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The Interaction-Strategy for Smart Sustainable Cities

Concepts and examples

von Weert Canzler (Autor) Ante Galich (Autor) Lutz Marz (Autor)

Wissenschaftlicher Aufsatz 2015 24 Seiten

Soziologie - Wohnen, Stadtsoziologie



1. Introduction: Surge in urbanization – Trend, crux, and focus ... 3

2. The Interaction-Strategy and double-smart technologies – Concept and examples ... 6
2.1 Concept ... 6
2.2. The empirical cases of the EUREF-Campus and the neighbourhood of Kvillebäcken ... 8
2.2.1. The EUREF-Campus in Berlin: A living lab in the city centre ... 8
2.2.2. The neighbourhood of Kvillebäcken in Gothenburg ... 13

3. Summary and conclusions ... 19

4. References ... 21

1. Introduction: Surge in urbanization – Trend, crux, and focus

Urbanization is a long-term and ongoing trend in the history of humankind. Mega-cities are not a product of modernity but already existed in ancient times as the prominent examples of Babylon, Rome, Baghdad or Angkor illustrate (Davis 1955). However, the dynamics and the scope of urbanization as well as the accompanying problems have increased considerably with the beginning of modernity and will increase further in the future.


While in 1950 70% of world’s population lived in rural areas, since 2007 more than 50% lives in cities and the share will rise further according to forecasts. In 2030 more than 60% and in 2050 more than 70% are expected to live in cities (United Nations 2008, 5). In China the share of people living in cities will reach 80% over the next 40 years indicating an annual urbanization of 10-20 million people (Lee 2011, 2; Yap 2010). The case of China does not constitute an exception but rather similar developments are expected in many regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (McKinsey 2011; Amarnath 2013). Dealing with the ecological and social challenges of this surge in urbanization will become an existential question for humankind in the upcoming years.


The crux of the surge in urbanization lies not merely in the sheer number or in the complexity of the ecological and social consequences resulting from it but also in the disproportion between the problems of urbanization and the strategies to meet these problems. At present, the problems of urbanization outnumber potential solutions considerably. As a result, two different strategies have emerged for reducing this disproportion between problems and potential solutions and for reversing it in the longer run.

The first strategy, which could be briefly summarized as the ‘Stagnovation-Strategy’ (Canzler and Marz 1997), comprises the development and the promotion of technical innovations in order to solve the problems of urbanization in well-known ways. In order to reduce traffic jams in metropolises it was, for example, suggested to increase the width of roads by 100 or 150 metres and to construct buses that can transport more than 1,000 passengers and that are built in a height that allows passenger cars to drive through underneath them (Miller 2015). In a nutshell, the most recent technological developments are to be utilized to construct three-dimensional roads. This ‘Stagnovation-Strategy’ holds a long tradition in the area of urban mobility and is still being applied quite often although its counterproductive features are well known (Dierkes, Marz, and Aigle 2009). The main flaw of the strategy is best explained by the following quotation by Albert Einstein: ‘Problems cannot be solved by the same level that created them’ (Einstein and Calaprice 2005). However, the ‘Stagnovation-Strategy’ focuses on doing exactly that.

In contrast, the second strategy could be denoted as the ‘Smart-City-Strategy’ or the ‘Smart-Sustainable-City-Strategy’ (hereinafter SSC-Strategy). The focus of the SSC-Strategy lies in combining social and technical innovations in order to achieve synergetic effects that bring about completely new and interwoven ecological, social, and technical solutions that are sustainable in the longer run. However, there is a wide range of different SSC-Strategies (Tobiasson and Rönnblom 2011; Griffinger 2011; Shapiro 2006) with many of them focusing rather on the technology side (Strauss 2014; Sen, Dutt and Shah 2012; Correia and Wünstel 2011). Therefore, analyses of SSC-Strategies should not primarily focus on the underlying theory but rather on concrete applications of the approach. Two different types of SSC-Strategies that in part supplement each other can be distinguished.

