Smart regions

Smart regions

Column Eike Becker, "Immobilienwirtschaft" 04/2018

On my journey through the world of architecture, I am always amazed at events taking place and wonder why this is actually happening, how it is happening and how it could be improved. On the jury for the ZIA (Zentraler Immobilien Ausschuss) Innovation Report, I discussed a host of projects for a whole day that might make our cities better.

These include such diverse ideas as a self-sufficient settlement with a cold local heating network, a tracking system for pedestrian movements for the retail trade or an AI-based system for reading due diligence documents. At the subsequent Real Estate Award 2018 in Cologne, I was delighted about the award for the Woodie dormitory, a modular timber construction by Sauerbruch Hutton Architects and Achim Nagel. This is what the city of the future could look like. During our talk at the table, Tobias Becker from SAP was surprised that for me, as an architect, even the heightened vividness of 3D planning justifies the additional effort. He is only interested in the data of the finished building. This is where the new business models lie for him. In the Smart City, the data of digital twins is sometimes more important than the real houses.

And at the MIPIM (Marché International des Professionnels de l'immobilier) in Cannes, Prof. Dr. Merk was delighted that Munich had decided to develop its own Smart City strategy. A first step forward. At the same time, a selection of promising French Smart City projects were presented there.These individual events have one thing in common: they are all building blocks of the digital city.
But where do the European and German institutions stand in digitisation? What can the real estate industry contribute to the leap into the digital world and how is this changing the architecture of cities?

To put it bluntly: the countries are having a hard time. Although the Federal Republic now has a Minister of State for Digital Affairs in Dorothee Bär ("Instalover, mother, politician, gamer, hunter, Franconian, Bavarian, part-time Berliner, addicted to intelligent people & a lot of pink"). Unfortunately, however, without her own staff, without her own budget and thus also without any influence whatsoever. The digital infrastructure and broadband expansion also fall within the remit of Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer. It is clear that very different ideas will compete with one another. Municipalities are struggling too. In international digitisation studies, German cities are not in the top group. Not even in the midfield.

The example of Berlin shows what is lacking
The Berlin Senate was seized briefly by an enthusiasm for digitisation and adopted a Smart City strategy in 2015. A rather sketchy first summary of everything that could fit in to it. In the following year, a plan for implementation with periods, responsibilities and partners was to be delivered as a second step. However, the Berlin elections brought about a change of coalition and thus the end to the implementation plan. Subsequently, the urban development administration (conflicts of competence with the economic administration) was relieved of the responsibility. Now the future of Smart City Berlin rests with the Senate Chancellery of the Governing Mayor. Responsibilities are "not so clearly defined" and are divided into three different departments. A participation process with industry, academia, research and civil society is not planned. Meanwhile the paper is also outdated and would have to be rewritten. It did not stand up to international comparison anyway and was kindly not mentioned in Roland Berger's Smart City Study of 87 cities in 2016 ("in the latter half of the field"). With a micro-budget and in the absence of clear responsibilities and clout, hardly anything more is to be expected.

Düsseldorf has just shown the way and appointed a CDO, a Chief Digital Officer. Like Vienna, Chicago, Singapore and many others, such a position could also bring the various departments together, coordinate and, if necessary, take action in Berlin – all under one umbrella. But as so often in this city – a world champion in announcements – there is a lack of... so much unfortunately. Just talking is not enough. This is all the more regrettable when you look at the conditions in this unfinished creative metropolis. With its many research institutes, innovative information and communication technology companies and the lively tech start-up scene, Berlin offers a fertile breeding ground for a Smart City. Every year 45,000 additional inhabitants, 13 million visitors, more and more international students, 40,000 start-ups; no other European city receives more venture capital. Tapping into the potential of a Smart City Berlin and developing intelligent, networked solutions in administration, transport, infrastructure as well as for energy and mobility issues, public buildings, education and health care is not impossible in Berlin, a city on the brink of tragedy.

Smart quarters

The state-owned housing companies are currently investing billions in new quarters. Millions are also available from the "Growing City Infrastructure" special fund for schools, kindergartens, the police, the fire brigade, hospitals and swimming pools. However, nobody talks of smart investments in this context. Why can these projects not be future-oriented right from the outset? What if Berlin were to plan and realise new showcase quarters? If the municipality were to launch smart model projects in a dialogue with citizens and companies, put together packages of measures and involve business, start-ups, public transport, street cleaning, utilities and citizens ("How will we become smart?")? Smart City pilot quarters could be supported easily by development plans more open to experiments. Berlin has Europe's most modern traffic information centre, is a lead region for electric mobility and the capital of car sharing (thank you very much, Germany). In these model quarters, for example, autonomous driving in urban areas and car parking occupancy detection could be tested and further developed. Urban housing companies could be pioneers in smart home solutions, working with technology companies, health care providers and doctors. In a Smart Health model quarter, telemedical applications could be tested and further developed in practice.

I am worried as none of this is happening

We are in the transition to another world, a digital world that is going to change everything. The way we live, work, build, coordinate, and decide will all be turned upside down. To refuse and to ignore the changes does not work for such a networked society. We must learn, examine, test and find out which innovations support the liveliness and creativity, the diversity and richness of different lifestyles and which ones work against them.