Cities are the social and economic centers of the future. In Europe alone, 550 million people live in urban areas and their number will grow by another 13 million until 2025. Meanwhile, the digital age transforms cities into dense, inter-connected networks. Recognizing this mega trend, many German cities made the “smart city” a programmatic objective of urban development.
The Berlin Senate adopted a smart city strategy aimed not only at “smart” administration, but also serving as a guideline in housing, mobility, infrastructure, and public safety. With the “Digital City Düsseldorf” initiative, the Rhine metropolis focuses on new media, telecommunications, and data infrastructure. The state of Hesse pursues a similar path with its digital strategy. The Bavarian state capital works on a “Smart City Munich” guideline. As a world-leading port city, Hamburg goes a step further with its concept of a “smart port”. Much is happening in Germany’s cities, yet developments are only beginning to take shape.
The example of smart mobility
Sharing, e-mobility, and autonomous driving are the operating principles of tomorrow’s mobility. The large variety of car-sharing providers and platform operators such as Uber are notable examples of new business models. They organize mobility according to the network principle.
A growing number of start-ups and municipalities work on innovations that tackle urban transport. The future of mobility is determined by the exchange of information between road users, vehicles, and the surrounding infrastructure. The scenario emerging from this is a self-regulating system of ad-hoc availability, real-time traffic planning, and smooth transitions between means of transport.
The example of urban logistics
Supply chains increasingly become digitized, up to the point of running autonomously, based on customer data. They are the basis for providing cities with goods and services in fast, efficient, and CO2-neutral ways. Package delivery to car trunks via key-free access is just one example of how integrating information and communication technologies builds entirely new, cross-sectoral business ecosystems.
Interconnected cities as information hubs
Open data is key for promoting the innovation, transparency, and participation of cities. In the long run, public authorities become service providers managing their administration, data, and communication with citizens and companies via a city-wide information cloud. They create innovative value-added services using the open data principle.
Cities become omni-connected information hubs. From virtual marriage to online elections, they offer new modes of participating, of reducing bureaucracy, and of improving public safety. At the same time, the experience derived from recent forms of administrative management shows this: technological developments are always far ahead of legal frameworks.
Intelligent urban development
Politics or administration alone do not determine a city’s development. Private groups increasingly participate in social and economic events. Business improvement districts in almost all major cities show how residents of shopping streets envision “their” city. And it works. Today, initiatives for bicycle-friendly or barrier-free cities are implemented in better and more professional ways than ever before. City diversity drives urban progress.
Fair participation, ecological reasoning, legal limits
Urbanization always affected city life in positive as well as negative ways. The risks of unleashing technical possibilities in an unregulated manner are different today, however.
The next stage of urban transformation towards the smart city focuses on ecological aspects, such as sustaining resources and being energy-efficient. This shows that, rather than being an end itself, these measures foster the benefit of the residents. Cities, therefore, are well-advised to involve their citizens in “smart” developments.
Public domains, green spaces, and cultural heritage sites are public goods that need to be managed. This organically creates incentives for innovative business models that incorporate the digital inter-connections enabled by new technologies.
Such novel scenarios certainly raise unprecedented legal questions. Yet specific, clearly definable legal problems are no longer the main concern. As with all disruptive developments, smart city concepts affect a variety of legal disciplines. They require a holistic approach.
The topics here presented dealt with future and innovation. They were developed in cooperation with the Zukunftsinstitut, which, as one of the most influential think tanks in European trend research, continuously investigates the changes taking place in business and society.