The city of Vienna was represented at the Smart City event held in Amsterdam in June. Vienna approaches the ‘smart city’ concept from a social point of view – i.e. the city of tomorrow should be able to guarantee a basic quality of life and promote harmony among the various strata of society.
Greater Vienna numbers 1.8 million inhabitants, equivalent to around 21% of the entire population of Austria. Vienna is both the national capital and a federal province in its own right, just as Berlin is in Germany. The city therefore carries enormous weight in Austria, by dint of sheer demographics as well as its political, economic and social influence.
The social aspect has in fact always been high among the city authorities’ concerns when it comes to drawing up a strategy for the Vienna of tomorrow. At this moment in time, the Austrian capital is sitting on a very solid social legacy, with over 400,000 social housing units subsidised by the public authorities and non-profit organisations. ‟Our vision of the Smart City is based on social inclusion, maintaining a heterogeneous society and narrowing the socio-economic divide,” surveyor and urban planner Pia Hlava, who is Project Manager for tasks relating to the Smart City Initiative Vienna at City Hall, told the audience in Amsterdam.
In fact the latest ranking from Mercer, a New York-based HR consultancy, puts Vienna at the top of a list of 440 cities worldwide on overall quality of life. Such plaudits provide even greater encouragement to the city authorities to design tomorrow’s city as a pleasant place to live, with lots of green spaces. Today half of Vienna consists of green space.
Going forward, however, the sheer scale of the requirements is going to present a real challenge. By 2030, Vienna is expected to have to accommodate 200,000 additional residents and meanwhile its existing population is aging. The cost of financing social programmes is therefore likely to skyrocket. And how can you reduce energy consumption and maintain living standards with this kind of population increase? ‟We need to innovate if we want to find an answer to these challenges,” stressed Pia Hlava.
The need to nurture startups in the social field
Austria boasts a dynamic startup scene which the government has been supporting on a massive scale. According to the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), 37,120 new companies were created in the country in 2014, double the annual figure 20 years ago, says ABA.
Vienna has in fact nurtured a number of startups that have now come of age, including wearables developer Runtastic, online payment solution provider Paysafecard, fitness band maker Jaha, and digital entertainment company Bwin. It also hosts several well-known events such as the Pioneers Festival, an international gathering where startups meet investors, encouraging smart city momentum in the capital.
‟Overall, Vienna has an aging population, but nevertheless the young people’s age bracket is growing as a share of the population. This create challenges but also huge potential! We hope that this new generation will lend its voice in calling for better ways of living together,” said Pia Hlava.
"In addition, Smart City Vienna aims to achieve greater social cohesion and quality of life (…) In Vienna, we will achieve this goal through social participation and by the provision of services which meet human needs.”
[Excerpt from an article signed by Mayor Michael Häupl as part of a presentation of the Smart City Wien (Smart City Vienna) programme]
So when are we going to see the next Austrian champion in smart equipment for the home or the silver economy? This is what the city authorities behind Smart City Wien are hoping for. ‟We’re ready to support every type of innovation and provide a framework to foster its development over the long term. However, we’re not interested in technology for its own sake, there has to be a socially useful aspect,” stressed Pia Hlava.Une smart city portée par l’État fédéral autrichien et la municipalité de Vienne
Smart City project driven by both municipal and national government
Last but not least, Smart City Vienna, like any smart city, has set out to optimise the city’s ways of working, not least to reduce overall energy consumption and make greater use of renewable energy technologies. Vienna already tops the list of least polluted cities in Europe.
Obviously, such fundamental issues go much further than the city boundaries and the Austrian central government has been working hand-in-hand on this with the city authorities. The Smart City Wien programme, with its objectives of setting clear targets and supporting the implementation of real actions, is the fruit of a cooperation agreement between the central government and the Vienna authorities drawn up in 2013.
Ranking of 23 European cities on sustainable development by Soot Free For The Climate
Vienna is also a member of a consortium of European cities that are leaders in the field of energy savings, the aim being to share knowledge at international level. The TRANSFORM programme brings together players from both the public and private sectors of six European cities and helps them to implement their Smart City strategies so as to reach the European Union’s ‘20/20/20’ Energy targets – i.e. a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 1990 levels, 20% of overall energy consumption to be based on renewable sources, and a 20% increase in energy efficiency, all by 2020.
It would seem therefore that, judging by public sector efforts at least, Vienna has every chance of becoming a prominent player in Europe’s Smart City scene.