Denmark is a small country with great goals

Interview with Jacob Lundgaard, founder of Danish organization Gate 21.

Gate 21 is a successful organization with projects, which have currently worldwide impact. How did all this start? What were/are the key factors of your success?

 In the beginning Gate 21 was an initiative about city renovation of public housing in Albertslund. There was going to be a lot of money invested in the renovation and the city would be renewed with high ambitions for the green transition. It was a 10 billion Danish crowns (1,3 billion euro) project.

It became a test lab for companies and researchers in the field of housing renovation and energy savings. We have put together city employees, researchers and companies and were looking for the best solutions. This concept led us to come up with the idea of the Gate 21 organization. 10 years later Gate 21 cooperates with 45 municipalities, lot of companies and universities. They all share experiences and look for innovative solutions for the cities. Gate 21 is a place where these actors could meet but also get help with financing and managing of their projects. We prepare projects, get financing and run projects.

Greater Copenhagen is one of the most progressive regions in Europe. What was your contribution to the success of this region?

Greater Copenhagen was composed as a political framework, where municipalities and regions are working together. Gate 21 is primarily an organization, which puts content – specific projects and initiatives – into this framework.

What are the key factors for this region development? What should other regions learn from Greater Copenhagen?

Two points: you have to be able to let go of some of your home preferences to have wider cooperation.

It’s important to support and create cooperation, where everybody sees his own role and benefits. Denmark is good in liveability of cities. Cooperation is important, but you also need to define in what each city is special. Everybody is not the same and we see this as the strength of the region.

What is your vision of future in your Greater Copenhagen area? Can you imagine yourself decades forwards, how your life could be like in comparison to your present lifestyle?

I hope, that the main factor will be that ordinary people will have good life. Trust and relatively good quality of living and not so much division or social and cultural barriers. Denmark needs to be innovative, whereas it does’t have natural resources, so it needs to be strong in green transition, digital transition, modern society. Denmark can be a demonstration site for the world – how to be innovative and modern but in the meantime where ordinary people will have a good life. We are very strong in digital area, but we must also use this knowledge to create better and safer lives for ordinary people and not just for a part of society, which is good in digital solutions and new thinking.

Greater Copenhagen area lies in two states – Denmark and Sweden. There are differences just considering this fact (politics, taxes, law, etc.), how do you overcome them?

We look similar from the outside. Both countries set high goals for liveability, both are very strong in digitalization. But in close cooperation Swedes and Danes are different in how they think. In Sweden they work more on strategy and that takes a long time. In Denmark people start to work together from day one and they define strategy later. This mix works very well together even if it sometimes takes time to agree on how to move ahead.

How important is to have a sense of sustainability, protection of natural resources, rooted deeply in human minds to push that idea in concrete green projects? There is a difference between environmental rules from the EU we have to follow and to have a population conscious of these issues, which is supporting new solutions in this area. How has this consciousness formed in Denmark?

It all comes from the oil crisis in 70s. We are a small country – we do not have a lot of wild nature,  we have a bit of oil, but no other natural resources. You have to optimize what you have, so our focus was clear towards renewable energy – wind turbines, clean water, etc. Denmark has very strong companies in this area, today. That movement was driven by politicians. It was pushed also through industries, which later inspired everybody else. But you have to have a stable political climate. If you change policies every two years, no one knows what to expect. That is a very strong factor.

You have been able to gather almost all Danish lighting firms to collaborate in your living lab DOLL. How have you achieved that? (…if I compare that with Slovak reality, that would not happened, they are afraid of their own position on the market and that their know how is to be explored).

It was not simple. In the past, companies thought they can deliver whole package by their own. Today, when lighting is part of broader concept, they need to work more openly and work with many other partners. It’s also valid for other areas, but they need to be careful about their core knowledge and protect this. One company will never have solution for everything.

You have visited Slovakia and have been speaker at conference organized by Smart Cities klub together with Deputy prime ministers office. What would you suggest to Slovakia and Slovak cities to accelerate the process of Smart Cities development?

Seems to me that you have a possibility to grow, but you need to find ways to modernize. Public sector is not so open to innovation, so the key is a partnership among cities with sharing the solutions and knowledge between them. Then you can invite private sector and find legal solutions how to work together. You should also invite your best researchers into equation. When you consider DOLL – instead of each city making it’s own demonstrator, you have demonstrator for the whole country. One city can demonstrate mobility, another lighting,… You can spend public money to promote this city and the knowledge, that was gained during the projects focused on one specific area. Others can inspire.

What is DOLL about

Living Lab DOLL offers a neutral environment for meetings of buyers and producers of intelligent street lightning and Smart Cities solutions. Potential customer can see the most advanced technical solutions in natural environment. Those, who make decisions regarding new lightning solutions or Smart Cities, thus get better understanding and complex information, to make that process more precise and effective. All solutions are managed from visitors center, where data gathering, and analysis takes place also. Pilot location is 12 kilometers long, it includes roads and cycling paths. DOLL has 49 testing and demo areas, each is 200-300 meters long. There are 50 companies to promote their products.