Internet Week: Aarhus is amongst smartest citys in Europe

For the second part of our coverage of Internet Week Denmark, we explore what it means for a city to be ‘smart’, why Aarhus is smart, and how this can benefit citizens.

By Irina Orlova

Patrick Driscoll of Aalborg-Copenhagen University PHOTO: Internet Week Denmark

Patrick Driscoll of Aalborg-Copenhagen University PHOTO: Internet Week Denmark

Internet Week Denmark’s appearance in Aarhus, not Copenhagen, is no accident. Denmark’s second city is ranked second among the smartest cities in Europe, because of its developed ICT infrastructure, social, economic and environmental sustainability and high penetration rates for electronic devices. But Aarhus isn’t simply satisfied with being ‘smart’ – it wants to become ever smarter, through the internet. In fact the drive behind Internet Week, and the subject matter of many events during its first day, came from the Smart Aarhus project.

Aarhus Radhus (city hall) was the setting for the Smart Cities events, which aimed to bring citizens, businesses and decision makers together in discussion.. Entering the building, your device at once detects a free Wi-Fi hotspot named “SmartAarhus”, one of the largest coherent wireless networks in Denmark. It is one of the initiatives of Smart Aarhus, which proposes an alternative way of creating solutions for the city, and providing better municipal services.

“People from different parts of society: politicians, economists, engineers have their own roles to play. But now we need them all in a cooperation”

 

The first talk was introduced by Martin Brynskov, a professor at Aarhus University’s department of aesthetics and communication. The university is part of Smart Aarhus, and has its own interdisciplinary research network focusing on urban challenges. Brynskov believes that “we should integrate the whole city to realize the Scandinavian model of smart cities”. “People from different parts of society: politicians, economists, engineers have their own roles to play. But now we need them all in a cooperation.”

The coalition of will

Indeed, the so-called Scandinavian model of smart cities is, at its simplest level, based on partnership and cooperation. However the concept itself of what a smart city should actually look like is very broad. Ideally, it includes the ‘smart’ combination of regional competitiveness, transport and ICT economics, natural resources, human and social capital and, crucially, participation of citizens in the governance of cities. The main requirements are having a population no more than 500 thousand people and at least one university.

“In fact, there are two concepts of European smart city,” explains Niels Højberg, CEO Mayor´s Dept. & Chairman at Danish Association of City CEO’s. “The first one is very much based on energy savings and smart computering of energy. The second – has a more holistic attitude, which includes organisation of the city and citizens’ participation. If you look at the Smart Aarhus concept you can see a smart using of all kinds of digital devices aiming to enhance the digital life of the city.”

In January 2012, the Smart Aarhus concept was created as ‘the coalition of will’. Everyone who wanted to contribute to Smart Aarhus (universities, private firms and non-governmental organisations) was invited. In its first year the project was supported by around 35 working groups. Some of the proposals of the working groups are already being implemented.

Speakers at the Smart Cities event at Internet Week Denmark PHOTO: Internet Week Denmark

From left to right: Britta Thomsen, Member of European Parliament, Patrick Driscoll, Aalborg University – Copenhagen, Niels Højberg, CEO Mayor´s Dept. & Chairman at Danish Association of City CEO’s. PHOTO: Internet Week Denmark

For instance, in February this year, a mobile app was launched with the support of the Smart Aarhus project. The ‘Should I go now’ app provides citizens with the information about the best and fastest way to travel to work, based on route data collected in real time on the open-data portal – another initiative of the Smart Aarhus.

Organising the city

“In fact, half of the world population lives in the middle-sized cities, like Aarhus,” says Martin Brynskov. “And the main challenge for us is to develop a model which could work both for Denmark and, for instance, Argentina.” Here in Aarhus all the initiatives from all over Denmark are collected to find a balance between a “totally clean designed way and the anarchy.”

Niels Højberg, CEO of the Mayor´s Deptartment & Chairman at the Danish Association of City CEO’s also remarked upon the great challenge of properly organising a city like Aarhus, and taking it into the era of the internet. “The number of Internet users is growing much more faster than the infrastructures can actually take and more than our brain can grasp,” he says. “When the society is so well-structured, it is very difficult to find a room for this tremendous change and the new-thinking. But in Aarhus we have this space.”

Patrick Driscoll, PHD researcher at Aalborg University-Copenhagen, in his speech suggested the use of a Google-style development model for a smart city concept. Even though Google is now a well-established company, he explained, it is still beta-testing its products. ”Google throw it up to the developers and they approve it on a voluntary basis. And I think that’s the kind of model we need for the smart city concept. Let’s try stuff, let’s do, let’s create space! ”

“We can never sit down and say that now we’ve made a smart city. No, tomorrow we will be even smarter” 

 

Talking about the actual bricks-and-mortar examples of building the smart city, Lars Schrøder, CEO of Aarhus Water, introduced the Aarhusvand project, which goal is to help 9 cities in Europe handle the climate change in a smart way. It includes a long term strategy for the improvement of water quality in Lake Brabrand, the Å river and the Port of Aarhus. This is requiring modernisation of an entire purification and sewer system, making sure that the rain water is not mixed with the waste water. These waste water systems are separated into zones with their own tanks. A radar predicts the amount of rain in each area. “We also made an app where you can check the quality of water in the municipality,” he added.

Never ending innovation

Summing up the final roundtable on the smart cities topic, the representative of  Philips Lighting, Jørgen Appelquist, argued that the concept of smart cities is not a product, but never ending discussion. “We can never sit down and say that now we’ve made a smart city. No, tomorrow we will be even smarter. And the same comes with all the technologies.” He also added that any plan to change the city in a 6 months will fail anyway. “If you, for example, will change all the lighting in Aarhus in half a year, then you will have a huge savings – yes, but you will miss the opportunities of the innovation of tomorrow. And then, in 20 years you will have the same problem as we have now. A pile of old products that need to be changed. Smart city is just an intelligent way of thinking.”

“We should invest in smart people, not in smart cities”, he concluded.

 

Jutland Station is an official media partner of Internet Week Denmark, and will be covering the event in English. Look out for pictures, interviews and features, every day of the week on Twitter @JutlandStation.

On Thursday, social media, and what it means for business, is the subject of our morning feature.

If you’d like to attend Internet Week Denmark, please see their website for further details and how to register. You can also read our preview

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Irina Orlova is a Russian student currently living and studying Journalism in Denmark.