During 2022, we visited a number of pilot projects and living labs abroad. In this article, we highlight four places that have carried out some very interesting smart city pilot projects worth checking out.
Modern cities develop at a rapid pace, in response to which experiments are being carried out around the world to develop carbon neutral, functional and equal urban living environments. This has given rise to an increasing number of living labs, i.e. urban laboratories, that engage in cooperation with companies, city residents and city employees to develop and test solutions that support convenient and sustainable everyday living and create well functioning smart cities.
In Helsinki, one such urban living lab can be found in Jätkäsaari, which has served – and continues to serve – as a testbed for smart mobility solutions, in particular. Meanwhile, the Helsinki Innovation Districts project is carrying out pilots in Pasila and Helsinki’s urban regeneration areas – Malmi, Mellunkylä and Malminkartano–Kannelmäki.
However, in this article we focus on places elsewhere around the world that are serving as testbeds for fascinating smart solutions and urban experiments.
1. Barcelona: utilising data to promote equality
Barcelona is frequently mentioned in smart city listings, having served as a testbed for a number of drone and energy production pilots, among others. What are most interesting, however, are the Barcelona’s pilot projects focusing on the promotion of feminism, gender equality and the equal treatment of people, especially those projects related to data and the utilisation thereof in the development of public transport services.
Barcelona has been collecting data on the mobility of its residents and the use of public transport services for years now. Since women use public transport services more than men, the City has been encouraging women to share information on their mobility in various ways, such as by assessing the safety of different routes. The data collected this way has been used to try out new places for bus stops, for example.
Observations made on the basis of the accumulated mobility data include that women are more mobile than men due to family reasons and make more frequent and shorter journeys. As such, they also need other public transport connections besides those that take you from the suburbs to the city centre. These kinds of insights learned from users are invaluable in terms of the planning of urban infrastructure. Barcelona’s public transport services provider, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona, has been actively involved in the pilot projects and data collection.
2. Haarlem: energy sharing and professional gardeners
While Amsterdam has done well in smart city listings in the past, now the focus has started to shift increasingly to Haarlem, which was recently awarded the European Rising Innovative City award by the European Innovation Council.
Harlem has set some ambitious goals for recycling, climate neutrality and sustainable energy production. At present, most of the city’s buildings are heated with gas, but Haarlem intends to make its energy production sustainable by 2040. Helping the City achieve this is a ground-breaking solution based on solar energy and a clever network of installations for transport, storage and intelligent distribution, which has the potential to revolutionise the energy market. This City’s effective district heating network is based on neighbourhoods instead of large, city-wide energy companies.
Another idea that was tested in Haarlem is professional gardeners who help residents add more greenery to their blocks or neighbourhoods. The gardeners assess residents’ ideas and then help implement them.
3. Shanghai: all city services in one place
Shanghai was ranked the world’s number one smart city for 2022 by market analysis company Juniper Research. One of the selection criteria was Shanghai’s Citizen Cloud, a platform that gives the city’s residents access to over 1,200 services, including education, marriage and support services for the elderly. The service, which started out as a pilot project, now serves as a place where the residents of Shanghai can find support and manage their affairs without needing to know which authority is responsible for what or where to look for what information. The platform is an example of a service that aggregates data from many different systems. It utilises the mobile network, AI and big data.
4. Genalguacil: migration flows reversed with art
In the rural part of southern Spain, there is a living lab that encompasses an entire village, Genalguacil. At the time the living lab was established, the village had lost 70% of its population over the course of the last 60 years. Something had to be done to stop the migration flow, or maybe even reverse it.
Although the village established an artist-in-residence programme as far back as 1994, it was not until the 2010s that the artists were integrated into the village community and the real living lab work began. As part of this work, the resident artists engaged in cooperation with local residents, utilised the region’s traditions and used local materials. Having the artists engage in interaction with the area and local residents was made a top priority. The village also adopted a new philosophy: ‘when locals want art to come to them, we are on the right track.’
Today, Genalguacil’s art programme is one of the most notable art programmes in Spain. So far, the village has hosted a total of 250 artists, whose works have been displayed at the local outdoor museum. The works attract over 20,000 visitors to the museum every year.
Although this pilot project is not that recent, it serves as an excellent reminder of what engaging in co-creation with residents can accomplish.
The information for this article was collected at the ENoLL Living Lab Days and Barcelona Smart City Expo and from the European Innovation Council.
Photo: Anne-Mari Sandell