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Mayen-Koblenz County progressing towards becoming a Smart Region

Drawn representation of the Mayen-Koblenz district.

Ten towns and municipalities in the district of Mayen-Koblenz form the basis for the smart region- Photo: Landkreis Mayen-Koblenz

"Business as usual is not enough to maintain and improve the quality of life for citizens, to remain competitive, to use resources more efficiently and to drive the sustainable development of the region." This single sentence from Sonja Gröntgen, the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) in Mayen-Koblenz district, highlights why counties and municipalities cannot ignore the need for digital transformation and becoming smart regions any longer. In view of demographic change, the shortage of skilled workers, the digitalization backlog in regional businesses and administrations, and not least climate change, the region is confronted with a variety of pressing challenges that can only be overcome with the help of innovative ideas and new approaches. For this reason, in 2019, the district's Future Committee came up with the idea of applying for the "Smart Cities Model Projects" funding program of the German Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Construction. "Topics such as the (re)vitalization of our places, resilient supply structures, sustainability, mobility, education, sustainable tourism and economic strength play a supporting role for the stable development of the region. It is therefore of great importance for us to further develop these components in a contemporary and future-oriented manner," says Gröntgen. In 2020, "MYK10 - Network in Region" was awarded the grant and will receive around 17.5 million euros in funding until 2027. The superscript 10 in the project title "MYK10" is symbolic of the ten towns and municipalities belonging to the district, forming the cornerstone of the smart region.

Digitization strategy times 3

Mayen-Koblenz is pursuing three goals about how the region should develop:

1. MYK is changing - The smart region is actively changing.
In Mayen-Koblenz, the local community isn't sitting back; they're eager to shape the impact of digital transformation on their region. They're embracing fresh ideas to revive town centers, make daily essentials easily accessible in the neighborhood, and enhance the region's resilience to climate change. Moreover, the county is actively working on establishing accessible healthcare services and a citizen-centric (virtual) administration to future-proof the area well into the 2030s

2. Getting places in MYK: The Smart Region is innovating mobility and infrastructure
In Mayen-Koblenz, people, goods and information are to be transported from A to B safely and conveniently. Given the region's diversity, ranging from hilly to flat terrain, from high-tech to traditional craftsmanship, and from urban to rural areas, there are different demands on public transportation and logistics processes. Transportation options and digital tools can help by making it easier to access vital services, goods, and travel throughout the entire county.

3. MYK connects people - The Smart Region creates common good and promotes togetherness.
In Mayen-Koblenz County, there's a diverse population with varying needs and routines. New technologies are reshaping expectations in areas such as work, education, leisure, and community engagement, offering promising prospects for daily interactions. The key is to ensure that everyone is carried along on the path of digital transformation, granting them access to society today and in the years to come.

Big and small steps in the Smart Region

Following a strategy phase up to the summer of 2023, Mayen-Koblenz is now in the process of implementing its first projects:

For example, so-called "RegioHubs" will be created next year at up to six locations in the district. These are multifunctional work, meeting, innovation and learning spaces. Here, like in a co-working space, people from different industries with different competencies and perspectives meet and can exchange ideas. However, the RegioHubs go far beyond pure CoWorking spaces: meeting rooms for associations and companies, as well as an improved infrastructure, are also to be created here. "The main goal of the RegioHubs is to contribute to a revitalization of our town centers, to strengthen local communities, to enable points of contact with new technologies and media as anchor locations for digitization, and to create new ideas in co-creation among diverse groups of actors," says Gröntgen. A county-wide umbrella organization will act as a mediator and coordinator to create synergy effects between the individual RegioHubs.

The Amt-O-Mat looks like an ATM, but allows flexible access to administrative services without having to go to the office. The machines are designed in a way that even people with limited digitization skills can use them without any problems. "Thanks to a built-in scanner, QR code and NFC chip reader, printer and payment function, the Amt-O-Mats support the submission of applications, especially for those who do not have the hardware required to submit applications at home. The devices enable residents to use citizen services seven days a week, regardless of the opening hours of the citizens' offices, and thus significantly increase the service-friendliness in our county. This also applies to the collection of documents such as ID cards or passports," emphasizes Gröntgen.

This year and next year, sensors will be installed at six measuring points in the district to monitor the water levels of the Nette, Sayn and the Elzbach, so that in the event of heavy rain, the neighboring villages can be warned and protected from flooding. These locations were defined in a master's thesis. "Thanks to the transfer of the data to the statewide flood portal, the data can also be used and publicly accessed beyond Mayen-Koblenz," says the responsible project manager, Tahmineh Bahadorizadeh.

