Building the city of the future at Aarhus

Researchers at Aarhus University want to use technology to make the capital of Jutland a model for smart cities

By Sara Catalini

To live in a big city has its price. And it is not only about the expensive rent, transportation, or groceries. It means that you are likely to live far from your work, probably making you rely on public transportation or drive a car. Since you are not the only one caught in that trap, it will also mean that traffic jams and pollution will be in your way. So the environment will pay a price, and your health might not be that good too. Here is the dilemma: The costs are definitively high, but bigger cities are also usually the ones with better opportunities for jobs and education. So how does one escape from that?

A group of researchers from Aarhus University are beginning to study a way out of this dead end. They believe that technology can make cities a better place to live and want Aarhus to be the example of that. With project Smart Aarhus they intend to coordinate collaborations with a variety of sectors in order to sort out problems created by growing, ill-connected urban structures. Underlining the initiatives is the use of new technology to improve different aspects of life in the city.

In January one of its first initiatives will come to the public. The plan is to launch an app for smart phones that tells the best and fastest way to travel to work. Another possibility is that it may also convert the calories burned by the citizens on their daily bike ride to CO2 savings. “The app will actually tell you: ‘No, wait ten minutes more before you leave’,” says Martin Brynskov, academic coordinator of the project and a professor at AU’s department of aesthetics and communication.

If more initiatives like that become real, Smart Aarhus may build what its founders claim to be the ‘Scandinavian model of smart cities’. In the latest years many projects popped up all over the world in attempts to create cities that are smarter. Most of them were based either on the American model, which is built primarily on commercial interests, or the Asian way, which has centralized control. The Scandinavian model, in its turn, is based on partnership and cooperation.

“Most of the world’s population live in medium-sized cites, not in a global metropolis. So, Aarhus can create a model to be exported.”


A key element for encouraging such collaborations is the disposal of data for potential partners. Therefore, Smart Aarhus launched in April its Open Data project, a platform that gathers information from public institutions and the university. The system is supposed to help whoever wants to develop applications for creating a smarter city but does not have the proper data to build them.

For the founders of the project, Aarhus can be the test for this new model of building smart cities. “Most of the world’s population live in medium-sized cites, not in a global metropolis,” says Brynskov. “So, Aarhus can create a model to be exported.” Because of its will to lead the country in the intelligent use of digital technology Aarhus has been chosen to host the Internet Week Denmark, in April. In this five-day festival, the city will hold talks, discussions, workshops and parties focusing on the internet’s impact on innovation and growth. This should be one of the many tests that a city that wants to become a model to be exported will have to pass.

Sara Catalini is a journalism M.A. student in Italy, a current exchange student at Aarhus University and a contributor to the blog . She’s also worked for a cinematographic .