Smart Cities Summer School, this time in Stockholm

The 13th annual Smart Cities Summer School, organised by the Smart Cities Klub, was co-organised this year by the Slovak Embassy in Sweden, and it was held in Stockholm. We had the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of a big city, which being well managed, is not bustling with cars but with happy citizens. The city authorities are acutely aware of their responsibilities as managers, as well as the citizens, to the environment. We found it highly motivating.

We received the warmest of welcomes in Stockholm. Stockholm City Council Mayor (the highest elected post) – Ms. Cecilia Brinck – not only greeted and welcomed us but also delivered an introductory presentation. Very friendly and at the same time demonstrating a thorough knowledge of the topic, she briefed us on the functioning of the city in terms of its political hierarchy, organisational structure and the interconnection of individual departments and their roles. In addition to this, she introduced the Stockholm vision, striving to be the world’s smartest city by 2040. It was very enlightening to learn how the representatives of the coalition and opposition parties could agree on serious and important matters concerning the city and how their functioning was based on mutual respect and cooperation. The city itself also keenly engages surrounding communities in matters that have an impact on their towns and villages. Here all the various representatives within a district work closely together.

Following the greetings and presentation we realized how positive impact professionalism coupled with a dedication to diplomacy can be. Cooperation with Ambassador Martina Balunová, Lenka Biernat and other colleagues from their team allowed us to reach the highest levels of Swedish local politics and gain an insight into their way of thinking, the visions and strategies of probably the most progressive city in Scandinavia, which – in terms of the Smart City agenda – has really not set small goals.

In fact, the subsequent lecture reaffirmed the above, focusing on specific steps in the implementation of the Smart and Connected City strategy. Mrs. Johanna Engman, Chief Information Officer at the City Executive Office, shared her experiences with us. She mentioned something that was reiterated in other presentations and visits – that the city has its own infrastructure in important areas. For example its optical network, the city has one city-owned network which allows everyone access to fast, cheap internet, and the city is also seamlessly deploying new innovative solutions and sensors. Similarly, any data produced is the city’s property and can then be utilised for the creation of innovative applications – in areas where it is not efficient or necessary for the city to develop these applications on its own it is shared with outside companies. While working with large companies such as IBM and Cisco, the city protects what is essential and knows exactly what is needed for its citizens. This is mainly due to the professionalism and enthusiasm of the people working at the local government office.

This was not just a polite formal acceptance, but a genuine sharing of years of experience, making it very important to us – and we are grateful for it. This fact was also reflected in the final conversations.

We ended the visit to the town hall with a tour. It is visited by over 1.5 million people every year. We have seen the places where banquets are held following the awarding of the Nobel Prizes and the chamber of the city councils 101 councillors.

Old quarter’s new ecological form

We then visited Slakthusarea, a part of the city where in the past a slaughterhouse had existed. Now a new quarter for the people is being created in this area and following a light (vegetarian) lunch, we continued and enjoyed a number of presentations from experts who participated in the Grow Smarter project. The Horizon 2020-funded project, which in addition to Stockholm includes Barcelona and Cologne, focuses on the issues of smart and sustainable urban growth – in the areas of energy, transport and the environment.

Mika Hakosalo, project manager and speaker at our last “Slovakia towards Smart Cities” conference informed us of the energy saving possibilities within existing buildings, the sensitive reconstruction of industrial buildings. He also highlighted the potential for utilising residual heat, for example from data centres which naturally produce heat, and which the city can in turn sell on through district heating systems. Thanks to the interconnection of several factors, a synergistic effect is achieved. It has benefits for all the citizens, performs economically (a return of 5-6 years was mentioned), has a significant positive impact on CO2 emissions, heat production and the environment itself. It would never have come to fruition without mutual cooperation. It is up to us to look for areas where we can achieve such synergies and how we can encourage and support them.

We learned about sensors and traffic prediction from Stanley Ekberg, IBM’s representative. They focused on the area of the existing sports arena, where various concerts and other events take place. The problem discussed was the congestion of the nearest metro station following each event. The solution (an application linked to Wi-Fi sensors), which they have designed and developed in cooperation with the city, will enable them to direct spectators in real time to other stations within easy walking distance, significantly expediting the “emptying” dispersal from the area after each event. This will undoubtedly lead to an improvement in safety at each mass event.

In the next part we talked about the refurbishment of an older office building using solar panels, batteries, heating utilising a heat pump, and particularly the economy of the whole solution.

The city with an emphasis on the environment

After relocating to the Valla Torg district, we saw firsthand the comprehensive refurbishment of the city-owned apartment buildings – with incorporated facilities for the delivery of internet orders, storage space for bicycles, essentially improving the overall energy efficiency of the building. Thermal insulation, heat pumps, solar panels and batteries were already regarded as standard. Thanks to individual smart meters, residents could monitor their own energy consumption and adjust their habits accordingly to reduce energy waste and therefore create a smaller impact on the environment.

A significant change in the area of environmental protection and at the same time achieving lower operating costs has been a unique underground waste collection system that significantly reduces the movement of large refuse trucks in a given district, while also being able to monitor and evaluate the amount of waste generated and its various types. It is a solution that Stockholm now implements in the construction of new residential areas. The city is considering extending this system to existing neighbourhoods – thanks to the Grow Smarter project, it will be able to assess whether this is worth investing in.

