At the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) Mayors Summit, which took place as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities, 130 mayors and deputy mayors confirmed their political leadership to build greener, digital, and more resilient cities, through ICC. Click to see the recording of the session and download the Summary report.
Dana Eleftheriadou, head of Advanced Technologies Team at the European Commission’s DG GROW and Christophe Rouillon, the Committee of the Region rapporteur for the Recovery and Resilience Facility, and mayor of Coulaines in France, opened the Summit by emphasising the key role participating cities play in driving the European Green Deal. By investing in technological innovations, cities can contribute to achieving the new European Union’s climate ambitions, such as reducing CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Ms Eleftheriadou pointed out that “Europe will emerge stronger from the crisis through investing in the technologies that will deliver the climate neutrality such as clean technologies, hydrogen, energy efficiency, green manufacturing, renewable energy, circular economy, intelligent energy storage, robotics, empowered by Artificial Intelligence and data analytics. All in all, science and technology are our best allies to succeed in the transition towards a better, greener and socially responsible future.”
The event continued with inspiring keynotes from two mentor city deputy mayors that showcased the leading role cities can play in the transformation of the local socio-economic systems to bolster green and sustainable growth. The vice-mayor of the City of Haarlemmermeer in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, Marja Ruigrok, emphasised the power of sharing experiences and best practices between different cities and regions. Her motto is “if you’re not able to share, you cannot multiply.” That is why she is enthusiastic for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area taking part in the Intelligent Cities Challenge, as mentors, but also as a great source of inspiration Ms Ruigrok shared three lessons from her region’s journey towards becoming more intelligent and green:
- Involve all relevant stakeholders: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Use technology for the benefit of citizens, not the other way around: “Focus on the people first, and not only on the technology.”
- Never waste a good crisis: “Even when times are hard, push your ambitions to create a better, more inclusive economically sustainable world.”
The other keynote speaker was the deputy mayor of Barcelona, Laia Bonet, who underlined the connections between digital innovation and ecological transition, while also emphasising the inequalities created by the ‘digital divide’. Ms Bonet presented a study which showed that in Barcelona age, gender, income and education all play a fundamental role in citizens’ access to the internet and digital tools. The coronavirus pandemic functions as a “stress test that forced us to review our relationship with our planet and with technology; the pandemic has exposed what works, and what doesn’t work.”
Ms Bonet also shared her takeaways on a green and sustainable transition, powered by technological innovation:
- The social dimension of digitalisation needs to be placed at the heart of the recovery: “We can only effectively digitalise our European economies if they work for everyone, and to do so we need to foster digital inclusion.”
- The tech sector’s contribution to the climate emergency needs to be recognised: “We need to stop thinking about digital innovation as something separate from climate action, and work on reducing the environmental footprint of companies in this sector.”
The Mayors’ Summit concluded with a thematic panel on the recovery plan. Mayors and deputy-mayors from various ICC cities discussed the role cities play in national recovery plans, and how cities must engage different stakeholders and use advanced technologies to promote the green and sustainable growth of their industries and businesses.
- The mayor of the Finnish city of Pori, Aino-Maija Luukkonen, discussed how Pori is supporting the transformation of education to foster the skills needed by high-tech companies. She stressed that “New curricula are needed urgently that would integrate digital and green skills, and competences in circular economy and climate action; intensive collaboration amongst the stakeholders is a key factor to a successful outcome of the recovery.”
- The mayor of the Belgian city of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, discussed his city’s ambition to become a leader on urban climate change adaptation and mitigation by becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Mr Ridouani outlined how his city is not only redesigning its mobility plan and promoting cycling but also increasing the number of local organisations working on climate-related issues as well as poverty and social housing, bringing what the mayor calls “inclusive innovation” to the forefront of the city’s agenda.
- Vojko Obersnel, mayor of the Croatian Rijeka discussed how the city managed to transform itself through EU projects and stressed the importance of the ICC in continuing this urban transformation. He also emphasised the importance of social and digital inclusion, sharing Rijeka’s experience in reskilling older citizens to become acquainted with new technologies.
- Michalis Koupas, deputy mayor of Thessaloniki in Greece, and Tjaša Ficko, deputy Mayor of Ljubljana in Slovenia, explained how their cities have dealt with the COVID-19 crisis and have built resilience. Mr Koupas described how Thessaloniki’s municipality was operating in spite of the lockdown. City council meeting and committees remained active, procurement tenders were running normally, and meetings were held virtually. In addition, the city turned the pandemic into an opportunity to become more digital by digitalising public services and introduced an e-government portal. Right now, its focus is on supporting SMEs that took a hit during the lockdown. Ms Ficko meanwhile stressed the need for cities to stay true to their vision in spite of the pandemic. Ljubljana has green and sustainability objectives at its core. For this reason, the city is pleased to see green and digital at the centre of the EU recovery plans and the ICC.
- Piotr Borawski, deputy mayor of Gdansk in Poland presented his city’s Manifesto for Openness, particularly when it comes to data processing. Mr Borawski explained that “Gdansk tries to provide a lot of data for free. It also collaborates with business and application developers to unlock the potential of data hidden in the city’s IT systems. The city for instance bases its mobility decisions on tracking data from its city card. Such projects are not possible without a relationship of trust between the city and its citizens. Citizens can check how public money is allocated and can actively participate in the decision-making process.
- Magali Altounian, deputy mayor for Nice on the French Côte d’Azur, stressed the importance of keeping the links with the EU in order to tackle the current health crisis. She discussed how Nice’s prominent tourism industry is hit hard by COVID as well as by severe storms and sees a role for the ICC and other European initiatives in helping to overcome these challenges while making tourism more digitally savvy and ecological.
- Filipe Araújo, deputy mayor of Porto, provided best practices from Porto on renewable energy, smart mobility and circular economy. None of these can truly be implemented without fit-for-purpose digital platforms and collaboration with a strong business ecosystem. Mr Araújo strongly believes that “there are a lot of opportunities where cities can pilot, to foster the economy and connect the stakeholders. To reach the objectives that the Green Deal proposes, we need strong businesses and industry”.
DG GROW’s Dana Eleftheriadou closed the Summit emphasising that the green and digital transitions go hand-in-hand and that local governments, citizens, social economy actors, industry and SMEs play a key role in the recovery plans, because “there is no one recipe, every city is unique”, and that even though it is good to share best practices cities need to “stay focused on their own vision and plans.”