Catalyst for sustainable cities and regions

Zukunftsfähige Städte und Regionen
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The Fraunhofer Morgenstadt initiative highlights strategic measures that aim to achieve broad implementation of digital and sustainable urban development

Cities are some of the biggest emitters of CO2 – and that makes them a powerful lever in the fight against global warming. The team behind the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s Morgenstadt initiative recently published a position paper that aims to help German municipalities fast-track the implementation of sustainable urban development and digitalization. The goal of this new publication is to pool existing solutions, make them accessible and financially viable for municipalities and cities everywhere, and create new capacities.

Back in 2010, the German federal government presented an innovation project entitled “The CO2-neutral, energy-efficient and climate-adapted city” as part of its High-Tech Strategy. Since then, the ten institutes involved in the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s Morgenstadt initiative – coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO – have been working with partners from industry and municipalities to come up with solutions for the city of the future. “So far the bulk of this development work has taken place in living labs and through public funding schemes. But what we need now is a concerted approach capable of disseminating this initiative more widely,” says Professor Wilhelm Bauer, head of Fraunhofer IAO and spokesman for the Morgenstadt initiative. “To help make this a reality, we have published a position paper that brings together all the research expertise we have accumulated over the past ten years. It sets out a strategy that calls on government, research and industry to pool their efforts to the greatest degree possible.”

Pooling expertise in sustainable solutions and making it accessible and viable

Under the heading of “Sustainable cities and regions: a new strategy for the broad implementation of sustainable urban development in Germany”, the position paper presents findings from ten years of systems research. The strategy is based on the following five key fields of action:

  • Structured information systems: Municipalities require support in planning, procuring and implementing sustainable solutions. The key is to provide them with all the information they need on these solutions in a compact and structured format.
  • Flexible investment vehicles: Enabling small and medium-sized municipalities to procure and introduce sustainable solutions is vital – for example by providing financing in the form of sustainability funds.
  • Intersectoral training: Representatives of municipalities and industry need the right qualifications to enable them to plan sustainable solutions and implement and operate them efficiently. Appropriate intersectoral training and development courses must therefore be developed.
  • Commercial scalability: The sharing of experience and knowledge should be coordinated centrally on both a national and international level.
  • Consistent quality assurance: Municipalities are seeking appropriate, high-quality solutions that meet their needs. That requires a system that can guarantee both the quality and the interoperability of these solutions.

The authors of the position paper suggest that the best way to fulfil these five objectives is to combine a cross-sectoral coordination center with new solution architectures and investment and qualification programs that promote innovation. The team of experts also recommends establishing a national data competence center to provide secure and neutral data architectures for running smart city applications. Eva Ottendörfer, the Morgenstadt Network Coordinator at Fraunhofer IAO, explains what they hope to achieve: “The lessons learned in the coronavirus crisis have given added impetus to efforts to open a new chapter in the development of sustainable cities and regions. As we move forward, sustainability technologies have the potential to form a key pillar of Germany’s future success as a hub of innovation and industry.”

Recommendation to begin initial steps this year

The team of experts behind the Morgenstadt initiative insist that the two key measures outlined above should be implemented within the next 36 months. With digitalization continuing apace – and development already underway on the first municipal data platforms for smart city development – the researchers recommend that the first step in the coming months should be to set up the center of excellence for data to ensure the rapid provision of a common data governance framework. The second step they propose is to establish the cross-sectoral agency to tackle scaling and replication.