From May 21 to 23, the 19th issue of realCORP - the international conference on urban planning, regional development and the information society - was taking place in Vienna, Austria. The event was focussing on the concept of a smart city and its relevance for contemporary urbanization.
Since almost 20 years, the realCORP conferences are an important venue for the intellectual exchange between urban planners in Central Europe and the world. This year the conferences theme was coined Plan it Smart. Clever Solutions for Smart Cities and aimed at looking behind the buzzword 'smart city' as realCORP conference director Manfred Schrenk explains:
"'Smart Cities' has become a widely used term for the implementation of information and communication technologies (ICT) into the built environment, aiming to improve the integration of the physical assets as well as social and environmental capital. Fired by several rankings there seems to be a competition for the title of the 'Smartest City'".
RealCORP 2014 dealth with some critical questions about what Smart Cities are and what importance they have for contemporary urban challenges. So it was discussed what Smart City means in terms of quality of life or if concepts such as sustainability or resilience are part of the currently built Smart Cities.
In fact many participants at realCORP were concerned that the smart city discourse appears to be increasingly dominated by large corporations, all of which have a major interest in supplying cities with their smart technologies ranging from ICT applications to security services. Looking at the numbers and the growth rates in the smart city business, one can also talk about a smart cities gold rush. According to a recent study the global annual smart cities market is expected to grow from USD 654.57 billion in 2014 to USD 1,266.58 billion by 2019. In this context the analysis and city-benchmarking side of the smart city discourse is fuelling an arms race between cities to become smart, or even smarter.
But arent cities smart by default and dont require to be dotted by a multitude of new technologies for making them smart? Cities are the hotspots of human culture and ingenuity. In urban areas we find most innovation and the birthplaces of humanitys most advanced culture and technology.
Simply put (and positively interpreted) cities are the single most successful and abundant life supporting system on the planet. So cities are already pretty smart, even if they almost exclusively lack the capability to run as zero-waste, energy-autarkic or resource-efficient systems. It is the promise to master such shortcomings of our cities by means of technology, which is one very appealing aspect of a Smart City.
The city of Vienna is in fact an ideal location to critically assess the concept of a Smart City. Over the recent years Vienna has been repeatedly ranked as one of the globally leading smart cities and meanwhile identifies itself with this branding. In 2011 the City of Vienna launched its 'Smart City Wien' initiative backed politically by the citys mayor himself. This initiative subsumes Viennas urban development programs such as the Integrated Mobility Plan, Viennas Urban Energy Efficiency Programme or the Climate Protection Plan all of which are funnelled in an integrated planning approach and complemented by a focus on citizen participation.
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