EU cities will become 'smart' if they learn from each other

Harnessing the potential of Europe's cities requires EU-wide cooperation, argues Roberto Viola.

Smart city | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Roberto Viola

01 Jun 2017

Two thirds of Europeans live in a city, but not all cities are smart cities. Smart cities improve people's lives - from finding parking spots or avoiding traffic jams to saving energy in buildings. Using digital technology in cities will lead to better quality of life, more growth in an innovative economy, and to a greener, more sustainable society. 

Ideally, the best way for a city to become 'smart' should be based on an open, competitive, and innovation-friendly approach and involve citizens. Furthermore, cities will be able to be more resource-efficient if they work together across Europe to share their experiences and learn from each other. 

As I wrote in a previous article for this magazine, there are well-developed smart cities in Europe but they are isolated. This is still the case, but we have made a lot of progress at EU level to change that.


The European Union has continued to invest in ICT research and innovation and has developed policies to improve the quality of life of citizens and make cities more sustainable in view of Europe's 20-20-20 targets.

Under Horizon 2020, almost 30 European cities now receive more than €200m of EU-funding to deploy and replicate other cities' solutions with a focus on energy, mobility and digital technology.

Digitalisation of infrastructures and processes with a focus on citizens' needs is at the core of urban transformation. To ensure that such solutions are competitive, cost-effective and do not lead to a lock-in of users, there is a need for a certain level of openness and interoperability.

The European innovation partnership on smart cities and communities has established cooperation of around 50 industry players and 100 cities called 'urban platforms', which aims at ensuring that necessary levels of interoperability and openness become the norm.

This partnership is now bearing fruit: cities have developed and tested joint requirements for urban-platforms and they are working on supporting tools towards a fast roll-out of this key enabling technology. In addition, vendors have developed a first draft of architecture specifications that could lead to a common standard.

These developments also demonstrate the emerging role of data as the main currency of a city economy, just like in the economy at large. In order to respond to the broader data challenge, the Commission launched a communication on the data economy in January. 

This is an effort to look at the rules and regulations that impede the free flow of data, and the initiative identifies cities as key drivers of the data economy in Europe. 

Mobility and transport are a key sector of urban activity and an area that is undergoing fast transformation with vehicle automation and connectivity being core elements of this development.

Its impact on cities is expected to be revolutionary, for example with new modes of mobility, more efficient energy use and space allocation, and less congestion.

These initiatives run in parallel with other important actions like creating connectivity for a European gigabit society that includes the 5G action plan, or our efforts on the Internet of Things. They all represent core technologies and platforms in city infrastructures and economies and they are closely linked to our objective of establishing the 'once only principle' for public administrations online. 

The coming months will be busy with making progress on the implementation of all above-mentioned activities. We need to ensure that cities firstly play a driving role in putting forward requirements and testing new solutions and, secondly, benefit fully from relevant technological developments.

The challenges for cities have increased drastically over the last few years but the digital tools at their disposal have never been better. A strategic approach with a clear focus on their individual needs can make their efforts pay off. 

However, only joint action and demand aggregation can produce faster, better and cheaper solutions with improved returns and benefits. We encourage all actors in Europe to further cooperate and engage to reap the benefits of the potential that smart cities offer.


Read the most recent articles written by Roberto Viola - Letting 5G flourish