🎥 Video recording from the foreign study trip of representatives of Slovak municipalities in Denmark and Sweden

Denmark and Sweden can be an inspiration for Slovakia

Issues of climate change, air pollution and a focus on the overall quality of life in the city. Inspiration in these topics was sought by municipal representatives in Scandinavian countries. They themselves are aware not only of the environmental problems but also of the weaknesses in introducing innovation and effective management and are actively addressing them. City representatives, therefore, participated in a study tour in Denmark and Sweden, organised by the Smart Cities Club within the Smart City Academy project.

Several Scandinavian organisations gave presentations on their experiences, challenges, and opportunities. Gehl Architects took an interesting approach to changing public space or changing urban planning. As Kristian Villadsen, Director of Gehl Architects Copenhagen, said “We at Gehl see it as a mission, we want to create better cities for people. To make them healthier, greener and more sustainable. To do that, we first need to study the relationships between people’s lives and the city’s physical form. And then we look for solutions to use this.”

Representatives in Copenhagen, Roskilde and Malmö spoke about the functioning of local governments.  Michal Dufinec, the mayor of Michalovce, considers this discussion to be beneficial. “We have to thank the organisers, hats off to them, because the programme had both head and heel. For me personally, the most beneficial lectures were those organised by the city of Copenhagen, Roskilde and Malmö, where as mayor I was able to learn about how the city’s leadership has proceeded to achieve what it has achieved.”

During a reception at Roskilde Town Hall, the study tour participants met with Project Manager Morten Grinderslev, who presented information about Roskilde itself and air pollution. Roskilde has 90 thousand inhabitants, of which 25 thousand are students. They have 18 schools and 75 childcare centers. The city council has 31 members, 8 political parties and 7 political committees. According to the city officials, the total budget in Roskilde is one billion euros. There are only 98 municipalities in Denmark, so they have a significantly higher budget and in-house professional capacities that Slovak municipalities often lack.

According to Miloslav Jurík from the Smart Cities Club, the aim of such a study tour is for city mayors to personally see what to think about when planning, how people should move around the city, and how to use public space before designing the buildings themselves.

The mayors got a first-hand experience of how urban transport works during a bike tour in Copenhagen and Malmö.70 percent of buses in the Danish capital run on electricity or biofuels. It is a city of cyclists, with almost 400 km of cycle paths and 24 cycle bridges. As Monica Magnussen, who met with the mayors, put it: if you look around the city you will see that we have a very good infrastructure for bicycles. You ride in your own lane, which is separated from cars, so it’s safe and extremely fast. We have 5 bicycles per car and in Copenhagen everyone cycles, whether young, poor or student, it’s really for everyone.

Study tour participants also visited Bloxhub, the largest Nordic hub, a centre for sustainable urbanism. It is built on the principle that global urbanisation and climate change challenges require partnerships and new ways of working together. The aim is to create a kind of system that brings together the public, academic and private sectors.

Jakob Norman-Hansen from Bloxhub added that they are also working with the City of Copenhagen, in areas such as climate change, to develop plans. “And we are learning from each other, individual cities in Denmark but also across Europe.”

In Malmo, the delegation was received by the mayor of the city, who answered many questions from the study tour participants throughout the morning. At the end of the visit, she ended as a guide to the very old and eventful Town Hall, in front of which the Slovak flag flew in honour of the study tour delegation.

Peter Fiabáne, Mayor of Žilina, said that it was important to learn about the experience of countries that are objectively ahead of us in terms of urban development, public space solutions, resilience to climate change, the energy crisis and public space, and I am glad to have received answers to these questions.

Based in Copenhagen, the European Environment Agency collects data and produces analyses on the state of the environment, climate change and natural resources for use in EU policy-making.

Angelika Tamášová from the agency thinks that what they are doing can also use at the regional and local level. “We also look at good examples from practice, I believe it will be inspiring for the participants, they can search for information that is relevant.”

The Embassy in Copenhagen has a long-standing cooperation with the Smart Cities Club. Ivana Bennárová Chargé d’affaires – “It is good that they came to see how the city, urbanization, institutions, private and public sectors work together.”

