Prof. Dr. Florian Koch, HTW Berlin

Credit: Alexander Rentsch/HTW Berlin

“Smart City should be seen as a method”

How can Smart Cities develop sustainably and which underlying conditions are necessary? Prof. Dr. Florian Koch at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin (University of Applied Sciences, HTW Berlin) deals with questions like these. We spoke with the expert for real estate management, Smart Cities and urban development about his current projects, sustainable concepts for urban spaces and Berlin’s Smart City Strategy Process.

Prof. Koch, what are the objectives of your research?

I would like to understand which role new technologies and forms of social innovation play in urban development and what the positive and negative effects of these are. From a normative perspective, the question arises in how far a Smart City approach can contribute to a sustainable development in the sense of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Smart City” is therefore not the goal of urban development but should be seen as a method that helps to make cities socially and ecologically more sustainable.

As part of a project, you conducted interviews with experts back in 2019, to determine the framework conditions for successful Smart City projects. What were your findings?

As part of the study which we conducted jointly with the commercial law firm Noerr, we asked companies and city administrations. It was interesting that most of the respondents did not identify the technological aspects as a challenge for Smart City projects, but the legal, economical and social issues. 

Could you be more specific? 

In practice, there are already a multitude of prototype applications for Smart City technologies, which mostly work quite well. But to implement these on a large scale, the framework conditions need to be adjusted. Often, for example, the appropriate legal provisions do not yet exist or the question of funding is unresolved. Another result from this study: More and more companies are looking at Smart City approaches – even if it is often not clearly defined what exactly they mean by this. The range of issues spans from mobility to safety and neighbourhood development all the way to e-government.

Berlin is currently working on its Smart City Strategy. What do you think about this process? 

As far back as 2015, Berlin had adopted an initial Smart City Strategy. But the implementation did not work as actually intended. I therefore hope that this new approach will bring fresh momentum into Berlin’s Smart City debate. Aside from that, Berlin – like other German cities – has received Smart City funding from the Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat (Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, BMI). This demonstrates that this issue is now getting more attention on the federal level.

One cornerstone of the Berlin Smart City Strategy is the involvement of the urban society...

The approach to include many different actors in the creation of the Berlin Smart City Strategy is, in any case, promising. What I find particularly important – and that should be considered even more in the process – is the issue of some of the indicators: How do you measure if the Smart City Strategy is successful? What data is available for this and who determines the parameters? How can the Smart City Strategy be monitored as transparently as possible?

Are the framework conditions you researched fulfilled in Berlin’s strategy development process?

The truly exciting task will be to actually implement this Smart City Strategy. In other words: in Some cases, appropriate regulations still have to be created, funding for Smart City projects has to be secured over the longer term and social support has to be established. The Berlin Smart City Strategy touches on all of these points. But in the end, it remains to be seen if this can be implemented in the coming years.

What can a city like Berlin achieve with smart and sustainable development?

I think that urban development should be closer oriented to the 17 SDGs ratified by the United Nations in 2015. It’s the ultimate intention of the agenda to find synergies between the individual sustainability goals. The measures for improved education, for example, as stipulated in SDG 4, can also promote the gender equality goals mentioned in SDG 5 and health care (SDG 3). Climate protection measures of SDG 13, such as the creation of what is called ‘pocket parks’, can lead to a higher urban quality of life, as as envisaged in SDG 11. This can be observed quite well in times of Covid-19. Unfortunately however, Berlin currently lags behind other cities when it comes to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Are there already best practice examples in Berlin?

I find the developments on the area of the former Tegel airport very interesting. Here they attempt to combine sustainability and digitalisation. The EURREF campus Berlin is another example for future-oriented city and neighbourhood development. And maybe something like that can also be achieved for the HTW campus in Oberschöneweide.

In Treptow-Köpenick you are scientifically supervising a project which is dealing with the implementation of the SDGs in the district. Could you give us a quick overview?

The district is currently drawing up a new sustainability strategy and is following the United Nations’ SDG as a guideline. As part of two research projects, we have developed a monitoring system which can be used to measure the district's progress towards greater sustainability.

What are your main findings?

Besides general indicators for measuring environmental and social sustainability in Treptow-Köpenick, such as CO2 emissions or the proportion of unemployed, it has become apparent that specific indicators such as the proportion of microplastics in the Müggelsee or the use of cargo bicycles in the district should also be taken into account. We also noticed that we do not only need public statistics to measure sustainability but other data sources, too. Therefore, the cooperation with the civic society, for example with clubs and initiatives, is very important for the monitoring system.

Which problems are generally created by the increasing urbanisation worldwide?

I think that the increasing urbanisation should not just be seen as a problem but also as an opportunity. Of course there are challenges caused by urbanisation: Homes and infrastructure need to be built, work and mobility opportunities have to be created. And all this in the context of global environmental and climate change. But the increasing urbanisation offers opportunities, too: Sustainable traffic concepts can only work in densely populated areas, the land use per person is much lower in cities and the access to education and professional qualification is much easier in urban areas. This means we need cities for a sustainable development worldwide. And we should give a lot of thought to new, sustainable concepts of urban development. (vdo)

Additional information