Sustainable transformation processes in cities

In future, Smart Cities and their infrastructure will be much more flexible, cooperative and connected in all areas of daily life, such as mobility and transport structures, nutrition, energy supply, waste management and communication. In the light of the necessity for sustainable development, cities and regions are increasingly forced to address the creation and introduction of intelligent structures and systems in order to find answers to challenges such as climate change, increasingly scarce resources and demographic change, as well as competition between regions. This also encompasses concepts for the development of local value chains which aim to increase efficiency sustainably.

Consequently, the Smart Cities approach requires the integration of innovative technological and digital approaches into socio-technical systems and a subsequent linking of different academic disciplines with social (sub-)systems. Thus, in the development of technological approaches in the areas of production, energy efficiency and climate protection, mobility and transport, the use of raw materials in construction and environment, and communication and security technology, social and ecological aspects and economic questions must be taken into account, connected with each other and reconciled if they are to have a chance of broad, successful implementation.

The challenges faced when transforming cities into Smart Cities are correspondingly diverse. Cities grow and change organically over time. This transformation is a process which cannot be planned at the drawing board; it is subject to the dictates of tight public budgets, and only partially follows the conventional logic of administrations and urban planners. In this context, innovative paths must be taken towards solutions which cannot be achieved by improved technology alone. Innovative approaches which may extend far into social structures and lifestyles – such as the further development of rental and sharing systems, the use of innovative communication and information services, up to new types of social integration mechanisms such as the community design of roads and districts or urban gardening – must be accompanied by, or supplement, suitable technologies.

Ultimately, it is people who decide on the acceptance of technological solutions, and ideally they must be involved in such a transformation process and accept it. Accordingly, the innovative search processes are characterised by the participation of urban stakeholder groups with the aim of bringing ecological, economic and social developmental needs into line with each other. These days, determinative authority over urban change processes is no longer assigned only to the public sector; rather, it involves the creativity and knowledge of partners from industry and the population. User knowledge is accordingly assigned a higher value in such a concept. There are already a number of examples of such processes. For example, the southern Hessian GREEN Region programme is based on regional cooperation between municipalities, industry, trade and academia. The Kolorado Plan by the city of Halle-Neustadt has a similar aim, and the Vauban district in Freiburg im Breisgau was created precisely with the aid of such an approach. In Nuremberg, too, work is being done on future designs such as in the “City of the Future” project, which, in addition to the directional assurance created, is intended to provide such future visions in the form of an “interdisciplinary draft for the city of the future”.

However, while utopias and visions of the future which criticise the status quo liberate forces for innovation processes, the latter should be accompanied by direction-giving transformation paths which are based on technological feasibility, as well as on the social and economic framework conditions. Accordingly, transformation processes should always be aided in their objectives by prepared knowledge. This focus of research and work by the NCT-NIT is therefore predominantly concerned with the accompanying academic research of urban transformation projects. In cooperation with the city of Nuremberg, the implementation of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) in four municipal institutions has been examined. This approach is currently complemented by the longitudinal study “SDGs go local” in cooperation with Bluepingu e.V. with regard to the implementation of SDGs by means of civic involvement. This exemplifies the inclusive character of sustainable transformation in the urban environment, which requires the broadest possible involvement of all protagonists.


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Frank Ebinger Frank Ebinger
Prof. Dr.