The study stay was attended for the first time by the Mayor of Revúca Július Buchta. He was most impressed by the mindset of people in Scandinavian countries. What he would like to put into practice is how local government transforms the environment for people and thus changes their thinking.

Smart Cities Club expert Jaroslav Kacer mentioned the quality of the public space as the most key tangible experience, which included many elements of greenery, water features and furnishings, highlighting the very high-quality urbanism of Copenhagen and other cities visited. Cities are thus built for the people and have all kinds of activities available, which was evident in the nice weather as Copenhageners enjoyed the parks, playgrounds or the bay. This phenomenon is de facto leading to a reduction in suburbanisation and each of the cities is rapidly increasing in population.

Martin Kremler, Director of the Air Quality Monitoring Department at SHMÚ, described his observations: on my arrival in Copenhagen, I was surprised by the relatively calm traffic with few cars and on the other hand the busy cycling traffic. When getting off the bus, we had to be very careful when crossing the cycle path to avoid collisions. Incredibly, up to 60 percent of all trips in Copenhagen to work and school are made by bicycle. This is due to the excellent infrastructure for cyclists. I was intrigued by a dead-end street sign where there was a narrow white strip above a classic T-bar. It turned out that the street was a dead end for motor traffic only, but not for cyclists. In Copenhagen, I noticed lots of greenery and water features and was intrigued by several larger roundabouts where mature trees grew in the middle. The bike lanes in the roundabouts are painted blue because blue has the longest lifespan, the red paint wears off much sooner.

As Peter Wolf, Mayor of Dubnica nad Váhom, concluded, “I am glad that we could be inspired and listen to advice on what they did well, but also where they made mistakes. So that we can learn and not repeat these mistakes. I will share all the examples of good practice in Slovakia with other colleagues.”

Keep following the Smart Cities Club channels and you will be gradually introduced to more detailed experiences from the study trip.

We can get inspired by Aspern, Austria

It ranks among the most interesting projects in Europe, focusing on the improvement of air quality and overall quality of life. Only an hour far from Bratislava, a new neighbourhood in Vienna, Aspern Seestadt, is growing. It also contains a rental housing project that has a long-term tradition in Austria. A new city centre – a smart city with a heart, designed to suit the whole spectrum of life is forming in the quickly developing 22nd district in the northeast part of the city.

The multi-stage development brings high-quality housing for more than 25,000 people as well as thousands of job positions in this area. This “town in town” built based on innovative concepts and prospective ideas connects high quality of life with the economic drive and offers something for everyone. Already at the first sight, it is a diverse, open district of the city with great plans for the future. Furthermore, the authors of this project mention this locality in the heart of Europe as a smart and safe investment for investors – businessmen. The locals appreciate the perfect combination of the city style and relaxed pace. Thanks to the Smart Cities Klub, also Slovak mayors and representatives of municipalities went to discover the pulsing variety of Aspern Seestadt. “We focused on this district because the whole city quarter has been developed by the municipality, it is a project of the city,” says Miloslav Jurík, chairman of the Smart Cities Klub that runs the Smart City Academy project – air quality improvement.

The Aspern project is extraordinary from various points of view: technology of construction, or use of ecological materials used in the construction of individual buildings. The 25-storey wooden construction of the local hotel which is the highest building of this kind in Europe and ranks in the top two in the world tells its own tale. “It was a pilot project. Its authors managed to decrease CO2 by the construction. This kind of construction has proved to be good and today it is used as a model solution for similar projects in Austria,” adds Jurík.

Just the air and impact on its quality have been monitored by experts also in this area. The mobility of local residents is directed especially to public transport using an above-ground railway and an underground line. The train that connects to the extensive network of the Viennese underground can take inhabitants of this district to the centre of the city within half an hour. Let alone bikes – the locals cannot image their life without them. “All these solutions contribute to the emission reduction in this area. This is in direct proportion: the reduction of the number of cars leads to the reduction of emissions and to the improvement of the air quality,” states Martin Kremler, head of the air quality monitoring department of the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute.

