Noirin Ni Earcain: Seconded national expert in technologies for smart communities, European Commission, DG Connect, LivingIn.eu
Serge Novaretti: Policy and Programme Manager, European Commission, DG Connect, LivingIn.eu
Francesca Bria: President of the Italian National Innovation Fund, experts for the High-Level Roundtable on the New European Bauhaus
María Cruz Ferreira-Costa: Managing Director at Murcia City Council dealing with energy, energy efficiency and climate change and the Covenant of Mayors
Anthony: Hi, you're listening to Urban Reverb, the official podcast of the Smart Cities Marketplace, a European initiative financed by the European Commission. I’m Anthony Colclough. In many religious traditions, creatures called Seraphim were borne aloft by many sets of wings. Just so, the European Commission's lofty ambitions play upon the horizon with the power of many initiatives intended to speed cities to climate neutrality and beyond. Today we've collected an all-star cast to fill you in on: the living in EU initiative…
Noirin Ni Earcain: My name is Noirin Ni Earcain. I am a seconded national expert working in the European Commission, DG Connect, in technologies for smart communities and I originally come from the Irish National Administration.
Serge Novaretti: Serge Novaretti, same unit, technologies for smart communities in DG Connect at The Commission working on the coordination of the LivingIn.eu movement and all on smart cities in general.
Anthony: The New European Bauhaus…
Francesca Bria: I'm Francesca Bria the President of the Italian National Innovation Fund and I'm one of the experts of the High-Level Roundtable for the New European Bauhaus.
Anthony: And the Covenant of Mayors…
María Cruz Ferreira-Costa: Hello, my name is María Cruz Ferreira-Costa, I’m the Managing Director at Murcia City Council dealing with energy, energy efficiency and climate change.
Anthony: Each of these initiatives works in its own way to ensure that cities can progress on their climate targets. Take living in the EU.
Serge: So LivingIn.eu is a movement of cities. So the aim of the movement is around the local digital transformation and the aim of the movement is to scale up solutions so all citizens in the EU can benefit from the digital transformation, helping to mitigate climate change, so to contribute also to the Green Deal. So it's the digital for a purpose. So, as the Commission, we are only supporting this movement, so it's more an initiative with different cities working together. But also with the regions and the member states at national level.
Anthony: A great example of a digital tool being developed through this movement is the digital twin. This lets cities create a digital replica of themselves, which can even be updated with real-time information. Cities use this digital twin for better urban planning and to engage with local people.
Serge: We can simulate everything that is happening in the city. So it could be about traffic management, about air pollution, about housing, about energy consumption, waste management, all domains where a city tries to improve the life of citizens and also the life of businesses. When you use a digital twin, you can engage with citizens and then you can have better decisions.
Noirin: So, for example, in a city in Germany called Harenberg, they created a twin which they've allowed citizens to share data about how they are responding to certain public spaces, and then they're comparing that with other data sources in the city to improve planning and urban planning in the city. And, for example, Helsinki also have developed a digital twin which they're using predominantly in the energy area, and they're using the twin to map the energy consumption of buildings and to plan their retrofitting activities. So we see very strongly how local digital twins, as Serge said, that they’re a digital tool, a really advanced digital tool, but that can be used to really tangibly impact citizens.
Anthony: Including local people and organisations’ voices is a common thread in all of these initiatives. In Murcia it's one of the cornerstones of how they implement the Covenant of Mayors, a pact where mayors agree on climate targets.
María: The public sector companies, expert organisations, universities, citizens in general. And as well, we really need to tackle their concerns, you know, as society, and show the realities to take into account and just show and demonstrate and write down the future needs. We are now working trying to involve all the society because, if not, we are always the same association talking about the same issues and we have more or less the same results. So we have to enlarge, you know, our audience and just try to motivate people and show them, you know, that they are part of the solution.
Anthony: And María emphasises that citizen engagement cannot be a once-off. In Murcia, it's a continuous process.
María: We have included many times new needs because they really need to implement complementary measures, so it's not a closed block, it’s an alive plan. And, you know, everyone can participate and it can be modified according as the society evolves.
Anthony: María is a good ambassador for Covenant of Mayors because it's an initiative that she holds close to her heart.
María: For me, really, the Covenant of Mayors is very special because, as I said, we were the first Spanish city, you know, showing our interest to join, together with Madrid. This was in 2008. And personally, for me, the Covenant of Mayors means a lot, because at that time I had just arrived to Murcia Municipal Council, coming as well from Brussels before. And this was like brining a piece of Europe to Murcia, no? So we developed the Covenant of Mayors, we developed the plan, we achieved the goals and so on. Later on, personally, I have to leave to leave my job here in Murcia City Council and I went to Galicia. So I worked in the region. And one of the first things I have done is to create this regional office. And so I have personally created the regional office to just motivate all these citizens and all these city councils to just join the Covenant of Mayors. So for me, personally, wherever I go, I bring the Covenant of Mayors with me.
Anthony: Murcia is an excellent example, as the city has just won the prestigious Covenant of Mayors award for its excellent performance, hitting every target it set itself with an incredible array of programmes and on track to achieve the new target of climate neutrality by 2050. Here's a glimpse at some of the things they've been working on.
María: Solar thermal installations for all our municipal sports equipment, energy audits and certification in all our municipal buildings, replacement of conventional traffic lights, all of them, by LED… And so on!
