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Smart Gjesdal – small enough to talk together, big enough to get things done

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https://www.gjesdal.kommune.no/om-gjesdal/

Everyone is entitled to see their quality of life improve, the chance to see that the world their children and grandchildren grow up in offers more opportunity and long term sustainability than they had when growing up. This is the same whether you are from a big city, small city, town or village. For this reason I was happy to speak with Eva-Maria Gärtner from the Municipality of Gjesdal on the west coast of Norway about “Smart Gjesdal”.

Gjesdal’s population has recently passed 11,900, but because they have a small population, that does not mean that they have small ambitions when it comes to smart city development. Eva-Maria is responsible for Smart Gjesdal, she will be speaking about the project at Nordic Smart Cities 2017 in Stockholm on 24th October, but before the event I was able to catch up with her for a short interview.

Hi Eva-Maria, great to speak to you today, I am very interested to find out more about what smart city means in Gjesdal?

We have a saying in Gjesdal that we want to use to drive our development “small enough to talk together, big enough to get things done”. The main aim of Smart Gjesdal is to make the local communities more sustainable and more attractive.

The town centre of Ålgård is currently under re-development. The town, which grew up around a textile mill in the 1800s, still has the old water power station from 1905, as well as other buildings from its industrial past. The hydroelectric station will be a part of the joint energy solution, based on the use of heat pumps and ground and river water.

We have used different forms of involvement with citizens, to design the new town centre and the infrastructure will be finished at the end of 2017 with a new town square, a canal, activity areas and parks throughout the centre.

Interesting, how are you making these developments smart?

We are already using smart technology in the town centre, such as wifi and smart lighting and we are working on an innovation project which develops a smart city portal. This is an infrastructure for open source information and sensor technology which will help citizens to get more information and better services.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you in getting the citizens and city hall to embrace Smart Gjesdal?

There is still a big challenge to make the overall concept understandable for both employees and citizens. We are still confronted with people who think that smart is not suitable for a small municipality. We should try to focus on “doing our normal job”. Innovation is something for big cities and businesses are still only thinking rather than doing.

To overcome this we try to describe the concept in the simplest possible way and we think the most important point is to work with relevant projects. That means projects which both employees and citizens understand as relevant to them, like the development of the town centre, new energy solutions and new models to solve the mobility challenges that we are facing.

It is interesting that you say that, I was at an event in London last week and there was a small municipality presenting, they said that they have the same challenge, but that by engaging with citizens and employees it is really starting to bridge the gap and to add value for everyone.

How about support from politicians and city leaders? I assume because you have the Smart Gjesdal program that they are behind this, but how has this helped and have there been any challenges to overcome?

Support from the local politicians has been crucial to the development of the concept. Both the politicians and the administrative leaders have been very supportive to Smart Gjesdal. There is one challenge remaining in the administration and that has to do with the organisation of the municipality. It is still a challenge to get the different sectors freely talking to each other and taking equal responsibility in cross-sector projects.

Thank you for your time today Eva-Maria, it has been interesting to hear more about what you have been doing in Gjesdal and of course the plans for the future.

Eva-Maria will be speaking at Nordic Smart Cities 2017 in Stockholm on 24th October, so if you would like to know more then take a look at the website: www.nordicsmartcities.com