Karl-Filip Coenegrachts: Creating a smart city — local initiative is most important

— But Ghent is a small city. How can such smart technologies be implemented in such metropolises as Moscow, from your point of view? 

— By taking it step by step, the same as in London, for instance: they do have strong co-creation projects based on new developments or redevelopments of certain parts of the city. Moscow also has new developments – so, take new philosophy in new developments making use of future proof technologies and data management strategy, and it is open enough to make new evolutions for the future, creating new environment to enable everyone to innovate the city in societal, economical and technological sense.


— In many cities there exist energy efficient projects: smart lighting, water supply, heating… What is more important – to attract an interested investor or an intellectual basis, the implementation of digital technologies?

— Equally important, but first you need an infrastructure to be able to create applications, energy grids, communication networks – all technological assets needed for the future. And on top of that applications are built which influence the development of the infrastructure, so it goes in both directions, and it is a constant process.


— What is the share of state and private financing in environment development projects?

— In Ghent, about 30% — PPP, about 60% — public funding — professional, regional, and 10% also public funding from other levels of government.


Please, tell some details about the creation of the system of horizontal policy: what does the notion include, how does the system provide for the development of a smart city?

Breaking down sectoral and organizational siloes is essential to come up with innovative solutions for smart cities. What we do in Ghent is actually using a living lab methodology meaning that you may gather different market parties at a round table to work on certain real life challenges. We scaled that model to a society level: if mobility is one of the priorities at a certain moment we provide all the data, facts and figures for different companies, start-ups etc., citizens to clear out what is more important to be done taking into account the prospects of further evolution. We have the platform to develop the solutions.


— What is more necessary for the implementation of the innovation solutions of a smart city: carefully developed state legislation in this sphere or is the effort of municipal authorities enough?

— The local effort is more important, but you need cooperation with every level of government. Flexible regulation is necessary to be able to experiment, to prove if the legislation is still actual or it should be adapted. So, it all starts from the local level, the local initiative is primary. Also because of the fact that no two cities are the same.


— Is there a correlation between the creation of smart cities and the economy’s recovery on the whole?

— Absolutely!


— How does the implementation of smart city solutions turn a city from a demanding investment to profitable ones?

— That’s difficult. I suppose there’s hardly any smart city project in the world that proves to be profitable, presently. When looking at a local development, if the smart city applications have been developed by larger companies — I do not think anyone of them has a case to prove that a smart solution has been profitable. It was predicted that the “Open data” would create a profit of $80 bln — I’d like to see a first euro, actually. Which does not mean that in the near future the new business models will not be profitable. The profit is more on the societal level — when you create a solution for a problem that has existed for ages. That’s the value.


— There is information that the economic effect from the application of smart technologies is about 10–15% in some years? That is a kind of delayed profit: how, from your point of view, to convince an investor and the authorities that it will do a lot of good for them (if they do not receive their margin at once) and for people? (there are only 2 multifamily blocks of flats in Moscow built with the use of smart technologies)

— There is certainly income, but not on smart city solutions. First of all it is a societal income — meaning that a lot of start-ups increase income because they have an opportunity to work in the city. We get more business, we get more business models, most of the companies are scaling — and that’s the real value. They may be focused on different things, not a smart city idea, - for instance, mobility. But the platform of a smart city offers great opportunities for the development.


— Moscou — is one of the districts in Ghent. Are there any projects of the complex development of urban environment implemented there and which could be taken by Moscow - the capital?

— Not really big projects. It is only a small part of our city. There is a part of a train station which is under redevelopment presently.


— Does the size of the city matter for the successful implementation of intellectual solutions?

— It is easier to implement all the solutions in a smaller city: actually we know how the whole of the city works, we are very motivated individual people who are really involved in those projects because it is their city. That makes it easier. On the other hand, I do not see any reason why projects we implement would not work in the city like Moscow. You should create some districts to experiment first and then use the results in other districts.


— So, you think that creating a smart city is based mainly on the idea of open society. Do people in Ghent take an active part in crowd-funding projects?

— Yes, but it is not the main source of income, it’s an additional source, not for big infrastructure projects. It is mainly used for small ideas implementation.


Thank you very much, that was very interesting.

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