Anthony: These are just a few of over 100 actions that the city is carrying out, 80% of which are already complete. You can see why Murcia took home the award. To bring about such broad-based change in the way cities work, there needs to be an attendant shift in design, in culture, and in day-to-day philosophy. You guessed it, the EU has an initiative for that too. It's called the New European Bauhaus.
Francesca: The New European Bauhaus wants to couple the ambitious mission of the EU Green Deal, which is the European Commission set of strategies to reach 0, net-zero emissions by 2050 with a cultural and social movement. So the Green Deal can be fully delivered only if we are thinking and acting in an interdisciplinary way, and arts, culture and design can play a wonderful role, a very powerful role, helping to initiate a new wave of systemic transformation. So in the words of the President of the Commission, Ursula Vanderlein, The New European Bauhaus movement is intended to be a bridge between the world of science and technology and the world of art and culture, and it is about a new European Green Deal aesthetic combining good design with sustainability and inclusion. So historically, with the Bauhaus movement, at the beginning of the modernist era of the 1920s and 30s, the science of ecology and design merged and laid the foundation of modernist architecture and the very concept of sustainability. So we've taken back this heritage by transforming it for today's world and creating a place where we can rethink the present, reflect on the complexity of the present, and develop a more humane and innovative capacity to face one of the greatest challenges of our time, which is the climate emergency.
Anthony: In this movement too, inclusion of local people and organisations is at the core.
Francesca: I think that questions of technology, built environment, materials and new products and services are symbiotically linked to those of culture, identity and governance. You cannot really separate them. And if we look into the issue, of course, climate change is such a strong issue that's upon us, it’s affecting everything: The safety and security of our ecosystem, every person alive and the generations to come. But we can only reverse global warming if we find sustainable solutions in energy, agriculture, forest, buildings, industry, transportation and cities. And in order to get there, we need to involve and empower people to take action as individuals, neighbourhoods, towns and cities, states, regions, business investors, and non-profits. Because the green transformation and the way it enhances our quality of life should be experienced by all citizens and it should foster grassroots community engagement. So it is really about a mass paradigm shift and also a behavioural shift for all of us. And that's where culture, environment, but also bigger questions around governance, the economy, how we manage our societies are very important.
Noirin: We think that the digital twin is really relevant for the New European Bauhaus initiative. Because twins can be used by a city to model buildings. They're already used in building information management, and then on a larger scale, a twin can help for urban planning, which is very relevant to the New European Bauhaus. And then, plus the citizen engagement aspect is very important there too, and the uses of a digital twin to allow citizens to participate more in decision making in their city. The pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how citizens are responding to the city that they live in. And, you know, a lot of people’s habits have changed and they expect more now and you see this trend in many cities where people want to have more services at their fingertips. They want greener cities. They want the city to be more responsive to their needs. And also, people are very concerned about climate change and the city is probably a level where some of these transformational changes have to happen. It's a two-way process. So citizens have to be engaged in that change. They have to contribute to the change, but they also are impacted by the change.
Anthony: Through LivingIn.eu, regular people are even becoming citizen scientists collecting data for a sustainable transition.
Serge: So you can have a very cheap sensors that you can distribute to citizens that want to participate. For example, in collecting about air pollution so they can have even sensors on the balcony on their terrace, or whatever. Or even when they drive or they bike, or whatever. And they can share this kind of data with public administrations, and in return they can see also data that are visualised on the map on where are the areas in the city that are greener compared to others, or regarding air pollution for example.
Anthony: LivingIn.eu wants to create open data and interoperable systems so that information can flow easily through and between cities.
Serge: We are also developing what we call a European interoperability framework for smart cities and communities to explain that interoperability is not a technical topic. It's also to ensure interoperability around data. But then on ‘organisational,’ to manage to have different organisations working together, even on legal aspects. Because you need to deal with different legal frameworks at national, regional and even local level. So you need to align or to make things feasible. And even cultural, because in this work in the city you may have many differences among people living in the city: People visiting the city, people walking in the city… So there is also an aspect of cultural interoperability. But you have also to deal with many other aspects of interoperability. And this is the core of the LivingIn.eu movement compared to other movements that are really focusing on the green and greening solutions that rely on digital but sometimes not only. As soon as you start sharing data and not just sitting in your own data, you can see that you can create new services and new businesses and so on. Once it’s stabilised, mature, you can scale up this and you can make solutions reusable to others. But this is the main difficult part, is really to make solutions that work in one place reusable in a way in another place, another city. Because of course cities are very different by nature. Cities are very, very different. It's a challenge, but so we are also trying through this movement to engage with all kinds of cities so they can share solutions.
Anthony: This aspect of sharing between cities is also a cornerstone of the Covenant of Mayors and one of the reasons María loves it so much.
María: The Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, I think, and I do repeat, is the best tool for municipalities. It is the largest global movement of cities for local action on climate and energy, and brings together thousands of local governments with the will to help, with the will to change the world. So I think this is the best initiative could ever happen for municipalities to, you know, just think globally, but act locally.
Anthony: I could go further, and indeed I will, and remind you that this element of sharing insights and making what works well catch on is also the bedrock of the Smart Cities Marketplace, and it's been one of the ambitions of this brief podcast series. I hope you took something from what you encountered here. And remember, you can always find more information or get in contact at https://smart-cities-marketplace.ec.europa.eu
Thanks for listening.