions to make the shift towards more sustainable transport by using more environmentally friendly cars and lorries. Cities need to have a good public transport system - in Stockholm buses run on environmentally friendly fuel - as well as good bike paths, providing people with an option to the car.

We also address the issue of sustainability when building new homes and buildings. We can decrease energy consumption in buildings by improving ventilation and heating systems and through other simple measures such as sealing windows more efficiently, using new and improved building materials and new ways of construction. In addition, Stockholm has good infrastructure when it comes to recycling. This makes it easier for people living in Stockholm to recycle and dispose of waste in a more environmentally friendly way.

There is a saying that 'all politics is local'. This is becoming truer even in terms of building a sustainable world. In addition to the steps taken by governments and international organisations, cities will play an important role in the future. Inter-city co-operation will be even more important when fighting climate change. We see a global trend of urbanisation; more and more people will live in cities in the future, therefore cities working together, sharing experiences on green projects is vital. Cities account for 70 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases and 70 per cent of the world's population is projected to live in urban areas by mid-century.

Cities are where investment, innovation and action on climate change occur, and where communities can become more resilient and socially inclusive when facing this issue. Cities have the solutions - local governments control a wide range of services - transport, infrastructure, water use and waste management. Investment in these areas can significantly reduce emissions. Applying new technology to the core services cities provide is extremely important when building sustainable cities and communities. Much of the necessary steps needed to reach global goals of reducing emissions will be taken by cities and regions. And those that succeed in this work will have a competitive advantage in the globalised economy.

Tackling climate change is a growth opportunity for cities as it raises the standard of living of citizens and helps attract businesses. The climate issue is becoming ever more important to many people, and those cities that can offer a good environment and show that sustainability is at the top of their agenda will be more attractive to people and businesses alike. And I truly believe that cities can succeed if there is political will and an openness to embrace new technology, while keeping their historical heritage in the process. From old to smart, without losing one's history.

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