In Slovakia, there have been intensive talks about the construction of rental housing already for a certain time. Also one part of the Aspern Seestadt project includes flats and apartments used for rental housing. Thus, information and experience from this trip can be used also in this field by the representatives of municipalities in the future. For example, in Dubnica nad Váhom, a town of a similar size to Aspern. Its mayor Peter Wolf talks about a very inspiring trip and workshops, “we have seen a lot of interesting solutions and have received interesting information especially regarding the adaptation to climate change. But also other elements and innovations that could be applied also in our towns,” adds Wolf.

For a long time, Vienna, the capital of Austria, has been ranked among the famous world cities with the best conditions for life, also based on official surveys. There are more than enough inspirations and you can see them wherever you go. “Austria as our close neighbour offers unique solutions that can be a good inspiration for us. Austrians are very good in the field of smart solutions for municipalities. And just Aspern Seestadt is the source of solutions how our towns can look like in a few years because we can see the future in the present here, reflecting all aspects of high quality and ecologically sustainable life,” concludes Peter Mišík, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic in Austria.

The Netherlands can be an inspiration for Slovakia, agreed participants of the Smart City Academy

God created the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands. This old saying reflects the connection of the Netherlands with water and the fact that the Dutch could have adapted their lives in the country where a third of the territory is located under the sea, or better said under the sea level. Emigration to a geographically safer country would be a natural choice for many people. Not for the Dutch. They managed to make inhabitable more than one million ares of land in seven centuries. A part of this area was acquired by drying lakes, but a more important part was reached from the sea by building dams, channels and artificial rivers. Just windmills that are so typical for the Netherlands were a big help in the recultivation. Thanks to them, they can make a so-called polder – an inhabitable place – from an original water land within 15 years.

The Netherlands was visited by the first this year’s Smart City Academy with representatives of Slovak municipalities to get some experience and inspiration. Currently, the Netherlands can be proud to be one of the most densely populated countries not only in Europe but worldwide. Everything despite the fact that one third of the country actually did not exist just a few centuries ago. Also this is the reason why they need to plan precisely and take care of sustainable development of towns in the Netherlands.

“The Netherlands belongs to the countries with the highest density of population per square meter; the consequence of this fact is that many people live in cities and towns, and thus also the municipalities must address the question of how to live optimally in such large agglomerations in the 21st century. The Dutch are very pragmatic, connected with nature, ecology, and thus climate protection comes to the fore very significantly. The Dutch have become leaders in the fight against climatic changes, they fight for environmental protection, against air pollution, and of course, the state-of-the-art ecological technologies come to the absolute fore,” says Juraj Macháč, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic in the Netherlands.

With their experience in various fields, the Netherlands has become one of the most modern and most rapidly progressing countries in Europe. Thus, it is a great inspiration also for Slovak municipalities. It may offer both positive and negative experience that should be avoided in the implementation of innovations in Slovak towns and villages to reach an effective result. However, a solution that works in one place cannot be copied and used elsewhere. They should rather serve as an inspiration or a guide on how to proceed, but if it should not be in vain, it is necessary to adapt it to Slovak conditions.

“The Netherlands is an inspiration for us. We have been cooperating in several projects in Slovakia for a long term together with the Netherlands and the Dutch Embassy. Regarding the area, the Netherlands is similarly large to Slovakia, while it has three times more inhabitants; despite that, they have a significantly lower number of municipalities which, in my opinion, leads to higher efficiency, more professional capacities and a better form of cooperation,” explains Miloslav Jurík, the chairman of the Smart Cities Klub that organised the study stay for the representatives of municipalities in the Netherlands within the Smart City Academy.

Just for the experience of Dutch municipalities and institutions, this country was the destination of the work trip of Slovak mayors, vice-mayors and representatives of municipalities in Dutch cities The Hague, Amsterdam, Groningen and Rotterdam – with the emphasis on innovations and inspiration for enhancement of ecological mobility and improvement of air and environment in Slovak municipalities. A great inspiration is the establishment of the AMS Institute – an innovative centre that was established from the initiative of the city, involving three universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), bringing new ideas for the development of solutions for the city of Amsterdam as well as for surrounding towns, and towns in the Netherlands in general. This approach would be feasible within the new programme period for the development of Slovak municipalities.

