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Freiburg on the way to becoming a Smart City

More efficient cities, technological progress and innovation – that is what smart cities are about. Freiburg wants to become a smart city too, and in doing so to be more digitalised and innovative

More efficient cities, technological progress and innovation – that is what smart cities are about. Freiburg wants to become a smart city too, and in doing so to be more digitalised and innovative. Bernd Mutter, digitalisation officer and head of the Agency for Digital Affairs in the city of Freiburg, talks about the steps the city is undertaking.

The city of Freiburg sees the term “smart city“ as encompassing a lot more, because shaping the digital transformation also involves interaction between societal development and technological progress. What is important are urban development policy goals that focus not only on economic prosperity, social and spatial integration, but also on a sound environment and quality of life, enabling citizens to help shape their local community.

First steps to becoming a smart city

The city has been dealing with digital transformation issues since 2012/13. It was clear then that a stronger focus and strategic planning were needed for further steps towards digitalisation. In December 2019 a strategy entitled digital.freiburg 2025 was agreed upon.

In the years to come, with the help of numerous individual measures the focus is to be on six specific activity areas:

  • 1.0 Living environment. Health. Family.
  • 2.0 Society. Ethics. Trust.
  • 3.0 Education. Culture. Science.
  • 4.0 Public administration
  • 5.0 Emploment. Economy. Tourism.
  • 6.0 Networks. Energy. Transport.

“This covers a whole variety of individual measures“, says Mutter. Regarding the digital transformation of public administrations the city of Freiburg is making good progress, for instance with electronic filing and invoicing, collaborative tools and modern working methods, which the city has already introduced and some of which are already in place. In the city of Freiburg, working closely with industry and science, people-oriented projects such as the Digitaltag, expanding fibre optics and mobile phone networks and transport are also top of the agenda. “Digitalisation is not an end in itself“, Mutter stresses. “We see good prospects for all areas of urban development policy, without playing down the risks and potential complications.“

Federal support for becoming a smart city since 2020

Two years ago Freiburg was chosen as a model smart city and received eight million euros in financial support. The money currently funds two of the city’s projects and is mostly invested in Daten:Raum:Freiburg. The city is establishing a platform by the end of 2025 for collecting, analysing and exploiting data, in the first phase a prototype for two use cases – a tendering platform for city real estate as well as live traffic data.

Together with the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics (EMI) Freiburg is tackling the second funded project which aims to set up urban safe areas (SifoLife). The intention is “to develop an integrated system with real-time oriented positioning data, warning systems, enabling dynamic evacuation, while alerting the population and industry in the occurrence of a major disaster“, Mutter explains. Again, it shows that digitalisation in Freiburg is not as an end in itself but to the benefit of the city’s people.

Ways to achieving a smart city

According to Bernd Mutter, the ways to realising a digital city are multiple – Freiburg focuses above all on involving its citizens and working with industry and science. At the same time Freiburg cannot achieve its aims without data spaces, sensors, networks and dashboards, “while also complying with data protection laws”, says Mutter.

That is why he advises every city and region with an interest in becoming smart city to strike up a close dialogue with other municipalities. Freiburg regularly does this to share experiences and knowledge. “Many cities and municipalities take an interesting approach. One can only learn by it.” Nevertheless, every municipality needs to ensure where its digital transformation can or must take it and how that can be combined with its development.

The people of Freiburg and their smart city

In Freiburg, the reactions to becoming a smart city are varied – as regards both its citizens and the issues. “For many, the topics traditionally surrounding a smart city are hard to follow. In particular, terms such as ‘smart city’ and ‘data space’ create more confusion than understanding. That is why we try to employ narratives and explain things in very basic terms. As ever, some people want much more, while others regard the achievements to date as already going too far. What is definitely needed is close communication, which we intend to improve and expand, for instance by designing an extensive city portal offering interactive information, communication, service and data.“ In an effort to above all familiarise older people with the topic, Freiburg is supporting several of the city’s services and, as an example, took the opportunity offered by Digitaltag events in June to raise awareness for digitalisation among those who would otherwise probably shun the subject.

Smart city – job done?

Freiburg’s digitalisation strategy currently runs until 2025, but that is not the end of the road. “Digitalisation is an ongoing project – regardless of where its focus lies. As we see it there is no definite ending“, says Mutter. The strategy will be built upon in good time and adapted to meet future challenges.

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