Smart city - an almost elegant term. But one that also has the potential to polarise. The reason why - this is the question we will try to answer in the following.
At the turn of the millennium, the word "smart" began to establish itself in the language of business, politics and urban planning. Being synonymous with "intelligent, clever, skilful, ingenious", it has a positive connotation and calls attention to itself. Initially, the term referred to reactions to the social challenges of the time. These included the handling of the financial crisis, demographic change, ecology, environmental protection and resource utilisation.
Today, the term "smart city" tends to be immediately associated with the concept of "smart home", which has already become part of everyday life for many of us. It refers to the installation of interconnected technical systems in our homes that can be controlled both directly and remotely and serve to increase the quality of living and life. The prerequisite for the functioning of such practical tools is progressive development and digitalisation on many different levels. Because this is what makes these interconnections possible in the first place. Based on the evaluation of our usage data, we have the possibility to tailor all systems to personal needs and preferences.
The "smart city" trend aims to achieve precisely that on the large scale. It is an umbrella term for a holistic concept that aims to make living in urban areas more attractive for people and to make life as a whole more sustainable. The implementation takes place on the one hand through the further development of existing residential areas and on the other hand through the smart planning and design of new residential areas.
One example is the city of Berlin, which has started a pilot project in one of its suburbs. The neighbourhood consists of prefabricated buildings and high-rise buildings with green open spaces and ample parking spaces for residents' vehicles. These spaces were used for recreational and community purposes during the day, when they were not used for parking, in order to make the whole environment more liveable for the residents.
The city of Munich is a role model in Germany for the transformation process towards smart city management. This aspect too forms part of a holistic smart city concept. More and more areas of private and public life are gradually becoming interconnected. Digital participation formats in Bavaria's capital city give both citizens and municipal employees the opportunity to actively help shape the transformation. This sparks interest and promotes acceptance for implementation.
The polarity mentioned at the beginning arises from the fact that people are the focus of the data collection. What routines and behaviours shape their lives? During what times of the day do they need what kind of resources? Each individual can benefit from the analysis of data by artificial intelligence, but there also needs to be a fundamental willingness to make it available. Understandably, no one wants to reveal too much of their private life. And with increasing digitalisation, unease about possible misuse of data is growing, not only in Germany but worldwide.
A good way forward would be for the companies and actors involved to be open and transparent in their approach to using the data. This can boost people's confidence in the protection of their data. The Federal Data Protection Act has also laid down clear guidelines for the handling of personal data. Smart city projects require large amounts of data sets in order to produce valid analyses. However, it is not personal information that is of interest, but anonymised swarm data.
The housing industry holds a fundamentally important share of the required treasure trove of data. However, since it is not only the quantity but also the quality of the data that matters, a combination of a wide variety of sources is most useful for forward-looking urban planning. In this way, not only can the core issues of quality of life, resource use and energy efficiency be optimised, but interconnected mobility services, schools, hospitals and all urban infrastructure can also be included.
As unerring as some trends may appear, there is always a speculative risk involved in the data analyses. This is because the human being in all his variability is at the core. Most recently, the year of the pandemic has shown us how quickly things can change without notice. When new habits take hold and values also shift as a result of profound cognitive processes, it becomes apparent how important our personal competences are in dealing with change. And how important the adaptability of smart solutions is. And will be.