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Smart Cities Marketplace

The vital importance of the long-term perspective

A long-term perspective

on the city beyond the current political cycle, taking into account the full life-cycle of planned investments in the built environment, and agreed upon with stakeholders, is key to ensure that short-term actions in the field of smart cities and low energy districts, have a larger impact, and help to achieve the cities’ long-term aims and to fulfil their local, national and European obligations, such as SEAPs and SUMPs. Decisions taken today have a long-lasting impact on the city while most smart city and low energy district plans need a considerable time for preparation. The buy-in of the local community makes such a long-term perspective even more robust and resilient, as stakeholders have to approve, co-design and frequently co-finance the planned measures. Despite its vital importance, this part is not always adequately covered:

  • Some city administrations do have an overall city vision on the quality of life they want to offer their citizens in the future, encompassing objectives on themes as adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, energy security and affordability, housing, mobility, sustainability and environmental quality, inclusiveness, digital access and economic competitiveness. Such a vision can serve very well as the starting point of this roadmap, but might need some adjustments or specific focus.

  • Other cities lack a long-term perspective on the objectives of smart city and low energy district plans. The strategy behind these plans is then insufficiently connected to the long-term objectives, what can lead to suboptimal choices and can make implementation vulnerable to political changes and lack of support of stakeholders.

  • In other cases, cities do have a sound, commonly accepted long-term perspective, but it is not concrete enough or not yet linked to a smart city or low energy districts strategy, leading to a lack of political commitment for proposed plans, which subsequently have a difficult start or might fail later on.

  • It might also happen that a smart city strategy is considered as an external blueprint, not reflecting local priorities and circumstances. As a result, there is no ownership of the plans and the suboptimal choices might be made given local specificities.

  • Sometimes many smart cities and low energy district plans are prepared separately in parallel, for instance SEAP or SECAP, SUMP, sustainability plans, and spatial plans, investments in renewable energy sources. As a result, plans may compete for resources while important synergies between them are not realized.

    The common problem in all these cases is that smart city and low energy district plans are insufficiently anchored in a jointly agreed long-term perspective, or vision, of the city. This makes the plans vulnerable during implementation, reduces support of the local community and might lead to less optimal choices.

    This chapter discusses how a vision can be developed or attuned to how the city should look like in 20, 30 or 50 years from now on, in collaboration with the local community, and resulting in a clear, commonly agreed priority in long-term objectives for smart sustainable development. Here it is explained how smart city strategies and plans can develop, and the wide range of entry points for the development of new smart city and low energy district plans.

Different starting points for development of Smart City plans

Smart city visions and projects are not developed in a vacuum and have often a background in other plans with comparable aims. Here, we explore a number of common plans, which can trigger the planning of a dedicated, smart city or low energy district project, but also can amplify the impact of such a project. Of course, these separate plans can also be integrated in a comprehensive integrated urban plan, see for example the case of Nottingham (Stacey et al., 2016c).


some cities have recently developed explicit strategies on how to become a smart city, with the aim of realising energy efficient neighbourhoods, clean mobility and integration of current infrastructures - working with local administrations, businesses, knowledge institutes and citizens while capitalising on the potential of urban data and ICT.


environmental departments of local governments develop plans to improve urban sustainability and environmental quality. Topics dealt with are usually air and soil pollution, health, protection of natural areas, water and waste management. The focus in these plans has shifted from an approach focussed on immediate environmental quality towards the more holistic and long-term consideration of sustainability: not only now and here, but also elsewhere and later. Energy efficiency, climate change and scarcity of resources have become integrated parts of most sustainability and environmental plans and are therefore closely related to smart city plans.

The convenant of Mayors — step by step
Figure 1-1 Cycle of creation of and follow-up on SEAPs (SEAPs) and Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAPs) Source: Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy


The Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is a European initiative by which towns and cities voluntarily commit to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Until 2015, signatory municipalities had to draft a Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) where they committed to reduce their CO2 emissions by at least 20% by 2020. Since 2015, municipalities have pledged to reduce emission by at least 40% by 2030 while adapting to climate change and improving access to sustainable energy. Those commitments are outlined in a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP). These formal commitments can be an important pillar of any other smart city or low energy district plan. The plans follow an integrated, cross-domain approach, and address the whole territory of the municipality. Plans should include at least the sectors of buildings (municipal buildings, tertiary buildings, and public lighting) and transport.


many cities have developed local energy plans with the aim of reducing fossil fuel consumption by households and businesses, preventing energy poverty, increasing the share of renewable energy, improving energy security and organising energy supply in a smart, sustainable yet secure way, for example by upgrading urban heat networks and creating smart grids. SEAPs, SECAPs, European Energy Award (eea) and other sustainable energy plans are closely linked to smart city plans and can form the backbone of such plans.