“I was very impressed by the collaboration among the academic sector, the city, private companies, establishing an ecosystem that produces innovations. Projects of robotic boats, projects in the field of hub mobility, shared mobility, e-bikes, electric cars and other fields that positively affect air quality in the city were very interesting. I was also impressed by the collaboration among municipalities, the state, other sectors in removing barriers between individual sections. We have learned about this collaboration in the VNG association of Dutch municipalities. They are striving for a conversion from the “ego system” to an ecosystem. It means from a system where everybody is responsible for his/her area and does not think about the work of the others, to a system of collaboration,” adds Miloslav Jurík.

Slovak municipalities are on a good way to follow the Dutch ones. Already in our towns or villages, we can see the first changes towards the creation of conditions for the implementation of smart solutions and they are becoming smart municipalities. And just the visit to the Netherlands has become for many of them an inspiration for further progress of their towns.

The mayor of Dubnica nad Váhom, Peter Wolf talks about very fruitful meetings and they will try to implement many ideas also in their town. “I am happy that we could travel abroad again with the Smart Cities Klub, like in the past. At that time, we were dealing with other issues in our town. Currently, we are dealing with mobility very actively. I am glad we could be just in the Netherlands – in the country that is a leader in sustainable solutions. There were really a lot of inspirations, we have acquired many ideas and I believe that also inspiring experience by actually trying moving around Amsterdam, The Hague and other towns by bike. So we tried how it worked in large cities with heavy bike traffic. And I think it was very inspiring and constructive.”

The work trip is assessed positively also by other representatives of municipalities. They say that we should organise such excursions to progressive cities more often. In the implementation of solutions in Slovakia, we would probably better avoid complications that were experienced by municipalities abroad several years ago. “We face certain challenges they probably do not face here in the Netherlands.  Their development, as we had the chance to discuss, started in 1970’s in Rotterdam. What we can see today is a result of good decisions in the past and has taken 50 years to get to this point. We are somewhere in the middle of our road and it will take some time to get to a similar stage,” says Marcel Gibóda, the vice-mayor of Košice.

Also the vice-mayor of Michalovce, Jozef Sokologorský, agrees and says that Dutch municipalities are a big inspiration. “I am very glad that I have been here and I can use the experience just from the country that is one of the best in innovations in Europe. I am very glad that also our town Michalovce is a member of the Smart Cities Klub and has a chance to participate in such foreign work trips here in the Netherlands. I think that it is very important for the municipalities to see how innovative elements can be done within the municipalities, where it is possible to enhance public areas, where to improve bike lanes, and all those areas that are for the benefit of our citizens. If we can reflect at least some part of the acquired experience into the real life in our time, I will be very happy.”

One picture is worth a thousand words. And this is exactly the case. This is especially crucial for municipalities. “It is like in life. Someone can read about something, watch it on TV or has many books thereabout in the library, then it is interesting. However, if mayors or representatives of municipalities visit and can actually touch something, then there is a big probability that something will be implemented based on that. I would definitely recommend that such study trips should be participated by responsible politicians and responsible officers to create a common tandem on the study trip. Each of them actually has a different point of view and competence. They should also try to learn from the executors of these projects what would they avoid if they should start again today. It means, not to take everything like copy/paste, but to get inspired and learn. Because if the town should be smart, it should be able to learn from mistakes made by other towns and not to repeat them,” adds Jaroslav Kacer, expert of the Smart Cities Klub.

The work trip was organised under the auspices of the Smart Cities Klub within the project “Smart City Academy – air quality improvement”, which is co-financed by the Cohesion Fund within the operational programme Quality of Environment.

The Smart Cities Klub is an original informal platform serving for the exchange of experience and cooperation between the town managements and experts in the preparation of strategies and programmes on the way to a Smart City. Its mission is to change Slovak towns not only in the field of use of smart technologies but especially in the field of enhancement of quality of life of their citizens. So that we can live better, more pleasantly and mainly smart in our towns and villages.  The situation has been getting better, more and more mayors travel, get inspired, look for solutions that are usable also in our conditions. Naturally, it is useless to copy headlong, we should rather learn from the best. It is important to look for inspiration not only at home, but also in the countries that have made their journey not to repeat mistakes they challenged in the past. There is a lot to learn and get inspired by, concludes Miloslav Jurík, the chairman of the Smart Cities Klub, who implements the project Smart City Academy – air quality improvement.


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