28 June 2022

A new approach to knowledge sharing was successfully tested at the 5th Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) City Lab. For the first time, speakers from mentor cities – namely those that previously participated in the Digital Cities Challenge – used their experience to lead several thematic sessions throughout the first week of the City Lab.

Representatives from Porto (Portugal), Rijeka (Croatia), Toronto (Canada), Singapore, Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (Netherlands), Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Antwerp (Belgium) and Milan (Italy) spoke about their initiatives and offered advice for attending cities to consider as they launch their own efforts.

Hearing from the ICC Mentor Cities

Digital experimentation in Porto

Sara Mendes, Head of Innovation Management from the City of Porto, led the thematic session titled “Experimentation ecosystem for development of digital services.” She discussed the city’s toolbox called Porto Digital, which has inspired initiatives like SYNCHRONICITY. The platform serves as a global digital single market for Internet of Things (IoT) enabled urban services. More projects are also now in progress, including the tourism tool ‘Explore Porto’ and the democratic problem-solving platform ‘Desafios Porto’.

The key takeaway from the session was that experimentation is the first step toward replication, and eventual scalability of initiatives for other cities pursuing a digital transition. Following Ms Mendes’s presentation, attendees discussed the culture that must be created in a city to support an experimental approach.

Skills development in Rijeka

Iva Ribarić, Advisor for Project Implementation and Promotional Activities, Department of Entrepreneurship from the City of Rijeka, and Nenad Antolović, Director, Centre of Competences for Smart Cities, led the session on “Upskilling and reskilling – examples of good practices.” Through projects such as RInovatoRI, Rijeka has been able to develop an entrepreneurial culture and knowledge base among youth and connect economic entities with research institutions to work together on development projects in smart cities. The discussion at the end of the session focused on how Rijeka has used KPIs to evaluate the success of these two programmes.

Addressing the digital divide and circularity in Toronto

Nabeel Ahmed and Hamish Goodwin, Smart City Consultants from the City of Toronto shared the city’s process of bridging the digital divide through their Digital Infrastructure Strategic Framework. Built on key principles that include equity and inclusion, democracy and transparency and digital autonomy, the framework has guided the city’s digital transition.

Sinead Murphy, Senior Project Manager from the City of Toronto then presented the city’s initiatives aimed at circularity, “Toronto Circular Procurement Framework” and “Circular Toronto.” In order to understand the actions they need to take, the city has gathered data through a landscape analysis and crafted a material flow analysis to gauge how resources are currently consumed and disposed of in each sector. Next steps will include targeting waste management and consumption practices based on their findings.

Managing waste and water in Singapore

Joshua Simon, Head of Waste Management, National Environment Agency, spoke about waste management in the city through outlining Singapore’s Zero Waste Master Plan and Singapore Green Plan 2030. Both aim to reduce landfill per capita by closing the resource loops in several sectors. After a successful shift in the construction and demolition waste area, the current focus is on packaging, food and electronic waste. The Extended Producer Responsibility supports this goal by requiring producers to provide circular services, and other initiatives mandate packaging data reporting. Advanced waste processing facilities are another innovation employed by Singapore.

The densely populated city-nation also struggles with water management, especially amidst rising sea levels and during extreme weather. Tang Wanzhen, Deputy Director of Singapore’s National Water Agency PUB, discussed their stormwater collection and reclamation efforts, including diversion canals and retention tanks. To fully utilise their limited surface area, Singapore also deploys solar panels atop water reservoirs. Through all their efforts to decrease the energy requirements and cost of water treatment, Mr Wanzhen says transparency and cooperation with other government agencies has been key.

Finding employment opportunities in Amsterdam

Natalija Counet, Talent Lead at Amsterdam Economic Board, presented three tools that the city has used to upskill, reskill and match workers with employment opportunities. TechConnect helps residents from under-represented groups gain access to jobs in the tech market. The House of Skills monitors the Amsterdam labour market to ensure workers are equipped for the changing employment landscape. Finally, Tomas brings all talent initiatives in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area together on one platform to allow tracking of supply and demand for training programmes. The session ended with a discussion on the logistics required in creating a successful app like Tomas, including political support, data and costs.

Engaging climate conscious citizens in Aarhus

Sara Andersson, Innovation Consultant, Centre for Innovation from the City of Aarhus, led a discussion on “Citizen engagement into the green transition” focused on the city’s climate programme Aarhus Transitions. As part of the 2021-2024 Climate Action Plan, this programme is built around knowledge and education, democracy and community. The city has emphasised building partnerships among community groups, academia, businesses and cultural actors to co-create experimental solutions. Additionally, hands-on climate learning experiences for the city’s youth ensure involvement for future generations. To foster democracy, Aarhus utilises climate citizen assemblies composed of representatively selected citizens.

Urban data in Hamburg

Pierre Gras, Head of Urban Data Hub, Agency for Geoinformation and Surveying, Free and Hanseatic at the City of Hamburg, introduced the city’s Urban Data Platform. The session emphasised the benefits of open and standardised data platforms in supporting innovation and analytics. Hamburg uses a digital ‘twin city’ called Cockpit Social Infrastructure to aid urban planning. The tool operates using an interface that connects the Urban Data Platform and municipal planners to facilitate decision-making.

Michael Fischer, Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Agency for Geoinformation and Surveying, discussed the scalability of this infrastructure and the Urban Data Platform. Attendees were especially interested in the Cockpit Social Infrastructure, and they discussed the benefits at the end of the session.

Human centricity in Antwerp

Michael Desloover, Coordinator Digital Transformation from the City of Antwerp, explained how the city designs their services from a human centric point of view. By using innovation labs, Antwerp has been able to focus their digital acceleration on city users and their needs. One example is the way the city has transformed social services to consider the user experience at every touchpoint.

Decarbonisation efforts in Milan

Marco Persico, Urban Resilience Department, Municipality of Milan, moderated Milan’s session on decarbonisation through digitalisation and citizen engagement. He first outlined Milan’s top concerns, including poor air quality and extreme weather events like flooding and heatwaves. To address these, ensuring consistency across multiple strategies has been essential for Milan.

Isabel Riboldi, Municipality of Milan, and Marta Papetti, AMAT, discussed how the Air Quality and Climate Plan aims to decarbonise the city. Through efforts such as Sharing Cities, EUGUGLE and NRG2PEERS, the city has begun to implement alternative mobility and energy efficiency measures. Across these projects, the city has learned that citizen engagement in processes, interdisciplinary approaches, data collection and sharing and innovative cost models have been key factors contributing to success.

Cities enjoyed having the opportunity to hear from their peers about efforts that have been successful and receive advice for addressing challenges. Knowledge and resource sharing is at the foundation of the ICC’s mission, and these mentor-led sessions were a true reflection of that.