re:view – Mobility & City: How Smart will our Cities get?

The future is smart and digital – everything will be connected to the internet. That includes our cities. The Mobility & City track featured artists, futurists, politicians and representatives from the automobile industry discussing possible scenarios, climate neutral logistics and e-mobility.

Stuttgart 2035: traffic operates in a fully automated form. Electronic taxis and cars drive without any assistance or intervention by us, the elderly move with the help of exoskeletons. Restaurant menus feature ingredients grown in their own city gardens and the gondolas of the city’s aerial tramway system float above the restaurant terrace. Drones deliver life-saving medication in medical emergencies and the traffic caused by delivery services no longer disturbs city-dwellers, as it only takes place underground – just like the subway, tram and bus transportation systems. That’s how the Daimler innovation team imagines the smart city working 20 years from now.

What is a smart city?

“Smart City” is an umbrella term for integrated development concepts which aim to organise cities in a more efficient, green and socially inclusive way. Broadening the scope, non-technical innovations which help contribute to a more sustainable life in the city also fall into this category, such as “sharing” concepts. The key point being that smart mobility is energy efficient, low emission, safe and cheap. An introduction gives the contribution of #rp17 speakers Vanessa Thomas & Ding Wang "A Tale of two cities" and a closer look Usman Haque with "Mutually Assured Construction".

Other German cities are still very far away from the vision of “Stuttgart 2035”. The panel participants at the Driving the Energy Transition discussion brought us down to hard facts of reality. “Although every BMW customer has the possibility of choosing the e-version of their model, the charging infrastructure is still not present”, BMW strategist Bianca Groß stated. Electric mobility has been possible for some time now, but faces large structural problems in Germany. This is especially true for “on-street parkers”, meaning car owners who don’t own their own homes – so, most city dwellers. This is the reason why BMW sells most of its electric cars outside of Germany, mainly in China, the USA and Norway. According to Groß, the overall share of electric cars in Germany is still under two percent.

“The car can’t be the sole focus of the future”, countered mobility expert Andreas Knie. According to him, the dream of owning your own car is completely outdated. “The city dwellers of the future will use the smartphone as the key to mobility” he stated. With this, he meant apps that display the nearest car sharing location along with public transportation options. This is why companies such as BMW need to move away from the traditional car sales model. There are currently around 1.2 million privately registered cars in Berlin. If all of Berlin’s drivers would use car sharing, it would be possible to cover the city’s traffic requirements with only 350,000 cars. “Just imagine the amount of quiet and space gained through this”, Knie raved.

Berlin doesn’t have a plan

As far as digitalisation goes, State Secretary Christian Rickerts from the Berlin Senate wasn’t able to offer any smart visions for the capitol in the Smart and Rebel Cities – What‘s On panel. He managed to elegantly skirt around the question of what Berlin’s digital strategy for the coming years might be, by drawing attention to the state government’s freshly established coalition agreement: “We’re just now beginning to outline a digital strategy for the coming years.” That leaves them some time to take a pointer or two from the forerunners. Barcelona, for instance, which doesn’t see itself so much as a “smart city“, but rather as a “rebel city“ – a city that takes a grassroots approach, letting the citizens have their say in digital innovations instead of companies.

Of course, these weren’t the only panel discussions, talks and meet-ups from the Mobility & City track at #rp17. You can find all the topics here, with the video and audio recordings in the respective sessions, or directly in the audio archive or on YouTube

by Theresa Krinninger (EJS)

Photo credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer(CC BY-SA 2.0)