European journey towards smart cities
The real centres of innovation and growth are local
Maria Koleva, Brussels
10 February, 2017More innovations, digital shift, circular economy, collaborative low-carbon mobility, green buildings and energy efficiency are now among the top tasks in the to-do lists of the local and regional government across the EU as a response to the pressing challenges, such as air pollution, traffic congestion, migratory pressure and lack of affordable housing. To give more inspiration to this ambitions and show the best examples of making European cities and regions more modern and better places for live, study and work, the Commission and the European Committee organised in Brussels a high-level conference entitled “Investing in Europe: Building A Coalition of Smart Cities & Regions”, with the participation of the prominent American economist Jeremy Rifkin.Saying that 2017 would be the year of implementing the energy union, EC Vice President Maros Sefcovic underscored that cities and regions are increasingly part of the solution as they are the real centres of innovation and growth and engines of economic development. He recalled the important figures that cities produce 65% of Europe’s GDP and they are responsible for a quarter of public expenditures and almost half of public investments. They are strong drivers of economic modernisation, he urged, and added that the EU’s urban agenda urgently has to be implemented. He also encouraged the mayors to use the one-stop-shop, launched by the Commission last October. It brings together all information that matters for the cities - EU legislative proposals and strategies, as well as city awards and all EU financial instruments available for the cities.Cities and regions need to embrace new technologies, cooperate across borders and support the entrepreneurial spirit throughout the whole energy sector and beyond, the Committee of the Regions President Markku Markkula emphasised. Describing the need to invest smart, think green and be innovative, he gave examples from his own country Finland, where there are already several apps to support citizen driven activities, as showing a house to buyers, the energy efficiency of the property or how many years it takes to cover the costs of installing solar panels over your roof. On the money needed by regions and cities, he again gave example from his country, but this time from his home city Espoo. They have a contract with the largest Scandinavian energy company to make the city a forerunner in co-creating innovative energy solutions with all other actors including citizens and businesses. Investment levels in Europe have dropped by 15% over the last decade – in Espoo with our metro growth corridor we show what is needed to get back on track is public-private investment, he explained.In turn, Jeremy Rifkin expressed his views that the third industrial revolution Smart Europe initiative marks the next stage of the European journey to create a single, integrated, continental market. Leaders of cities and regions presented their own strategies demonstrating the benefits of reducing energy consumption, investing in innovation and digitalising their economy.