Prof. h. c. Dr. Chirine Etezadzadeh of the SmartCity.institute sees the further development of Smart Cities as an opportunity to increase sustainability and quality of life in cities. Whether in the energy sector, building sector or transport, intelligent networked solutions support urban life in many ways. Mobility will be sustainable, reliable, plannable and affordable according to individual needs.
How can we imagine a "city of the future"? What changes can we expect in the next 50 years?
Environmental, climate and resource protection, responses to changes in climatic and natural conditions as well as land and resource restrictions, will change our lives and our living space. In 50 years, we will, in all likelihood, experience a completely new, technology-based economy. We will do business differently and live together differently, prompted among other things by extensive networking and seamless documentation mechanisms, by the use of AI, autonomization, automation, future data networks and technologies based on them, such as robotics, holographic techniques or cross-reality, that is to say the superposition of physical and virtual reality. Developments like these will be reflected in cities and communities. Overall, I expect to see more decentralization and an attempt to integrate more effective nature into communities. In addition, there will be a lot of invisible technology as well as a high level of functionality, controlled cleanliness and calm. However, some urban areas are bound to have the opposite.
How "smart" can cities become? What about more rural areas?
There is something expansive about the use of modern technologies. Therefore, in Europe, we should define boundaries that preserve the important achievements of our society. In general, cities can become smart in every social and technical infrastructure sector. The same applies to rural areas, even if the needs differ somewhat and the solutions can take different forms. With regard to agriculture, by the way, rural areas are already "smarter" to some extent than urban centers. However, this does not apply to infrastructural supply, which can lead to different implementation speeds in urban and rural areas.
Higher, faster, further - many people are also overwhelmed with the complexity of big cities...
I agree with you there. After all, cities in Germany are not as big as we know them from abroad. Regardless of this, I think it is important to design all cities and communities in such a way that the municipalities promote good living and coexistence, especially with regard to the changes I mentioned. This also includes coexistence with plants, animals and insects, since a lively and healthy environment is a necessary prerequisite for a good life. Against this background, the design and use of public space as well as building structures in cities, for example, will have to change. Numerous projects around the world are looking for answers to this.
What do these changing circumstances mean for us living together and for society as a whole?
The changing conditions and the advent of digitalization will demand new behaviors from the global community. This will challenge us in many ways, especially with regard to our skills and our social interaction. We will only be able to master the tasks ahead if we work together.
Which technologies already bring the greatest added value in terms of quality of life in cities?
In my opinion, we are benefiting today in particular from the technical solutions in the energy sector that are paving the way for the energy transition, as well as from the use of technology in the mobility and transportation sectors. In the next step, the building sector will change. Greater sustainability and quality of life will be promoted - based on technology - for example, through new architectural concepts, materials, constructions, changed modes of use and through resource-saving deconstruction. In megacities, a wide variety of processes are already becoming manageable through the use of Digital Twins, leading to a better supply and services1. Think, too, of the possibilities in the areas of health and care. And, the list could be much longer.
With increasing urbanization and the growing number of “megacities”, transportation planning is playing an ever greater role. What transportation solutions can there be in a Smart City?
Through the comprehensive analysis of traffic with the help of Artificial Intelligence, traffic can, on the one hand, be consolidated, avoided and supplemented with sensible modes of transport. On the other hand, different modes of transportation can be seamlessly, discrimination-free and conveniently networked with each other. This is achieved, for example, via integrated mobility services (MaaS) with a simplified Ticketing. On the basis of such solutions, the inhabitants of a smart city can travel more sustainably, according to their individual needs, reliably, predictably and affordably. A Smart City is characterized by a high diversity of sustainable transportation options, by “short routes”, and by pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly urban planning. At the center, there is a diverse, and attractive public transportation system. New modes of transport will include micro-vehicles, autonomous vehicles, drones and various types of air cabs. Especially in rural areas, the mobility and transport offer can be significantly improved by modern technologies and on-demand solutions.
What is the current focus of your institute when it comes to the further development of smart cities? What would you particularly like to push forward today, but also in the long term?
The pandemic has shown that there is plenty of potential for improvement in Germany and worldwide. Against this backdrop, digitalization, smart cities and AI are experiencing an enormous boost internationally. This should also be experienceable in Germany. I have been researching the topic of Smart Cities for ten years now. With the institute and together with our partners, I now want to move into implementation. In interdisciplinary joint projects we furthermore want to find answers to questions that so far have been underrepresented but are necessary for implementation. Overall, our aim is to continue shaping the European, future-oriented and livable Smart City – the Blisscity concept. Blisscity describes the meaningful use of technology, for a good life and living together in harmony with our natural environment.
Editors Note: A Digital Twin is a virtual real-time representation of real-life processes. For example, logistics processes or entire cities can be mapped virtually, as it is explained here.