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The direction in which cities are developing – Smart Cities: Vienna and Stockholm

Jan Zimmermann
Jan Zimmermann
Editor of mapolis architecture magazine

Cities are not merely the largest gatherings of human life, they are also highly complex organisms in their own right as the sum of diverse human activity. In order for the organism that is the city to be healthy and to function, it requires intelligent organization of the highest order.

“Smart” in the context of contemporary urban development means acknowledging the complexity of a city and addressing it.

Today’s smart cities and those of tomorrow cannot permit themselves to stake everything on the economy and industry. They have instead to see themselves as holistic structures in which all parts are interconnected and influence one another. With an eye to the future, the topics of sustainability and environmental protection play a particular overarching role in this, as does the technical innovation that is their driving force.

There are two European cities represented at this year’s EXPO REAL that have committed themselves to the idea of just such a holistic “Smart City”. Vienna and Stockholm. Both cities are anticipating enormous population growth in the near future. In order to address this and other challenges, while at the same time realizing the vision of an even greater city, both capitals have set themselves ambitious goals for the future. For all those who cannot wait until EXPO REAL, or who would like to prepare themselves for the discussions in the relevant forums, there follows below a brief glimpse of these city development plans.

Smart they are, but…

compared with other cities both of them are already pretty “smart”. The quality-of-life is very high, the economy and education/research are flourishing and the protection of the environment is not just a matter of recent concern. Stockholm was even proclaimed Europe’s foremost environmental city in 2010. But all that does not mean that one can rest on one’s laurels. Officials in Stockholm and Vienna know that climate change, dwindling resources and international competition mean that despite all their current success things cannot always continue as they have. All the more so as both cities will have to contend with a considerable increase in population numbers within the foreseeable future. For example, by 2030 Vienna is anticipating population growth of more than a quarter of a million (from 1,741,000 in 2013 to 2 million), and Stockholm a population increase from at least 860,000 inhabitants to one million by as early as 2022. So what are these metropolises doing to cope with such numbers while at the same time becoming “better”?


Everything begins with a vision. A few years ago both cities asked themselves the question what they would like to be in future, and how. Back in the Spring of 2006, the city of Stockholm instigated a project, the outcome of which was on desks a year later as “Vision 2030”. By comparison, Vienna was a good deal slower off the mark but compensated for this by taking a 20 year longer view: the “Smart City Initiative” was proclaimed in 2011, ultimately coming to fruition in June 2014 in the form of an agreed outline strategy, with a time horizon extending to 2050. What is true of both blueprints is that they are not in the first instance specific plans for individual initiatives but instead a clear vision of where they want to go. Nevertheless, this vision is the lodestar beckoning to every urban development initiative in the years ahead.2

A comparison of both visions quickly reveals that they share very similar objectives. As however both cities exhibit considerable structural and substantive differences, some of the measures planned, and the ideas for achieving these objectives, are very different. But the biggest difference initially is in the comparatively significantly earlier initiative by Stockholm, on the basis of which a number of major projects are already in hand. By contrast, while Vienna has now given somewhat more tangible expression to its Smart City Vision in the City Development Plan 2025 (STEP 2025), thus far even this plan is only about guidelines and ideas that have yet to be put into effect. These concrete manifestations will recur in the objectives and initiatives described below, as will many instances of what is now built Swedish reality.

Sustainability and environmental protection

As already mentioned, as far back as 2010 Stockholm was honored with the accolade of “European Green Capital” for its efforts as regards sustainability and environmental protection. But it has set itself the yet more ambitious goal of becoming the “World Green Capital” by 2030. By then, vehicles accepted on the road should be almost exclusively clean, and if one doesn’t travel by bicycle then the main way of getting around will be by public transport. The aim is to dispense completely with fossil fuels by 2050. Population growth should have little if any effect on Stockholm’s environment. Vienna has something very similar in mind. With admittedly more modest energy ambitions, 50% of the latter will be derived from renewable sources by 2050, but per capita CO2 emissions will decline from currently 3.1 t to around only one metric ton. Private transport is to be cut from 28 to 15 per cent by 2030 and be based entirely on alternative drive technologies by 2050. Moreover, the intention is to retain Vienna’s 50% proportion of green spaces.