By placing 40 LoRaWAN antennas across the entire county by the end of 2024, Mayen-Koblenz is building the necessary infrastructure to gain expertise in data-driven planning, management, and decision-making in all municipalities and at the county level. "Together we collect, process and share data and experiences in numerous application areas, for example around climate and environmental data (soil moisture, temperature, air quality...), mobility data or in the field of energy management. Third parties will also be allowed access to the network, so that business, civil society and research in the region can benefit from wireless technology and inspire innovation in the county.”

Health care is also to be improved in the Smart Region. With the help of telemedicine, "Herz.Gesund" optimizes medical care for patients suffering from chronic heart diseases. The young Koblenz-based company Qurasoft, the St. Nikolaus hospital in Andernach, specialists and family doctors are working together with the district to improve the quality of life of those affected.

The digital exercise trainer as part of the "Movement in the Villages" project also aims to improve the health and quality of life of people in the communities. Exercise programs for older people are being offered in 32 local communities. The volunteer exercise facilitators now have a digital exchange and organization platform where they can share exercises and tips with each other and plan exercise sequences.

As part of the Southwest Cluster, the Mayen-Koblenz district is developing an open-source municipal data platform together with the other "Smart Cities Model Projects" in Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland. "The municipal data platform centrally regulates the access and sharing of municipal data and thus prevents this data from being used in an uncontrolled manner. This will enable us as a county, but also our municipalities belonging to the county, to have data-based control, decision-making and planning in the future," says Gröntgen.

Residents of Mayen-Koblenz County get a hands-on taste of the Smart Region through the LandRäume project. Here, community members can directly reserve spaces for their club gatherings, book clubs, or birthday celebrations using digital tools. Whether it's a community center, church hall, co-working space, or picnic area, people can choose what they need, check real-time availability, and make online bookings hassle-free.

This fall, a MakerSpace will be created in the city of Bendorf - a cross-generational learning space for the STEM fields of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology. It facilitates different projects for analog and digital tinkering, fiddling, screwing, drilling and programming.

On September 22, the MeinMYK app went live. Thanks to it, citizens have all the information from the administration or the areas of business, leisure, and everyday life in Mayen-Koblenz in their pocket at all times, regardless of location and time, all in one place on their smartphone or tablet.

Digital transformation not without the people

However, Gröntgen emphasizes that digitalization aside, it's all about the people who live and work in Mayen-Koblenz County. That's why residents are regularly updated through channels like the information and participation platform, community dialogues at market stalls, or the annual Future Forum. The aim is to provide people with opportunities to share their ideas and suggestions at any time.

But cooperation with other municipalities is just as important, says Gröntgen: "We often deal with very similar challenges and accordingly also work toward similar solutions. Here, not everyone has to reinvent the wheel, but we can learn from and with each other and implement joint projects together intermunicipally, as in the Southwest Cluster."

The CDO also suggests this to other municipalities – cooperation and open communication: "Getting citizens actively involved from the beginning and taking their opinions into account can contribute to creating broad acceptance for the Smart City model project. It is also recommended to jointly develop a strategy regionally, initially involving a diverse group of stakeholders. This strategy should include not only an overview at the project's inception but, more importantly, a description of current challenges and, above all, the central values that must guide the digital transformation journey, as well as the visions and projects to pursue. This way, the regional community can collaborate across various sectors, including government, businesses, educational and social institutions, and civil society, to work towards a shared vision. With everyone speaking the same language, they can support each other throughout the digital transformation process."

Smart Region with a Vision

Since the project's inception, many residents, businesses, and project partners have actively engaged in the process to actively shape the future of their homeland. Gröntgen remarks, “Naturally, there are fears and doubts.” Some people worry about not keeping up with digital changes, while others have difficulty explaining why Smart City projects should move forward, especially when basic requirements like digital administration, improved internet access, or school upgrades are still lacking. “However, the overwhelming interest and enthusiastic participation of citizens point out how crucial it is to involve the community in such projects. The Smart City model project in Mayen-Koblenz County vividly illustrates how collective efforts lay the groundwork for a successful future and can dispel the doubts.”

Therefore, Gröntgen sees the region on a positive path: “The combination of long-term funding, ongoing adaptation, and active citizen participation can contribute to the long-term success of the Smart Cities project in Mayen-Koblenz County, bringing about lasting changes. However, the project will never be entirely completed; it merely establishes the foundation for us to keep up with current and future technological developments. Digital transformation is an ongoing process – and it will keep shaping the smart region.”

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