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April 15th 2022

Gera on the way to becoming a Smart City

Hamburg, Cologne, Munich - classic examples of large German smart cities. But Gera in Thuringia is also on its way to becoming a technologically advanced and innovative city.

In the 19th century, Gera was an industrial city and a pioneer in textile production. After reunification, many factories closed and Gera became more and more disconnected from modern development.

Since 2019, Gera has been a Smart City model city and is flourishing anew - the Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Construction is supporting the Thuringian city with around 7, 5 million euros. More than 100 municipalities from all over Germany had applied for the place as a Smart City model city - Gera and twelve other cities and municipalities have won the bid. The model project will run for seven years with the aim of using modern technologies to make Gera a sustainable place to live and fit for the future.

Gera's smart city strategy has been in place for a few months now - with various measures to make the city smarter in many areas. We spoke to Rico Trost, the head of Gera's municipal administration, about this.

Mr. Trost, why does Gera want to become a Smart City?

"Gera has recognized that 'smart approaches' offer a variety of opportunities to promote the common good in the city, but also provide tools that enable the goal-oriented and efficient management of infrastructure and urban development processes. Gera wants to take advantage of these opportunities in the interest of its citizens and resident businesses, and is happy to take on the challenges they present."

Gera has long recognized that working methods in the administration, the infrastructure or even general ways of thinking must be adapted to the, further developing environment. The BMI's offer to support this development financially, but also through know-how and networks, came in very handy for the city, says Trost.

In which areas is the city now becoming smarter?

"Among other things, we have defined the dovetailing of forward-looking science and innovative business, diverse educational and cultural offerings for all phases of life, and the establishment of new forms of mobility and thus resource efficiency as goals. Targeted measures are also intended to accelerate the development into a 'digital city hall'."

Trost cites sensors as an important tool for measuring the current status and deriving optimization requirements from it. In Gera, for example, water levels are measured digitally to prevent flooding. Sensors are also used to measure visitor flows in order to determine the quality of cultural offerings, or to examine energy consumption - in order to show where there is still potential for savings.

Especially at the beginning of the project, some citizens in Gera were skeptical about what this "Smart City" was all about. Now that the first results are visible, it is possible to "soften the interim skepticism and generate increasing interest in the project," says Trost.

One of these first results are five solar benches that have been inviting people to linger and rest in the city since mid-March. On the seat, smartphones, tablets and co. can be charged wirelessly - USB and mini-USB ports are also integrated at the front to charge a laptop, scooter or pedelec at the bench with a cable. But the solar banks are also smart because they can measure the current temperature, humidity or fine dust particles. In the long term, the data will be played out via a SmartCity Cockpit.

How do you take older people with you, who may not have such a good connection to digital?

"We don't necessarily consider the word 'smart' to be synonymous with 'digital.' Nevertheless, our adopted 'implementation measures' take into account a variety of offers for older people to approach digital content in familiar circles. In addition, we are creating (digital) offerings that have a very clear analog benefit, also and especially for older people. One example is the Thüringen@Home project - in collaboration with TAG Wohnen - which uses digital communications technology to enable older people to remain independent, but secure, in their own homes for longer."

As a tip for all cities on the way to becoming a smart city, Gera recommends transparent, efficient and appreciative communication with all stakeholders. The processes and individual work steps related to "Smart City" require a large number of internal and external stakeholders to support the project. In this context, open and goal-oriented communication is an important key to success, says Trost.

When will Gera be a "Smart City"? - Is there a point in time when the project is "finished"?

"We clearly see the project as an entry point into the development described, enabling us to develop and try out different approaches, generate the relevant know-how and establish basic acceptance among the population. However, the actual development will never be finished as long as our environment continues to change and we have to face the resulting challenges. The project merely helps us to better position ourselves for this."

All info on Smart City Gera can be found here.

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