Smart City – one term, many concepts

The term “smart city” is en vogue. Every city that is proud of itself would like to be like a city smart. But most citizen con not connect a clear idea with this term. Sure, there are definitions of the term. Just for new terms it is crucially how they are used.

Where there is something new, and where is somebody just trying to sell really simple apps or other services? What are the subjects where something is happening? I have analysed documents by various actors to create more clarity.

EU level

The European Commission has created a multi-stakeholder platform, connected to the ‘digital agenda’:

Smart City Infografik
A infographic published by the EU shows problems, actors and tasks of the Smart City Innovation Partnership

On this platform, there are three thematic working groups:

  • Energy efficiency and building
  • Power distribution networks
  • Mobility and transport

There are also some cross topic groups, dealing with IT or financing, but this was all the topics that were connected to “smart city”. Recently there was added a topic with a broader view called “citizen focus”.


The senate of Berlin has established a working group Smart City Berlin (SCB). In a position paper this working group defines smart city as “Cities and regions which have set itself the task to identify future issues of the city and then to solve these issues”. So identifying the problems is a separate step. Different cities have different objectives.

These self given objectives should than be addressed by the interaction of various actors (politics, administration, economy, society, science)

The Smart City working group claimed a holistic approach and chose as objectives the creation of a higher quality of life, as well as strengthening of innovation (i.e. meta-innovation).

As a slightly more specific topics, the position paper names again environmental, energy and mobility, and in addition health, security and demographic change.


Container vessel in the port of Hamburger
Container loading at the port. For several years there are autonomous vehicle for container transport. In future, the feeder traffic will be further cross-linked.

Smart City is apparently occupied by the authority of “Economics, transport and innovation” in Hamburg. On the Hamburg web page smart city is defined as “intelligent and networked city

Objectives are

  • Improve quality of life
  • Efficient mobility,
  • Environment (use less resources, less pollution)
  • Utilise the benefits of “innovative infrastructure”

I can recognize these fields of work:

  • The port (smart port). Here sensor networks will probably be employed.
  • Street lighting and traffic lights
  • Detection and control of traffic flows
  • Citizen kiosk (a kind of container with video connection to other authorities)

Although “quality of life” was the first item in the list of objectives, smart city seem to be driven by the economy (more precise: individual economic actors). Especially highlighted is a partnership with the American network equipment manufacturer Cisco.

Amazingly, not mentioned at all is everything that happened for the international building exhibition (IBA) from 2006-2013. After all, the IBA has defined itself also as a city laboratory: “in the middle of Hamburg IBA sought answers to the most pressing questions of the modern city of projects for the future of the metropolis.”

Paris / San Francisco

Centre Pompidou in Paris
Centre Pompidou: a bold architectural concept. The square in front of it is used as a meeting place.

Here I have found a nice summary by Marie-Perrine Durot, Technology Partnership Director  the”PRIME transatlantic innovation platform”. (Interview published in “Atelier”, Publisher: BNP-PARIBAS). Mrs Durot designs the following program under the term smart city:

…first and foremost all about getting sectors which have up to now been working independently to dialogue and work together …

…A second revolution is needed to de-compartmentalize the roles of decision-makers, experts and citizens in the way our cities are run….

… A third move is for cities to break out of their geographical isolation. Cities have so much to share…

Part 2

The second part of this analysis discusses the use of the term smart city in the IT scene.

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  1. Hallo Karsten,
    eine sehr schöne Einführung in den Entstehungs- und Verwendungszusammenhang des facettenreichen Begriffs ‘smart city’…und die entzückende Geschichte von Huawei und den 3 Musketieren, nein, natürlich Bürgermeistern aus dem Hessischen ist ein geradezu amüsanter empirischer Beleg für die Blütenträume und Hoffnungen, die in dessen Kontext reifen… Bitte heiter weiter so!
    Mit besten Grüßen

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