Hack into the Future – Helsinki’s Kalasatama providing one blueprint for tomorrow

Smart Cities deliver the goods to the citizens via innovative energy, traffic and waste management solutions – among other things. In the age of IoT, there is no telling how far and how high Smart Cities can go.

Professor Boyd Cohen is a leading expert on Smart Cities, having devoted much of his time and effort to the issue since 2011. He perceives three phases in the evolution of the Smart City. The first phase is technology-driven, meaning, in essence, that you look for technological innovations to transform cities into highly efficient havens for innovators. Nevertheless, cities eventually come to realize that while hi-tech is a great tool, it is not the be-all, end-all solution one had hoped for. Enter: a new model (Smart City 2.0) with technology as an enabler, yes, but with the city firmly in the driver’s seat.

Still, Cohen has observed recently that there are cities striving to go even further. There’s more and more evidence to suggest that “Smart City 3.0” is emerging, as leading smart cities are beginning to embrace citizen co-creation models that put community into the DNA of the next generation of smart cities.

“The biggest thing I have seen lately is a shift from top-down tech driven approaches to more co-creation with citizens and entrepreneurs,” says Cohen, adding that this transition is best embodied by the sharing cities movement.

Mixing It Up

Visit Helsinki / Jussi Hellsten

Visit Helsinki / Jussi Hellsten

According to Boyd Cohen, a blend of Smart Cities 2.0 and Smart Cities 3.0 probably represent the best chance for the future. This means, for instance, that city administrators need to continue to lead by example, supporting the growth of broadband digital infrastructure, wireless networks, e-gov and m-gov services and IoT sensor networks. But that’s just for starters.

‘In Cohen’s opinion, cities need to continue to embrace the innovative capacity of their residents – the end-users of the urban interface, if you will – who are able to detect “bugs in the system” well before the city administrators can. The citizens can also work collaboratively to fix the problems and improve the city with rapid, cost-effective innovations.

Cohen’s core message to all Smart Cities is this: you must move from treating citizens as recipients of services (or even as customers, as we hear so often now) and start treating them as participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life.

Who’s The Smartest?

More often than not, Cohen looks to the North for answers. When he rounded up the world’s smartest cities for Fast Company in 2015, Helsinki scored the highest points in a survey that featured 62 indicators. The results are far from conclusive – with only 11 cities responding to the survey questions in time – but it is still no small feat to beat other pioneering smart cities (such as Copenhagen, Barcelona and Singapore) in the race.

According to Cohen, Helsinki is “solid smart” all around, but really shines is the “Smart Government” arena. The city is championing the cause of open data in a way that is nothing short of revolutionary: presently, there are more than 1,200 open datasets for the citizens, communities and companies to use as they will. And what’s more, the City of Helsinki is actively promoting engagement with developers through various means, such as innovation-spouting hackathons.

The Case for Kalasatama

One specific local neighborhood that has impressed Cohen is the new Kalasatama District in Helsinki. Hand-picked to be a national pilot project for smart cities, ‘Smart Kalasatama’ combines renewable energy, Smart Grid technology, electric cars and smart traffic solutions to form a true green-edge community.

“There are exciting inner city transformations occurring in cities throughout the globe – and Kalasatama District is a good example of this trend,” Cohen says.

According to Cohen, Kalasatama appears to have all the makings of a success story: a former harbor/industrial area in a prime location with excellent connectivity that can, conceivably, transform into a waterfront diamond.

Experience Edge

Jussi Hellsten, Visit Helsinki

Jussi Hellsten, Visit Helsinki

Another international guru that seems convinced by Kalasatama’s chances of making it big is Joe Pine, co-author of the paradigm-shattering book The Experience Economy.

“I love the idea of Kalasatama as a co-creation platform and living laboratory,” he says. What’s more, Pine is ready to buy into the Kalasatama “brand promise” of gaining an extra hour for each day:

“The goal of being so resource-wise as to save the residents an hour every day is wonderful in today’s seemingly time-starved world,” he points out.

According to Pine, a lot of the inner workings of Smart Cities are quite in line with the themes of his book, Mass Customization. “Smart cities are really about mass customizing the city’s resources to individual citizens, creating greater value for them and thereby receiving greater value from them in their own contributions to the city, its environment, and its experience,” he sums up.

Value Comes First

Like Cohen, Pine is no die-hard believer in the omnipotence of technology. He concedes that the Smart City movement has arisen because the state of technological advance is rapidly enabling sensors to be placed anywhere, data to be gathered about anything, and individuals to be connected anywhere (at any time). But – and this is one audacious ‘but’ – technology is not the foremost issue in realizing the vision of a truly Smart City:

“It is, first of all, a question of value – offering access to not just the physical and digital assets of the city, but to services, experiences, and – the most highly valued offering of all – transformations,” Pine believes.

“Second of all, bringing about the Smart City is a question of organization – requiring cities to go beyond hierarchy-bound models of mass production and even quality-infused models of continuous improvement to embrace individual-centric models of mass customization.”

Third issue on Pine’s list is management – one must throw off the dictums of traditional managing that governments so desperately cling to and develop a way of managing that regenerates value, organization, and, ultimately, “even managing itself”. According to Pine, one must address these three key issues first, and then – and only then – can one fall in love with the technology.

Opening Up to the World

Esteve Almirall, Director of the Center for Innovation in Cities at ESADE business school in Barcelona, is yet another global Smart City expert who believes that Finland and Scandinavia are in a good position in the race towards Smart.

“However, this is a global movement, not a local one,” he points out. Almirall has only passing familiarity with Kalasatama, but he is aware of Helsinki’s progressive Open Data policies – and gives the Finnish capital two thumbs up for her foresight.

Almirall has identified numerous Smart City trends which are a dead-on match for Kalasatama. Primary among these are sharing economy and participation. Talking about the sharing economy, Almirall notes that it is fast shifting to the mobilization of idle resources through platforms that allow them to be marketed with very little effort. Linking with this “uberization”, there is, of course, participation.

“Just as technology has torn down barriers to market entry for many people, it has also enabled mass participation and consultation.” Almirall observes that our (Western) political systems are more than 300 years old, so perhaps an upgrade would not be such a bad idea.

Going Deeper

How about the natives then? How do the Finns feel about their chances in the Smart revolution? Professor Alf Rehn, one of the leading business thinkers in North Europe, believes that Finnish urban infrastructure and digital prowess provide a great platform for all things smart.

“At the same time, one has to keep in mind that Smart City is not just about taking solid infrastructure and adding a digital layer on top of that. Genuine Smart City thinking requires deeper commitment,” he says.

In Rehn’s mind, Kalasatama is an interesting experiment in many regards. ”The best thing about the Kalasatama project is that there is clear and concise measurement involved. It’s also a comprehensive, controlled effort to promote the smart city ideology.”

Do the Twist

As the smart city movement keeps evolving, Rehn – known for his penchant for playing the devil’s advocate – is eager to see something unexpected emerge from all of this.

“That could mean companies and communities who are truly creating something totally new in the smart interfaces – or young people that are learning to hack their way into smart space.”

I have seen the future – now let’s hack it?

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