Prof. Dr. Florian Koch from HTW Berlin

Dr. Florian Koch is an expert in the real estate industry with a focus on urban development and smart cities and teaches as a professor at the University of Technology and Economics. He studied spatial planning at the universities of Dortmund and Rome and received his doc­torate from the Humboldt University of Berlin in 2009.

We spoke with him about the challenges in the growing metropolis with regard to sustaina­bility and quality of life and to which extent they (could) contradict each other. 
 

You have  been concerned with the potential of the smart city in the area of sustainable urban development for a long time. What attracts you to this topic?

Digitisation and sustainability are two major trends in urban development which have only recently been brought together. From a scientific perspective, it is exciting to investigate to which extent smart digital innovations in cities can contribute to a more sustainable form of urban development. At the same time, however, it must also be analysed whether, and if so, which negative effects smart city approaches have on urban sustainability. This challenge, which the German Advisory Council on Global Change has called a "double major task", will shape our cities in the future and also change conventional forms of urban planning and development. I am interested in analysing and accompanying this process from a scientific perspective. 

Urban space must transform itself in order to remain resource-efficient, safe and worth living. Which solutions does a smart city offer here?

The term Smart City can be defined in many ways. If we understand it to mean the increased use of new digital technologies and thus the networking of previously independent sectors, then there are various areas of application, among others in the field of renewable energies or mobility. For example, producers and consumers of renewable energies as well as existing storage capacities can be brought together on digital platforms, and fluctuations in the sup­ply of renewable energies can thus be balanced out. By means of sensor and actuator-based mobility control, traffic flows can be measured and controlled, thus offering attractive forms of mobility which exist independently of motorised individual transport. These can be under­stood as contributions to a transformation to a post-fossil city with a high quality of life. 

Where do you see contradictions on the subject?

Conflicts of interest can arise. The question is which groups will benefit from the introduc­tion of smart city technologies and which will not. Often, already privileged groups of people profit from smart urban technologies, while disadvantaged groups cannot or do not want to accept the offers of the smart city. In this context, the Smart City can deepen the existing polarization and inequalities. From a global perspective, it is important to note that smart city technologies and devices designed to contribute to a more sustainable form of urban development can have negative effects in other parts of the world. One example is the natu­ral resources (metals, rare earths) used to produce smart technologies. 

How do you assess current efforts in Berlin with regard to a sustainable future?

In many of Berlin's smart city activities, digitisation is not seen as an end in itself, but as an instrument for greater sustainability, which I see as fundamentally positive. What is important is that the topic "Sustainable Smart City" is supported by the political level and the connection between the players at district and state level. 

Which best practices exist?

For me, best practices are all approaches in which different players come together to think together about the city of the future. People who work in science, administration and poli­tics or in companies must be considered as well as civil society associations. Such areas must be experimental areas in which the failure of ideas is also permitted and in which technical and social innovations can be tested openly. In concrete terms, there are many such places in Berlin. One of the best-known is certainly the EUREF Campus, where research institutions and companies are searching for new ways of smart and sustainable urban development. But there are also exciting approaches at other locations, such as Oberschöneweide. 

What does the city of the future look like for you?

In my opinion, there is not one city of the future, but each city must develop its own visions of the future and sit down together with the various players to do so. Since there are so many interests in the city, cities are well advised not to prescribe urban development con­cepts from above, but to offer negotiation processes in which the city of the future is dis­cussed, thought about and - if necessary - argued about. The focus must be on preserving cities as places in which different views and lifestyles exist peacefully and respectfully together. For me, these are the exciting developments we should think about: high-rise timber buildings, decentralised renewable energy supply and storage, multimodal transport chains or sensors that measure environmental pollution.
 

Please complete the following sentence:  Berlin is smart, ...

... because so many different people, ideas and cultures meet here. 

Thank you very much for your time!