securing accessibility, connectivity and safety, while reducing congestion, air pollution and GHG emissions, are often the main goals of transport and mobility plans. New technologies such as Intelligent Transport Systems and urban data from smart phones and sensors, offer new possibilities to address these challenges in a smart way, thus contributing to clean, sustainable mobility. An important source of inspiration is the CIVITAS initiative (CIVITAS, 2019), which tested over 800 measures to make urban transport in hundreds of European cities cleaner, better, and more sustainable. Some CIVITAS projects have been followed up by more integrated smart city plans with a wider scope, also encompassing low energy districts and integration of infrastructures.


as part of the EU Commission’s Urban Mobility Package, the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) have been launched in 2013 (European Commission, 2013), in order to provide local authorities with integrated planning guidelines to stimulate more sustainable modes of transport by developing long- and short-term mobility strategies. Next to sustainability, these strategies should also address economic viability, social equity and environmental quality. Through a transparent and participatory approach, citizens and interdepartmental stakeholders should define budgets, timetables, targets and objectives, and select indicators for improving and periodically assessing urban mobility performances.


the intention to redevelop or rehabilitate parts of the city such as former harbour areas and industrial premises or dilapidated housing, can be a reason to do so in a smart way and make the area an example of a smart, low energy district. Often, such restructuring offers excellent opportunities to make drastic changes to urban energy and mobility infrastructures, to construct energy efficient buildings, to improve energy performance of buildings in need of upgrading, to build advanced digital networks and to improve quality of public space. Investment plans of private equity, pension funds, and insurance companies, can stimulate energy-efficient real estate development and maintenance in such areas.


the development and updates of spatial plans for areas in case of urban transformation, densification and expansion, can be a trigger to improve the carbon footprint of these areas. For example, by including collective energy solutions, such as a collective photovoltaic (PV) array or district heating, or by use of specific building codes. Although it is mandatory to assess the possible environmental consequences of land use and transport changes in master and zoning plans beforehand, for example on air quality, consequences for energy efficiency, adaptation to climate change, and circular economy, are often not yet an integral and mandatory part of spatial plans, what leads to higher costs to improve urban sustainability at a later stage.


buildings are commonly undergoing deep renova- tion every 25-30 years. This provides an excellent opportunity to improve the building envelope, its appliances and installations. When this is organised at district scale, for example, because there is a cluster of similar buildings of the same owner and type in an area, it can be an excellent entry point for development of a smart city plan. The CONCERTO initiative (EC, 2014) has demonstrated that ener- gy-optimisation of entire districts is more cost-effective than optimising buildings individually: existing buildings can cut their CO2 emissions up to 50%, at acceptable costs, by implementing renewable energy sources, innovative technologies, and an integrated approach. Similarly, maintenance cycles for energy, transport and utilities infrastructures, can be used to make them smarter and more sustainable. For example, the need for renovation of natural gas networks, can be an excellent opportunity to phase out this fossil fuel and make districts all-electric combined with clean production of electricity (see for example Hoogervorst et al., 2019).


many smart city plans are initiated as follow-up of regional, national or EU-funded FP7 and Horizon2020 research and innovation projects. FP7 projects such as CELSIUS, STEEP, SINFONIA and TRANSFORM have enabled cities to lay the foundation for more complex, highly integrated smart city strategies and projects. Cities could analyse the local potential for clean mobility and low energy districts by developing scenarios and exploring what-if questions, simulating expected energy savings and CO2 reduction. Many FP7 projects have served to study the feasibility of various solutions, before implementing the most promising ones in new smart city projects. For example, the cities developing holistic energy designs in STEEP have implemented these plans later in Horizon2020 SCC-01 project REPLICATE. Other research and innovation projects can also boost collaboration of local government with industry, citizens, local businesses, and research institutes, thus building a local ecosystem. The Horizon2020 SCC-01 lighthouse projects have implemented ambitious, highly integrated smart city plans since 2014, and the demonstrated solutions can be replicated now in other places.


individual citizens, local businesses and NGOs concerned about sustainability and climate change may have organized themselves and propose plans for making neighbourhoods more energy efficient or increasing the share of renewable energy, for example by collective photovoltaic systems or exchange of energy between different energy consumers. Citizens and businesses might also initiate plans for clean mobility and logistics, such as electric car sharing, or distribution boxes.


In its implementation, eea supports cities in defining their baseline (initial review) and identifying the potential for improvement, for setting ambitious but realistic targets, and help the city to prioritize the actions. eea ensures, through external certified auditors, a regular evaluation of the improvement with a possible label when targets are met. eea is thus a management system with certification (label) principle, based on regular audits and sets of KPI’s common to all cities.


can enable new smart city projects by generating more urban data, constructing specific infrastructures as glass fibre, broadband internet and city-wide Wi-Fi, and improving accessibility, connectivity and interoperability, for example with respect to Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Internet- of-Everything (IoE). Many cities are experimenting with living labs, where smart phones, sensors and actuators, provide real time data that can be combined with more conventional data sources. In this capacity, ICT and digitisation plans and project often pave the way for smart city solutions as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), and smart grids.