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A tale of frogs, oak trees, and a smart city

Goutam Das     October 13, 2015

In an urban development project northeast of Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, a 'frog tunnel' is being built - yes, literally one that can be used by frogs. The tunnel would link different water bodies within the The Royal Seaport, where by 2025, about 10,000 homes and 30,000 workspaces are planned. If frogs use the tunnel to move from one water body to another, they will not get crushed, by humans or vehicles.

It may appear quaint, but Stockholm's minders are taking several unusual steps to ensure the city is sustainable. City planners here are talking of giving more weightage to builders who promise to plant oak trees - not only because it is aesthetic and for its shade, but also because it is cultural. Oaks have long been used in Sweden to build warships. The tree is slow growing and lives for centuries, which fits the city's theme of sustainability.

Caring for tomorrow has become an important tenet in many smart city projects. And Stockholm has set stiff goals, particularly when it comes to climate issues.

Business Today recently met up with the Vice Mayor of Environment, City of Stockholm, Katarina Luhr. Housing and traffic will become the city's biggest headaches, going ahead - about 30,000 people move into Stockholm every year. Currently, there is an influx of immigrants from Syria; 50 children who are refugees land up in the city every day on an average. While the city is planning to build more houses to accommodate the influx, Luhr's agenda is to reduce the stress on the roads because of traffic.

One of her objectives is to make Stockholm city fossil-free. "There should be a fossil-free transport system by 2030. That is getting very difficult. A car is used for 17 years in Sweden. So all cars sold now should be fossil-free but they are not. There are a lot of diesel cars sold here," she says. The city is investing in more biking lanes. "People who started to bike loved it. You should be able to transport without a car. That's important for being a smart city," she adds.

In the picturesque Gamla Stan, the old town, where Stockholm was founded in 1252, the roads are narrow. But this place throbs with shops, restaurants and bars. "The delivery systems have been looked over several times. How you can have one vehicle delivering to every shop rather than multiple cars. So we try to limit the transportation," Luhr says. Many eateries imply a waste problem as well. The city is trying out different coloured bags for waste disposal. Food waste goes to a brown bag, other waste in a blue bag. The bags are then stashed in one can which is then automatically sorted in a factory. Automated waste collection that uses vacuum tech to suck the bags through underground pipes is a common sight in Stockholm. That also limits the movement of garbage collecting trucks in the city.

The city has a goal to collect 70 per cent of food waste by 2020. Today, it gathers about 13 per cent. Food waste is used to produce bio gas, essential to power fossil-free busses and cars.

Meanwhile, Stockholm now administers 'GrowSmarter', a smart city project that has received 25 million euros in funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It brings together two other cities - Cologne and Barcelona - as well as businesses, and will demonstrate 12 smart city solutions in energy, infrastructure and transport."In Stockholm, we are trying to refurbish houses in a cheap way without people having to move out," Luhr says. The idea is to refurbish older buildings using new construction techniques to cut the amount of energy it consumes.

One smart street lighting project calls for combining LED bulbs with motion sensors that "will allow lampposts to dim when nobody is around and brighten up as people approach". Lampposts will be used as communications hub as well as EV charging points - that way, the three cities "will get more for their money".

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