We were all amazed by the surprising coefficient of parking for new flats – ranging from 0.5 to 0.3 parking spaces per apartment. The Swedes realize that building new car parks and wider roads is simply not viable in order for sustainable cities to exist in comfort. That is why we saw shared electric cars, electric cargo bicycles, safe sheltered several storey parking for bicycles with facilities to charge electric bikes. Smart mobility is encouraged through the support of public transport and cycling in Stockholm.

After a busy day, a lovely dinner and good hospitality in the pleasant atmosphere of our embassy was very much welcome. Many discussions have already begun about how to use this experience and information in our environment. Everybody appreciated the accommodation located in a pleasant country hotel away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Stockholm on a bicycle

Although the weather forecast was not looking good, we were lucky enough to start the next day with the planned bike tour of Stockholm. Despite his age, our experienced guide Örjan Lonngren, who is responsible for climate and energy strategies in Stockholm, set quite a pace. It was soon clear to us that the bicycle is his favoured means of daily transport. We made our way from the city centre to the new Royal Seaport district, which has been developed by the city.

The city owns the land here, and that’s why new neighbourhoods, which are a joy to live in, are built in Stockholm. A number of the apartments are for rent, some are constructed in a manner that we remember from socialist times in our country, i.e. housing cooperatives. Thus, residents do not buy a particular apartment, but a cooperative share and a right to live in a particular apartment. The result is essentially a passive building, to a high user standard. Their refurbishment, or increased energy efficiency, cannot be prevented by an individual. As on-street parking is the most expensive alternative, car parking is located underground as a matter of course. We have already mentioned parking space coefficients. The cycling parking coefficient is 2.5 racks per flat and they are usually located as close to the building entrance as possible. This is one of the measures that support this mode of transport. Courtyards between buildings are open to everyone for use and they are very pleasant to walk around.

They also encourage lots of greenery and the use of rainwater – since ground filtered water is the highest quality water for the watering of plants. As a result our guide Örjan was able to mention several cases of people who had stopped him in this district and thanked the city for their excellent housing. Is it utopia for us? Or just motivation to do things better?

As a utopia, we considered the concept they are testing today. It is based on the storage of heat over the summer months in the form of salt or sand. The Swedes are really trying hard to find solutions that will minimize the impact on the environment. It is important that other countries join them. After all, 193 countries have committed to fulfil the global goals by 2030 and we are one of them.

Smart City Sweden

The need for cooperation and the huge potential for synergies were introduced by Marcus Lind, Smart City Sweden project coordinator. The initiative, which has been supported by the government with €9 million for 4 years, aims to map and present Swedish smart solutions. They are doing well. One example was the project in Bogota, where the Swedes have delivered not only biogas buses but also the entire technology to produce it and taught the town how to work with this concept.

We have already mentioned the possibilities of using surplus heat in the central heating supply system. The numbers convinced us of absolute rationality to this project – provided that everything throughout the process is working well, i.e. not only can the waste incineration plant produce electricity but also deliver heat. To generate a return on such a solution is 6-7 years. That is one of the reasons why there are more than 40 of these incinerators in Sweden and that is why the Swedes today dispose of less than 1 % of all their waste to landfill sites. Powerful filters and regularly controlled air quality and combustion plant exhalations are a matter of course – which is why they can be located within a built-up area of the city and no one has a problem with it. This is one of the important issues – minimizing waste shipments and the distance covered by heat supplies, thus minimizing losses.

The remnants of the former landfill site, something that is already a thing of the past, could be seen on the hill where the ski lift is located today, and where world cup ski races are held. Our skier Petra Vlhová stood on this very podium in the parallel slalom category. We could see it all during our tour of the Hammarby sjöstad district, which the city planned during the 1990s. It was one of the world’s first ecological urban neighbourhoods. Today, a water filled, green area with a minimal number of cars, thanks to a cul-de-sac street system that minimizes traffic, is a very popular part of the city. Several factors contribute to this, a sensible density, low-rise residential buildings and available services.

Slovakia towards Smart Cities

After returning to the hotel we discussed for hours our experience and how to introduce as much as possible back in Slovakia. We all agreed that we need to learn to work together more, seek synergies and respect each other.

Summer School Participants – The Mayors agreed that the problem today is finding good quality people to work and supervise the smart agenda within the offices. Whatever the region. Some of them are actually in a position to be able to afford them, yet these people are simply not available. The reason is simple – there aren’t any. It’s a new, unconventional agenda. This is how our cities will gradually change. Officials will not sit on their chairs in the office; they will go out to the sites – to the people – just like Öranjan Lonngren.

At the Smart Cities Klub framework, we see tremendous potential in promoting collaboration between cities and private businesses, the science sector as well as the training of local authority personnel. With the support of Smart Cities projects and, in particular, support among participants  from different areas, more people from the private sector, who would never have been active in this area, will be involved in the process of city and state management. They will come up with ideas that may or may not have arisen at national government level. They will become more interested in their environment, the cities in which they live, looking for solutions to improve their environment – including economic benefits for themselves and the significant pro-export potential. This is one of the areas we want to support and which we can still take a lot of inspiration from the Swedes as well as other Scandinavian countries.