Residential and city life

In terms of residential space, Vienna is looking first and foremost to intelligent management, directing growth to existing potential sites such as inner-city brownfield locations, railway station sites or readily accessible areas on the outskirts. But the plan is also to optimize and develop what already exists, which will primarily affect areas dating from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. One-dimensional use of districts is also to be avoided. Instead, the objective is a polycentric Vienna in which each part of the city is characterized by a diverse offering of services and activities. Stockholm as well is striving for a polycentric cityscape with a diverse offering and social mixing or inclusion. Concerning the need for residential space for the growing population, Stockholm has ambitious and expensive plans: 180,000 residential units are to be built in the shortest possible timescale. To that end, more than 100 billion euros (!) will be invested by 2021.

The economy and education/research

Economically, Stockholm will continue to set store by a sector in which it is the world leader after Silicon Valley: computer technology (and start-ups in this industry). For more than 20 years now, the city of Stockholm has been investing strategically in developing an open fiber-optic network. Users from every field are given access to this network on equal terms, be they from the public sector, large telecommunications companies or private companies. The city thereby promotes competition and thus innovation. In educational matters as well – from the primary school to university and research – Stockholm wishes to ensure the highest quality standards and thus become an international magnet for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs. The economy, education and research are of course especially dear to the city of Vienna’s heart as well. The Austrian capital intends to become one of Europe’s top five research centers by 2050. That is why part of the aforementioned space management also resides in securing particular areas (e.g. by means of a land use plan) for specific types of use. For example there are to be priority areas for major office projects and high-quality educational and research establishments characterized by good connections with the public transport network. The technology sector is also to be developed, and the share of technology-intensive products in exports increased from 60% currently to 80%.


The quality-of-life has to be probably the one major indicator of a “healthy” city. Here too the form in which this quality is expressed is very similar in both versions, namely open, tolerant and safe. This is what is said about Vienna in 2050: “In Vienna, everyone coexists peacefully and safely irrespective of origin, sexual orientation and sexual identity.” This about Stockholm in 2030: “Stockholm is at the center of an open, safe region without social or psychological boundaries.”

Concrete “smartness”: Stockholm’s Royal Seaport

“Stockholm is booming and 180,000 new housing units along with several large infrastructure projects such as extending the metro and modernizing the port are to be built in the region in a short period of time.  In order to take part of the Stockholm market, I recommend to team up with a local partner and learn more about the project by visit our exhibition at Expo Real in München in October“ says Staffan Lorentz head of development Stockholm Royal Seaport.

Stockholm Royal Seaport

Stockholm Royal Seaport

Conclusion: Universal smart role models?

There is one final goal to be mentioned on which both metropolises are again in full agreement: both aspire to be a role model for others. Because this too is part and parcel of a Smart City, that one’s own contribution alone is not enough. Climate change and scarce resources are a universal problem that mankind, and that means above all mankind in the cities, will only be able to solve by joining together. Inspiration is therefore required. The ambition to be this inspirational force is of course laudable. And when all is said and done one doesn’t yet need to choose between the two cities as a role model. The similarity between both of their visions for the future illustrates that there is a relative degree of agreement on the framework for a healthy metropolis. A framework with virtually universal appeal which other cities in turn can adopt as a roadmap. Only, could everyone achieve the same? One should not forget that Vienna and Stockholm are already two exceptionally healthy, flourishing cities who easily attract sufficient investors to finance ambitious projects. The question therefore is whether these are merely strategies for strong cities, enabling them to remain strong, or whether they can also be implemented by those that are weaker. Can cities with weaker infrastructure really set themselves similar goals, take similar initiatives so as to be “smart” in future? And if they cannot do so: what alternatives might there be for them?

Learn more about this exciting topic in the Discussion & Networking and Intelligent Urbanization Forum of this year’s EXPO REAL.

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