In the quest to correct the damage that human activity has done to our planet, Smart Cities backed up by sustainability and green energy goals are becoming the long-term legacy that will be passed onto future generations. At this stage, when talking about the concept of a Smart City, project managers have a clear idea about the purpose of building one and it all comes down to preventing the ongoing destructive pressure that humans are putting on our planet.
Integrating all the elements requires time, patience, adaptability and a good understanding of the city you want to smart up. Nothing can be achieved overnight and the implementation of a Smart City project will take years, even decades to complete. This is one of the reasons patience is a crucial aspect in success, another would be getting citizens to be on the same page as the technology and the changes to their daily lives.
Why is adaptability so important? Cities are like people, no-one is alike, each has its own DNA that integrates history, people, location, culture, you name it. It’s therefore very important to keep in mind all these factors when developing a Smart City strategy. Without a good understanding of the city’s DNA and if projects are simply implemented for the sake of ‘smartness’ they are certainly doomed to failure.
Ahead of Nordic Smart Cities – The City 2.0 we conducted an exclusive speaker interview with Veera Mustonen, Head of Smart Kalasatama at Forum Virium Helsinki about Digital City.
As head of the Smart Kalasatama, Veera is leading an innovation platform, Living Lab activities and supervising smart city development projects. She is also deputy CEO/managing director of Forum Virium Forum Virium Helsinki. In the past, Veera has worked as an entrepreneur, researcher and also 10 years in Nokia leading smartphone development.
How do you manage to integrate all social categories when starting a project?
When talking about legal entities, we work according to the so-called ‘quadruple helix model’ or in other words, PPPP, meaning that we want to engage the public sector, people, city officials and public funding with privately owned companies, both big industries and startups as well as researchers from different universities in the region. I believe that would be for the benefit of all stakeholders if they work together and co-create future solutions. Maybe the most difficult group to engage are the citizens, but we created different models to integrate them. The Kalasatama district is still under construction for the next twenty years meaning that all 3000 citizens living there are the pioneers. This means that they have insight on the outcome of their neighborhood, what kind of services there will be and how we can make it better. So far we had 500 people participating in all these different piloting projects and we had good feedback from them, they enjoyed participating.When talking about different kinds of demographic groups in the city, there are a lot of seniors who moved mainly from suburban areas to the city center because they want to have better services. They don’t want to live in big houses anymore as they get older, but rather in modern apartments which will better support their daily life. They participate e.g. in peer exercise groups supported by digital wellness coaches platforms. In a similar manner, we go to kindergartens and schools to find the right kind of profile for the different workshops and services we provide. We engage different groups like families with young kids, students and working people in different smart city piloting and product creation with companies and the public partners. This way we enable them to be co-creators or test-users giving feedback on the services.
How do you get residents on board with the new technological changes? Was there any resistance on their part? What were their reasons?
There hasn’t been any resistance from the citizens’ side. One thing we learned by engaging them to participate in the many workshops that everyone has limited time and everyone has to find a personal motivation and benefit to participating. The most common reasons to participate in smart city pilots is to learn new things and meet new people- not only neighbors but also entrepreneurs and other people outside of one’s everyday sphere.
What is the ultimate goal of the Smart Kalasatama project and what role does it play in the larger European context?
The program was initiated by the City Council in 2013 and the initial goal was that it should become the model district for smart living. That means that it should incorporate digital services, sensors, and IoT in the infrastructure as well as provide a new kind of urban services. The idea of all this technology is to build a district smart enough that every resident will save one hour every day for their own time. Smart Cities usually talk about resource efficiency, they talk about saving energy and resources for the sake of sustainability, but we thought that the most valuable resource for the people is their own time and so we came to this vision to help people manage their everyday life better and do the things that they find valuable for themselves.
As important as the end result is how we get there and when building Smart Cities one of the virtues is that different groups, different stakeholders are involved, citizens and companies, so the process of engaging these stakeholders is as important as the end result. About the European context, Kalasatama is a test bed for smart urban services and infrastructure so that’s why is very important to have companies trying out their new solutions, products, and services. They will then be able to scale them in other cities around the world so it has also a strong economic agenda behind it, to provide opportunities as a marketplace for companies.
Tell me a bit about the technologies you use and how do you establish which ones are the most suited to the local environment?
In Kalasatama district or even elsewhere in Helsinki we are not building only one smart city platform. Rather we are experimenting with different kind of service solutions and hoping to understand which ones will apply to the future. In the district, the biggest technological platform that is planned and already implemented in some parts is the smart energy system which is built on top of the district heating and cooling. It consists of smart measuring, electric car networks, and some energy storage solutions. We also implemented an open KNX interface at the building level which makes it possible to connect other kinds of services. When speaking about IoT we have some European projects ongoing where you can easily plug in any kind of services which provide secure ways to handle the data. Otherwise, we are looking for different solutions in relation to health and well-being, smart mobility, smart parking. Most of them are not yet connected, but that is our future vision, to have a data platform to connect all the data and provide an integrated service space.
From your experience, to what extent are digital solution an issue regarding privacy?
That is a big issue that is constantly being discussed and solutions are constantly developed, especially in the Smart City context. For example, in the smart grid connected buildings in Kalasatama, there is the most detailed energy data available in Finland. That means that with only ten seconds delay you can monitor the usage of any appliance in the household. Of course, this kind of data is very intimate, it shows details of everything that people are doing in their apartment, how many people there are and so forth – that’s why it’s important to have very good data security for privacy reasons. The matter requires very good policies at the international level which need to be reliable global standards that are self-deployed. I believe that Smart City test beds are a very good way to take also the privacy policies and security solution and related standards forward.
What does an event like Nordic Smart Cities mean for the community of experts in the field of Smart City planning?
Smart City development is global, cities are facing the similar challenges and are looking forward to deploying similar solutions. For this reason, it is extremely important to share with other experts and city leaders what is going on elsewhere, what challenges we face and what the solutions we have found. Of course, that’s knowledge sharing, but it is also global market creation. Most areas of the Smart City market are only just emerging and you need a lot of different players in different positions in the economic system. I believe that global company operators, as well as organisations, have very important roles there and it’s not something that is meaningful to do just in a single city or country, but by keeping also a global perspective We need to build open ecosystems and have common standards in order to be able to replicate solutions globally. That helps to spread best solutions faster and also to meet the global sustainability goals with resource-saving technologies.