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Climate Neutral City Incubators celebrated in Rotterdam

15 September 2022

For European cities aiming to achieve climate neutrality, the challenges are vast and the obstacles are clear to all. Nevertheless, the European smart cities of Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Glasgow (Scotland), Umeå (Sweden) and their partners from Brno (Czech Republic), Parma (Italy) and Gdańsk (Poland) may have some answers to share about the first steps toward climate neutrality. Last week, the cities met in Rotterdam to celebrate the conclusion of the smart city project RUGGEDISED.

In the heart of Rotterdam’s smart demonstration district Hart van Zuid, partners of the EU funded project RUGGEDISED gathered in the Rotterdam Ahoy convention centre to hear an official welcome welcome from Hermineke van Bockxmeer, Director of Urban Development for the City of Rotterdam. In this welcome speech, she compared working in large and innovative European projects to the Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in the same location in 2021:

“The song contest started with the social goal of bringing people together after the war. Today, the question of how to build a sustainable Europe, is more relevant than ever, and Ahoy has been an accelerator in raising awareness about sustainability.”

A springboard for cities

The RUGGEDISED Project Coordinator, Albert Engels from the City of Rotterdam, focused on how the project could be seen as a springboard for cities and why innovative partnerships, like RUGGEDISED, are indispensable for the transformation of cities (see slides). This sentiment was echoed by Klaus Kubeczko of AIT (see slides):

“In RUGGEDISED, technology has helped, but it has not only been about technology - it has been about solutions. We have established support structures like urban innovation platforms and urban data platforms,” shared Kubeczko before highlighting how RUGGEDISED has worked as a public-private incubator of sorts, setting cities on a path to climate neutrality.

The three cities of Glasgow, Umeå and Rotterdam shared different overviews of their projects, with Rotterdam focusing on the extensive work done in Rotterdam’s ‘Heart of South’ (see slides). Meanwhile, Glasgow focused on the many different impacts of RUGGEDISED (see slides) and Umeå shared a quiz with the participants on various developments in Umeå.

The first part of the day finished with Adriaan Slob and Tess Tjokrodikromo from TNO, sharing how they had worked with the Lighthouse Cities on wide-scale innovation in urban areas. The presentation focused on the innovation capacity in cities (see slides) and also pointed to several guides prepared by TNO in collaboration with other RUGGEDISED partners.

Smart Change in cities

In RUGGEDISED, the Lighthouse Cities have not developed innovative solutions on their own. The cities of Parma, Gdańsk and Brno began the project to learn from the Lighthouse Cities, but have since become inspirations in their own right. Daniel Cassolà from ISINNOVA - the Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems - discussed how the cities have worked to ‘become smart’ (see slides), before each city then showcased their efforts.

Brno, represented by Lukáš Grůza, focused on its work in the Špitálka Smart district (see slides), and how that project has moved from ambitious hope to a clear plan, including a timeline for finding financing, hosting several rounds of workshops and creating collaboration in the city.

Joanna Zbierska from the City of Gdańsk presented ‘The second life of Lastadia’, and highlighted how the lessons learnt from RUGGEDISED have supported Gdańsk in succeeding with a comprehensive thermal modernisation of a gymnasium building from 1837 (see slides).

The city of Parma, represented by Marco Mordacci, relayed how the city has worked strategically on stakeholder engagement, counting both key city officials and citizens. The majority of the RUGGEDISED efforts took place through the Initiative Parma Futuro, with Parma succeeding in being chosen as one of the cities in the European Commission’s Cities Mission (see slides).

Following a debate between the Fellow Cities, Ghazal Etminan of AIT also introduced the audience to a peer-to-peer opportunity offered by Scalable Cities (see slides) (see website).

Upscaling smart cities to climate neutral cities

During the second half of the day, the sessions focused on various ways to upscale from individual RUGGEDISED solutions to the systemic change needed to expand smart cities’ thinking and approach towards climate neutrality.

First, RISE Sweden presented the concept of Innovation Platforms and how they can support cities embarking on smart city endeavours such as RUGGEDISED. Presented by Magnus Johansson from RISE (see slides), the presentation facilitated a panel discussion between the Lighthouse Cities on how the Urban Innovation Platforms should be placed within city structures.

Next, a debate was organised with support from Scalable Cities in which several guest speakers shared their view on bridging the current gap between climate-neutrality ambitions and financing.

“You need to understand the different types of investors and what their perspectives are, and if you understand that, then it will be a lot easier to have these conversations,” said Jonas Onland from the Association of Dutch Municipalities after pointing out that large institutional investors are in a prime position to boost current developments in cities following last year’s COP26.

“We need to see how we can create specific tools to implement smart city policies: tools that can aggregate a portfolio of projects to reach a critical mass as well as tools that deal with projects at different levels of maturity in a way in which we can discuss them with investors,” said Philippe Fournand, of Blue-Sight, who is currently coordinating the Scalable Cities Secretariat on behalf of the European Commission.

“We can only do that by working together. You should not only look for what you need to invest to become climate neutral, but also make sure you create a so-called bankable city in order for private investors to come with their ideas on how to turn the picture around,” shared Monique van der Voort from the City of Hague.

“We need to view this as a proper crisis [ed: climate change] and treat it as such. I think then we can start taking the right measures and be agile,” explained Laura Platenkamp from Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Find all the pictures from the event on FLICKR.

The final RUGGEDISED event was continued with study tours in Rotterdam and at the Recharge Earth Conference