The first type comprises all SSC-Strategies that aim at the development of completely new smart cities on unused land that are to serve as a role model. The ‘Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town’ that Panasonic intends to build in Japan, the ‘Skolkovo Smart City’ close to Moscow, the ‘Solar City Daegu 2050’ in South Korea or the ‘Masdar-City’ in Abu Dhabi provide spectacular examples of the first type of SSC-Strategies. The advantage of these projects is that they allow development and testing of new socio-technical systems under laboratory-like conditions. However, the first type of SSC-Strategies also comes with two significant disadvantages. First, the newly built cities are always perceived as somewhat artificial and are perceived in this way for a long period of time. Second, the newly built cities lack the socio-cultural potential for innovation that characterizes cities with a long history (Girard 2013).

The second type of SSC-Strategies comprises projects that aim at developing smart sustainable cities from existing and in part very old cities. Prominent examples can be found in certain initiatives in Amsterdam, Vienna, Copenhagen and Helsinki (Rohde and Loew 2011, 6). The advantage of the second type of SSC-Strategies lies in the ability to draw upon existing socio-cultural resources to develop sustainable solutions and in being closer to reality than the newly built cities of the first type. The disadvantage, however, is that the development of smart sustainable cities from existing cities is impeded by hurdles such as bureaucratic routines, legal issues or specific habits that the inhabitants of the city in question have come to love.

Hence the strategies of the second type aim at developing sustainable cores in existing cities and to expand these systematically. In so doing, it is attempted to combine social and technical solutions into new socio-technical models of sustainability that gradually expand all over the city. The e-paper at hand presents one of these second type SSC-Strategies in more detail. We have decided to name it the Interaction-Strategy as will be explained in the following paragraphs.


The Interaction-Strategy focuses on merging smart technologies and changes in behaviour so that a lasting and stable potential for sustainability emerges (Chourabi et al. 2012; Coscrave, Arbuthnot, and Tryfonas 2013; Lazaroiu and Roscia 2012). But what actually is the Interaction-Strategy about?

In a nutshell, the ecological modernization of cities has brought about two extreme pathways. The first one is characterized by the ambition to achieve the ecological modernization solely through new technologies so that the inhabitants of the city in question can maintain their habits and routines. In contrast, the second extreme pathway focuses exclusively on the inhabitants who are expected to radically change their habits and routines and to abstain from the use of non-ecological technologies. Of course, there is a wide range of different pathways of ecological modernization between these two extremes differing in their focus on technological and social innovations. The use of new technologies and the change of habits or routines often exist alongside each other. People are supposed to use smart technologies in certain situations, and to change their behaviour in others. However, direct combinations of the use of new technologies and concrete behavioural changes are rather rare and often mere coincidences.

In fact, it is exactly this flaw of ecological urbanization that the Interaction-Strategy aims at. The main point of the Interaction-Strategy is that the use of specific smart technologies enables behavioural changes and these, in turn, facilitate the development of novel smart technologies. The use of smart technologies and behavioural changes can mutually stimulate and reinforce each other. While the development of new technologies gains new impulses and markets, the behavioural changes are backed up and facilitated through new technologies. Hence the focus of this strategy of ecological urbanization lies on the development and the establishment of a lasting and stable interdependency between the development of new technologies and behavioural changes. Neither technological development nor behavioural changes alone or separate from each other but only their mutual interplay can lay the foundation for sustainable urban development. The broader concept of the Interaction-Strategy is derived from this principal idea as will be further explained in the following chapter. First, however, it will be illustrated what distinguishes the smart city concept from the ‘traditional’ debates on sustainable development that have gained ground in the past decades.

What is new about the smart city discourse?

The smart-city-discourse not only encompasses a very wide variety of different issues (Repko and DeBroux 2012; Cocchia 2014) but also many different definitions of smart cities themselves and their main features (Caragliu, Del Bo, and Nijkamp 2011; Kitchen 2014; Zhou and Williams 2013). These definitions differ to the extent that some authors even speak of a methodology of definitions for smart cities (Lazaroiu and Roscia 2012). Just to name a few examples, methods and theoretical approaches as different as the “system approach” (Cosgrave, Arbuthnot, and Tryfonas 2013), “self-organizing maps” (Kourtit, Nijkamp, and Arribas 2012), or the “Triple-Helix-Model” (Leydesdorff and Deakin 2011) have been applied to analyse the specific characteristics of smart cities.

The debates on smart cities do not constitute a totally new phenomenon but rather are based on issues that have already gained attention during the industrialization 200 years ago and that lie at the heart of urban development since the Brundtland Report in the 1980s. 1 Thus critics claiming that the smart city hype is just old wine in new skins have a point there. However, in addition to all the commonalities and overlappings between the discourses on sustainability and smart cities, there are also a lot of differences.

