19 September 2017

The new residential district Vallastaden in Linköping has the potential to be a smart city, since aspects such as the efficient use of resources and social interaction have been included in the planning. And Malin Granath, researcher in information systems at LiU, believes that it may eventually be possible to achieve economic sustainability.
Helen Dannetun and Mr Dong Wang, Vice Mayor GuangzhouVallastaden from the north side Photo credit: Thor Balkhed“Smart” is often taken to mean “digitalised”, with sensors in the walls and a refrigerator that orders milk automatically when it’s needed.

“But that may not actually be very smart at all. There’s a risk that we will find ourselves locked into technology that we subsequently don’t want. It also makes us vulnerable in an undesirable manner. Something that is digitalised doesn’t necessarily have to be smart,” Malin Granath points out. Her doctoral thesis discusses digitalisation and smart cities.

Wide range of needs

The problem, as she sees it, is that there is a wide range of needs, and an overall vision or strategy for the various actors to work towards has not been defined. Energy-supply companies have one set of requirements, construction companies have completely different requirements, and residents probably have yet other requirements. Some technology solutions have been developed that no-one has asked for and for which there is no need. Microsoft and Hitachi are just two of the companies that have developed solutions at the initiative of engineers.

Malin GranathMalin Granath in Almedalen Photo credit: Monica Westman“We must consider carefully what we want the technology to do. The choice of IT system will have consequences far into the future. Who has the expertise required to purchase these systems, and who is the customer?” she asks.

Indeed, the choice of technology is not the largest problem: this is unsatisfactory collaboration and poor procedures for working together.

“The most difficult aspect is sharing information. In some contexts, open data is a fundamental requirement for a smart city. New EU regulations may become a stumbling block here,” says Malin Granath.

Difficulties to collaborate

Previous research into e-government at LiU has shown that it is extremely difficult for different government agencies to collaborate – they have different tasks, they are organised differently, and they have different systems of regulation. Building smart cities needs collaboration not only between government agencies, but also between construction companies, energy-supply companies, municipalities, the residents and many other actors.

Malin Granath has studied the growth of Vallastaden for some years, and she is convinced that the district has the potential to become a smart residential district, despite the problems.

“The efficient use of resources and social interactions have been in focus during the planning, and a service layer will be established with car pools and other facilities that the residents believe will benefit them. Infrastructure for communication has been installed, but the services are yet to be set up,” she concludes.

Political talkshop in Almedalen

Smart cities were discussed during the annual political talkshop on Gotland, Almedalsveckan, including a presentation with the title “Is it better to build completely new cities or to make the old cities smart?”

Klas Gustafsson, vice managing director at Tekniska verken, pointed out that it is not necessary for cities to be newly built for them to be smart.

“We must add a layer to what is already there, in order to make it easy to get it right.” He gave the example of a lamppost, which may also be a charging post for electrically powered cars and contain sensors.

He also emphasises the need for different actors to work together.
“Collaboration deals with both sharing pipes and exchanging information. It is difficult to build smart systems while the agencies are working in isolation from each other.”

Stefan Håkansson, managing director of E.on värme, defined a smart city as “a place where people behave such that they live in a sustainable manner”.

Elias Aguirre, councillor for the Social Democratic Party in Linköping, contributed a definition of the opposite:
“An unsmart city is one with uniform buildings, leading to segregation.”

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