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Why Europe should strengthen cooperation between cities

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 12:45

In order to tackle the current challenges of European cities, Roberto Viola, Director-General of European Commission’s DG CONNECT says ‘cities need to think about joined-up planning, market research, tendering and procurement.’

Smart city solutions can be the answer to many of the challenges faced by European cities, including better safety, better healthcare, better traffic management, less air pollution or more efficient public administrations. But becoming a smart city requires scale. According to estimates, only a third of EU cities and towns are of adequate scale to carry out the necessary strategic planning and to attract sufficient investment on their own. Others depend on working together to develop affordable solutions and to attract financing.

This is why we have to strengthen cooperation between cities. Cities need to think about joined-up planning, market research, tendering and procurement.

This is what the European Innovation Partnership on SmartCities and the Horizon2020 Smart Cities lighthouse projects are aiming at: fostering stronger cooperation between cities beyond research towards implementation and deployment.

21 European cities already participate directly in these projects with a focus on energy, mobility, digital solutions and smart applications. They typically involve reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption, and improving urban mobility.

Two examples illustrate this initiative.

First, 40 industry players have committed themselves to develop interoperable solutions for smart cities. These solutions help building interoperable platforms, the hardware and software that is needed to manage data at city level and allow for new and better services. In turn, 80 cities have agreed to cooperate on this topic with industry. They have already developed and tested joint requirements for platforms and are working towards a fast roll-out of this key enabling technology (KET) in their cities.

Second, there are cities in four European regions that cooperate on smart networked lamp posts including features like e-charging, sensors, Wi-Fi and of course LED upgrades for lighting. Currently such products are still extremely expensive and the added value for cities remains often unclear. By cooperating, cities get a better understanding of the market. They jointly carry out feasibility studies and procurement preparations, which should eventually bring down the cost of such projects.

Making smart cities happen in Europe is a priority. Our EU policies directly help technological innovation, interoperability and standards. The Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy is our strong political anchor for this but we also support the smart cities market in Europe by linking the DSM with the Energy Union and the EU Urban Agenda. Our challenge at the EU level is to simultaneously engage all stakeholders and in particular city authorities, urban infrastructures operators, the ICT sector and major investors. To this end, we will launch a single online entry point, as a first action under the EU Urban Agenda, that will bring together all relevant contacts, provide access and information on policy, funding and finance to boost investment in cities.

The challenges for cities have increased drastically over the last few years but the digital tools at their disposal have never been better. A strategic approach with a clear focus on their individual needs can make their efforts pay off. However, only joint action and demand aggregation can offer cities faster, better and cheaper solutions with improved returns and benefits. We have to encourage all actors in Europe to cooperate even more and reap the benefits of the potential that smart cities offer.