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The Magazine

Urban administration

Mayors in charge make smart cities happen

They are still a minority. But more and more female mayors are heading Europe´s largest cities – from Paris to Prague, and from Gothenburg and Tampere to Madrid and Barcelona.

Four women, in charge of major European cities, committed to sustainable urban development, share news of smart city projects and talk about the problems they are facing in their hometowns. How are they making their cities more ecological and smarter? We spoke to Mayor Ann-Sofie Hermansson of Gothenburg; Mayor Adriana Krnáčová of Prague; Mayor Anna-Kaisa Ikonen of Tampere; and Mayor Manuela Carmena of Madrid.

Ann-Sofie Hermansson, Mayor of Gothenburg

What is the greatest challenge you are facing in Gothenburg?

The most pressing challenge is creating a truly sustainable transport system. Over the next 15 to 20 years, an ambitious infrastructure investment plan will be implemented in Gothenburg. This will make transportation, not least public transport, much more efficient. Rail capacity, for example, will be drastically enhanced.

Regarding vehicles, I believe that electrification, and probably also autonomous driving will contribute strongly to long-term sustainability. Through the “ElectriCity” project, we have established the first electric bus route in Gothenburg. The “Drive Me” project will facilitate a real-world test of self-driving cars on the roads of the city. I am happy to note that Volvo Group and Volvo Cars, the two Gothenburg-based vehicle manufacturers, are now spearheading developments in these fields.

What has been your greatest achievement as mayor so far?

Bearing in mind that I have held office for less than a year, I am quite proud of the innovative spirit of this city when it comes to creating new, sustainable solutions in various fields. We have a world-leading green-tech cluster. We are pioneers in areas like green bonds, smart district heating, and energy-efficient housing. I have also been able to make progress in strengthening collaboration between the different actors involved in pushing the sustainability agenda.

Gothenburg’s ElectriCity program is creating sustainable transportation solutions.

What can other cities learn from Gothenburg?

There is a collaborative attitude in Gothenburg. Dialog is a priority. Companies, trade unions, academia, politicians, and other actors talk to each other on a regular basis. If cooperation is needed, which is often the case when implementing sustainable systems and structures, most actors are willing and able to contribute. This makes it relatively easy for the city as a whole to deliver. Other cities could benefit from investing more actively in this type of collaboration.

Mayor Adriana Krnáčová of Prague

What is the greatest challenge you are facing in Prague?

We want Prague to become a smart city and I think we're going in the right direction. We have created the Smart Prague platform and initiated the creation of Better Cities, a platform where cities across the Czech Republic share experiences and know-how relating to smart solutions. At the moment, we are at the stage of testing the first specific projects. The “smartification” of the city is rather a long-running issue, and since we have set about doing it, we want to conclude it successfully.

What has been your greatest achievement as mayor so far?

There were several issues that remained unresolved for years, and we managed to solve them successfully. One of them was an almost banal item, the public transport card. The city was paying a lot of money for it, but since we did not own it, we were not able to develop it further in any way either. So we created our own card, which is more cost-efficient and allows us to administer the program responsibly. We were also burdened with a longstanding unfavorable contract for the lease of a municipal building, Škodův palác. Not only did we manage to rectify that, but we are also planning the construction of our own building, which will meet all the criteria of a 21st century administrative complex.

The city of Prague participates in the Better Cities platform, sharing information with other areas on Smart Solutions.

What can other cities learn from Prague?

We have a great public transport system, which makes Prague the city of short distances. We are good at appealing to the tourists who enjoy coming back here. We are consistently ranked among the best places to live. Generally, Prague shows the importance of being capable of tackling a variety of challenges.

Anna-Kaisa Ikonen, Mayor of Tampere

What is the greatest challenge you are facing in Tampere?

Tampere is both a city with a strong industrial background and the center of ICT know-how in Finland. Digitalization and the Internet of Things have brought drastic changes to the business and industrial sectors. Added to this has been an economic recession that has had a negative impact on the employment rate. Our challenge is to help renew the processes of traditional industries and to develop the education system in order for companies to benefit from digitalization and to ensure they have access to a workforce with the right skill sets.

What has been your greatest achievement as mayor so far?

We have started big development projects that enable sustainable growth, and which serve as platforms and as “living labs” for smart city developments. A brand-new traffic tunnel that bypasses the whole city will free up space for a new housing area by the lake and near services. A light rail will become the backbone of smart mobility; and in 2017, we will start construction on a deck above the railway tracks passing through the city. It will include a multipurpose arena and private housing, with innovative solutions, of course.

Projects in the city of Tampere serve as “living labs” for creating a smart city.

What can other cities learn from Tampere?

Medium-sized cities can be the agile leaders of smart city development. Tampere is big enough to work as a development ground and small enough for different organizations to work together towards a common goal. We have a long history of collaboration between academia and the private sector. Our Smart Tampere program opens our challenges for joint development, and we have created a road map for future digitalization and innovative procurement. This enables companies to use the city as a platform and as a reference for their own innovations.

Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid

What is the greatest challenge you are facing in Madrid?

Air pollution is one of the biggest challenges. We are working on an ambitious air quality and climate change plan that includes improving pedestrian and cyclist mobility, promoting cleaner transport technologies (electric mobility and alternative fuels), developing renewable energy, and putting the city on track for energy self-sufficiency by 2030. One aspect of this plan is the program “Madrid + Natural”. We have studied the expected impacts of climate change on Madrid in terms of reduction of rainfall or heat waves. Faced with the impact of climate change, this program presents the vision of an urban network of natural solutions and a well-developed system of green infrastructures linking public space, parks, natural areas, and buildings with vegetation on roofs and facades.

What has been your greatest achievement as mayor so far?

We have introduced a change of consciousness and attitudes towards environmental problems among the inhabitants of this city. The first sign that environmental awareness is changing in Madrid was the very positive public reaction to the measures applied during recent episodes of high pollution, including speed limits or the reduction of cars in the center.

Madrid is on track for energy self-sufficiency by 2020.

What can other cities learn from Madrid?

Madrid is participating in some very interesting international projects, co-financed by the EU, using intelligent city tools, which provide a framework for innovation and mutual learning. One of these is ECCENTRIC, within the framework of European cooperation Horizon 2020, with Madrid as the coordinating city of the project. It studies innovative measures to be implemented in a pilot area of five participating cities – Madrid (Spain), Munich (Germany), Ruse (Bulgaria), Stockholm (Sweden) and Turku (Finland) – to improve mobility in peripheral districts. The project in Madrid will make a great contribution in terms of sustainable modes of mobility (cycling and pedestrians) and the integration of new technologies in urban mobility services. Also interesting is the IKAAS Project, which introduces new systems to monitor air quality in Madrid, in particular, through the installation of sensors on buses of the Municipal Transportation Company EMT.

Manuel Meyer works in Spain for the Austrian Press Agency.
Picture credits: Siemens AG, Getty