Natural Hazards Meeting Report

Cities Smarten Up and Go Green

CIENS Urban Conference 2016: Smart and Green Cities – For Whom?; Oslo, Norway, 13 October 2016

By , Marianne Millstein, and Per Gunnar Røe

According to the United Nations, two thirds of the world population will live in cities by 2030. As they expand, cities around the world are pursuing smart and green development to reduce sprawl, shorten long commutes and their associated pollution, and use space efficiently. Smart cities make use of information and communication technologies to enhance the use of urban infrastructures. 

In October 2016, the Oslo Centre for Interdisciplinary Environmental and Social Research (CIENS) invited participants to a 1‐day conference in Oslo, Norway. Approximately 80 attendees, including urban planners and entrepreneurs, participated in discussions of the societal potential for and implications of smart and green urban development trends. Strategies like green‐blue infrastructure—that is, vegetation aligned with urban water bodies—have proven to positively impact human health, contribute to good urban water management, and ameliorate the negative consequences of climate change by absorbing excess rainwater runoff or providing a cooling effect during warm periods.

The conference was structured around four topics:

  • the potential of smart and green cities, including concepts and strategies for development
  • sociotechnical and infrastructural changes necessary for smart and green city development
  • societal impacts and challenges of smart and green city development
  • city case studies and shared experiences

Several presentations showed the potential of innovation and technological change for urban sustainability. Conference participants learned about modeling approaches to assess social, economic, and ecological implications of future urban developments. Participants also discussed indicators of feasibility, such as political support or perceived benefits of smart and green developments, along with how to recognize them. Such indicators can be used to help guide development decisions.

The presentations featured case studies of cities currently working to become greener and smarter but also drew attention to some of the challenges associated with smart city development. Here are four examples, both good and bad, that stand out.

Amsterdam, Netherlands: The city’s municipality cooperates with research institutes under the umbrella of the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions to develop tailored solutions to become a circular, connected, and vital city.

Stockholm, Sweden: A former industrial site, Hammarby Sjöstad, is about to be converted into an ecocity district. A development of 140,000 new homes will take into account future climate change, biodiversity, and ecological values in addition to property developers’ interests. Technical, building, mobility, communication, and green-blue infrastructure issues were considered in an integrated way.

Stakeholder collaboration is evident in the innovative vacuum waste suction system at the site, which collects and sorts waste more effectively than traditional waste systems. The system incinerates nonreusable waste, providing locally generated heat and electricity. At the same time, the system helps to prevent local air pollution, as garbage trucks are rendered obsolete.

Trondheim, Norway: Not all development progresses smoothly. Attendees discussed how in Trondheim, officials granted developers permission to raise a several-story-high building adjacent to a building equipped with solar panel walls, considerably reducing electricity production. Smart and green development requires cross-sectoral communication and collaboration, and when communication breaks down, smart development falters.

India: In 2016, the central government launched a smart cities mission aimed at developing 100 sustainable and citizen‐friendly satellite towns to foster the urban transition to sustainability. The mission agenda addresses adequate water and electricity supply, sanitation and waste management, efficient urban mobility and affordable housing, urban safety and security, health, education, and sustainable management of the environment, as well as robust Internet access and public participation via e-governance.

The conference was funded by CIENS and by the Research Council of Norway (grant 261528).

—Isabel Seifert-Dähnn (email: [email protected]), Norwegian Institute for Water Research, Oslo; Marianne Millstein, Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Oslo; and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway; and Per Gunnar Røe, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway

Citation: Seifert-Dähnn, I., M. Millstein, and P. G. Røe (2017), Cities smarten up and go green, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO068899. Published on 02 March 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY 3.0