In fact, the debates on sustainability in the past 30 years have highlighted a recurrent problem that is the question of how the coherence of ecological, economic, and social sustainability can be brought about in practice and secured for a long time. In other words: How can sustainability be implemented in a sustainable manner in order to progress from a sort of sustainability 1.0 to sustainability 2.0. The experiences that have been made in the implementation of sustainability 1.0 projects reveal clearly that goodwill, reason, and legislations alone cannot bring about this transition.

A key feature of the smart city concept is to make use of new information technologies in order to achieve a sustainable integration of ecological, economic, and social sustainability. Put simply, the smart city concept focuses on using Web 2.0 and other prosumer technologies for the implementation of urban sustainability 2.0. The spread of these technologies, among which not only information technologies but also technologies required for the use and storage of renewable energy sources, has been characterized as the foundation of a future ‘marginal-zero-cost-society’ by Jeremy Rifkin as, once implemented, the technologies in question only cause very low costs of operation and maintenance (Rifkin 2014). At first glance, this might appear as the ideal solution for the implementation of the different dimensions of sustainability in a coherent manner. However, the proliferation of technical devices in urban and private spaces also brings about considerable risks for citizens and cities (Vanolo 2014). Of course, these potential dangers do not necessarily have to result in negative consequences but rather it is necessary to remain aware of these risks and to ensure that they form an integral part of any smart city discourse.

2. The Interaction-Strategy and double-smart technologies – Concept and examples

The following two subchapters explain the general concept underlying the Interaction-Strategy, before this general concept is illustrated in more detail on the basis of two concrete examples from the cities of Berlin in Germany and Gothenburg in Sweden.

2.1. Concept

Theory and practice of ecological urbanization have shown many times in the past decades that purely technology- or behaviour-focused concepts fall short of meeting the complex challenges of sustainable development. The situation is paradoxical: On the one hand, an increasing share of the population is beginning to understand that urbanization cannot continue in the same way as it has proceeded in the past and that individual and collective behavioural changes are indispensable. On the other hand, it proves to be rather difficult for many people to adopt the changes in behaviour required inspite of these insights. Although there is no lack of positive examples or pleas, both have only shown a limited effect.

The causes of this paradox are complex with one of the main issues being the existence and the persistence of daily habits and routines. This may seem to be absurd at a first glance as routines are often negatively connoted and associated with rigidity, dullness, and emptiness. While this view certainly is not totally misplaced, it neglects one of the main advantages of habits and routines, which is their relieving and stabilizing function. In a complex world of modernization and globalization in which human beings constantly face new challenges in different areas of their life, habits and routines can constitute something that people can rely upon, as they have been applied successfully in the past and as their application is well-known and does not cause any inconveniences. Routines can be applied and trusted without further ado. Driving a car or as a matter of fact being stuck in a traffic jam constitute prime examples of such routines in big cities. In fact, this routine has become emblematic of an anti-ecological urbanization. Many investigations have not only scrutinized the causes of the stability and the persistence of the routine of driving cars but also reasonably argued for the necessity of setting an end to this routine. However, only few attempts have been made to illustrate the opportunity for developing and adopting new, more ecological habits and routines although these are urgently needed.

Not only pleas but also political and economic measures for the abolishment of non-ecological routines have only a limited effect if they are not supplemented by a theoretical and practical illustration of opportunities for the development of new routines. Traffic jams, for example, cannot be prevented through inspiring speeches or rising gasoline prices alone but rather their prevention requires the development of new, more ecological habits and mobility routines.


[1] The full report can be seen and downloaded at, accessed 10.03.2015


ISBN (eBook)
535 KB
Sustainability smart cities urban development social innovation


  • Wenn Sie diese Meldung sehen, konnt das Bild nicht geladen und dargestellt werden.

    Weert Canzler (Autor)

  • Wenn Sie diese Meldung sehen, konnt das Bild nicht geladen und dargestellt werden.

    Ante Galich (Autor)

  • Autor: Lutz Marz

    Lutz Marz (Autor)

    10 Titel veröffentlicht


Titel: The Interaction-Strategy for Smart Sustainable Cities