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What's next for smart cities?

Michael Pfefferle is Head of Smart City & Smart Region at Bitkom e.V. and spoke in a guest article in Behördenspiegel about the future of smart city funding from the federal government.

Picture: Bitkom

“Germany needs nothing less than a new digital beginning on a comprehensive scale“, says the federal government, a coalition of the SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and FDP. The 73 cities which have embarked on a new digital future thanks to federal government support under the heading ’Smart Cities made in Germany / Model Projects Smart Cities’ are seen as strong partners here. The previous government had provided a total of 820 million euros in order to press ahead with the digital transformation of these model cities. However, there was no real “scaling of digital municipalities“, says Pfefferle.

That is an issue the Traffic Light Coalition must now resolve, and in response it is preparing a multi-stage plan for smart cities with a catalogue of best practices. The aim is to collect measures which, supported by digitalisation, will improve the quality of life for people in towns and municipalities. “We need immediate success stories in Germany“, says Pfefferle. “That is the only way to convince more municipalities and the people of networked cities and regions in the long term.”

Smart city development programme set to continue

The federal government intends to provide a financial incentive for this purpose again next year. Following a one-year break, the development programme under the heading ’Smart Cities made in Germany / Model Projects Smart Cities’ is set to continue in 2023. “But only after a review of ongoing development programmes“, says the federal government in response to an enquiry by the parliamentary group of the CDU/CSU. There will also be a particular focus on rural areas which often lag behind cities in digital matters, and on combining urban development with digitalisation and climate protection. “The key message has finally got through to the federal government, the fact that, according to the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), cities are responsible for around 75 per cent of CO2 emissions overall and 80 per cent of total energy consumption“, says Pfefferle.

Digital, sustainable and resilient are the new goals

Already, cities and municipalities in Germany are struggling with the effects of climate change – searing heat in cities, a lack of rainfall in farming areas and flash flooding such as last year in North Rhine-Westphalia. “In the effort to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide, countries such as Germany cannot get around modernising and digitalising transport and adapting buildings to the climate. We therefore welcome the federal government declaring its support for urban development in order to reach climate targets“, says Pfefferle.

Digitalisation is a must

“At the same time decision-makers at federal and state level should take the initiative and allocate municipalities with fixed budgets for digitalisation“, says Pfefferle. That is the only way local authorities can take on digitalisation projects in the long term – away from limited-term support for smart cities. “Small municipalities and those in rural areas are least able to benefit from existing measures, and they are the ones who most urgently need financial and specialist support.“ The 73 cities and municipalities already benefiting from the support from ’Model Projects Smart Cities’ must now deliver. “Everybody is looking in their direction now. They have ideal conditions for producing good results in the near future“, says Pfefferle.

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