EPCA: You will be one of the jurors of the European Finals of the European Youth Debating Competition (EYDC) and we are very grateful for your contribution. Your work as the Head of the Smart City Agency Vienna provides you with front-line experience in city planning and therefore, can you please tell our readers what this year’s topic for the debates “Living, learning, working and moving in Smart Cities of the future: with or without plastics and petrochemicals?” means to your work and to Vienna?
DW: Our goal is not to abolish Plastics and Petrochemicals, the question is more about how “to use them in a more sustainable way” in the mid-term, because they are an integral part of our life. In the long-term, till 2050, there will be new ways of moving and living and as we are not experts in chemistry, we are expecting to have discussions with representatives from the petrochemical industry to learn more about the added value of newly developed materials, share with them our projects and work together otherwise we don’t know which type of product to choose Vienna will change rapidly, and we have also to educate our citizens on environmental awareness and how to handle plastics for example in a more sustainable way.
This links itself well to the topic of the EYDC debate: in Viennese school classes, the kids learn how to handle plastics in a more sustainable way and to recycle them, which we hope will influence consumers’ attitudes.
Vienna is also supporting the local companies “to go green” through several programs: Ökobuisnessplan, is an office that supports companies through education and financial support to help them save energy and supports companies as well to develop greener processes. And maybe more interesting for your reader, Ökokauf Vienna, which is the sustainable procurement program of Vienna. With a yearly volume of three billion EUR procurement Vienna has a strong role in this context. These services are free of charge for all local companies and are provided by different agencies that are all owned by the city of Vienna.
EPCA: Both the renowned consultancy Mercer and The Economist placed Vienna in the top position in their ranking regarding the theme “Quality of Life” in 2018 and Vienna is continuously performing well on multiple indicators. For example, Vienna also reached first place in Roland Berger’s “Smart City” index in 2017 and in the category “Mobility”, where Vienna received the European Commission’s, EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK Award 2017.
“Smart City”, “Mobility” and “Quality of Life” are often linked together. Could you please give the reader an insight how the work of your office is connecting these three topics in Vienna?
DW: The connection of these three topics is actually the basis of our “Smart City Vienna framework strategy”. This paper connects the topics of innovation, resource conservation mainly in the areas of mobility and energy and quality of life. Other cities focus only on the topic of mobility in relationship to digitisation. However, we believe that being truly “smart” lies in the interaction and cooperation between the above-mentioned topics. Factors like climate change and urbanisation will have a major impact and budgets are getting tighter. This is why it is essential to use the potential of the interconnection between these topics.
My work is to connect and enable the cooperation between energy, mobility and many more relevant issues – always with the focus to strengthen the quality of life for all our citizens. Topics like digitisation, technological competencies, public-private partnerships are still something new for most of my colleagues and that is why collaboration is needed, also hand-in-hand with the citizens and private companies themselves. Governance is a major issue for all “Smart Cities” and is one of my main responsibilities because it is sometimes not easy to encourage established actors to talk to each other. Representatives of the city, citizens, scientists and private businesses need to communicate effectively, and this is where we had the largest improvements. Even smaller projects take time, which means that the benefits of your effort materialize only years later. Therefore, you need the right basic strategic framework to guide your actions.
It helps that the Major of Vienna has endowed us with the necessary power to drive change, but it is important to note that if you force someone to act, it will never be as fruitful as the result of a collaboration between the various actors. You have to find a win-win situation because the effect is remarkably higher when everyone sees herself/himself as a winner in a situation.
The Smart City Agency, created 5 years ago, a city owned consultancy, is part of the Urban Innovation GmbH. Our budget is financed by different departments and the General Directors office, but we have the freedom to act mainly on our own. We are “city owned” but not “civil servants”. The political support of the Major is crucial. However, the Smart City Vienna Framework Strategy on which our work is built on is not just a marketing tool, it is signed by the Major and the city council, (about 100 signatures of politicians), and therefore is a guideline for the strategy of the city until 2050. This means that there are around 60 goals, ranging from culture to energy, that have to be fulfilled.
Furthermore, we receive the feedback from citizens through digital as well as traditional channels. I have to say that in the past it was mostly a one-way communication and Vienna was not the showcase city for interactivity. But times are changing, there are now hundreds of digital channels opening up from all of the cities agencies. But we also use the traditional channels as well, we organise big events and workshops every two months, which are always linked to the topic of “Smart City”. But communicating with 1.9 million citizens is hugely complex and our agency is not the only one involved in this!
EPCA: Being “smart” is not only about the data itself. It is also about how to take into account the expectations of all stakeholders through a participative and integrated approach towards a city that is as sustainable as possible. Can you please share with our readers, the challenges, opportunities and lessons learned as a result of such an approach?
DW: We have already touched upon these topics, but a major challenge is that Vienna is very good in writing strategic papers but to get it into practice is the challenge. How to motivate people to change and how to connect all the projects is still a problem. For example, civil servants see that the city is highly ranked for ten years in a row and think that this is enough. But the world is changing rapidly, and you could fall behind incredibly fast, like with a bicycle, you will fall eventually when you stop paddling.
Therefore, we have to work on it constantly. I often encounter closed doors because people say, it is working perfectly fine, why do we have to develop more digitisation and bring in new IT? But these are exactly the cases where you will see the fruits of your labour 10 years down the line. An example is the potential of the Smart Energy Grid System. Everything is city owned in Vienna and we are unique in that way. We are responsible for the city infrastructure, the waste management and gas and electricity distribution. Therefore, changes like digitisation can be initiated internally, but it must happen now to see results in ten years.
Dominic Weiss concluded by saying that for him a “Smart City is a city that protects resources and uses innovation and digital components to offer the highest quality of live for its citizens. These challenges can be met if we tackle change actively and make Vienna a place that fosters innovation even more than it does today”.