“Paris is always Paris, but Berlin is never Berlin.” This quip by Jack Lang, former French Minister of culture, sharply captures the essence of the German capital, that’s always looking to the future and perpetually bubbling with change.
A process that began in 2011
Berlin has grown a lot in recent years: from 2009 to 2019 the increase was of over 200,000 inhabitants, taking its population total figure from 3,440,000 to 3,670,000. And before the pandemic, the flow of tourists was also on the rise: with 14 million visitors per year, Berlin ranked as the third most popular tourist destination in Europe, after Paris and London and before Rome, Barcelona, Madrid and Venice. An acceleration that, however, must be matched by the adoption of projects, measures and tools able to maintain a high level of attractiveness and life quality by optimising urban development and providing increasingly efficient services. These are, in fact, the distinctive traits of a Smart City, which integrates technological and social innovation while placing great emphasis on a broader concept of sustainability. Indeed, thoughts concerning what makes a city smart and sustainable are an overwhelming part of the authorities’ political programme, with a committee formed in 2011. It took years of work to define the focus of this project, which was finally launched in 2015 as part of a new urban, social and environmental development plan called Smart City-Strategie Berlin. The programme’s report includes an emblematic sentence that summarily illustrates its planning strategy: smart cities “are those which achieve a significantly higher or stable quality of life while using the same or a lower level of resources.” Therefore, to push ahead, creating synergy between public authorities, society, businesses, science and research becomes a matter of increasing importance.
Objectives and fundings
The main goals of the project can be summarised as follows:
· considerably reduce the use of finite resources while promoting the use of renewable energies and increasing resource efficiency;
· minimise the negative side-effects that arise from living in a densely populated urban environment, starting with pollution;
· further develop the international competitiveness of the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan area and the creation of job opportunities;
· improve interactions at a regional, national and international level;
· build stronger resilience in urban infrastructures;
· ensure that public administration, municipal enterprises and social institutions secure and optimise public services in the long term;
· consolidate a transparent decision-making culture within public administration;
· increase the quality of life and the number of opportunities for greater social participation.
At the end of 2020, and as part of the Modellprojekte Smart Cities Programme, Berlin was awarded federal funding to continue the project’s aim to turn it into an increasingly smart city. “By promoting digitisation strategies and projects, the federal government is supporting cities in a key future task” commented Berlin mayor Michael Müller, adding that “With the funds raised, we will strengthen our role in the Smart Cities network”.
In the world’s top 10
The IESE Cities in Motion (ICIM) study, conducted by the IESE Business School’s Center for Globalization and Strategy, University of Navarra, is an effective indicator to assess Smart Cities. Berlin is in seventh position in a world ranking that analyses 165 cities in 80 countries according to nine categories: human capital, social cohesion, economy, environment, governance, city planning, international profile, technology, and mobility/transport. The study also subdivides the cities into three groups: 1 to 5 million inhabitants, 5 to 10 million inhabitants, and over 10 million inhabitants – Berlin falls in the middle category, and leads ahead of Singapore and Hong Kong. Among other criteria, the German capital shines in the mobility/transport and human capital categories, in fourth and fifth place respectively, the latter attesting to the quality of its education system and cultural offering. Also excellent is the capital’s ninth place in the international profile category. But looking beyond the figures, we can see many signs showing that Berlin is moving in the right direction. This paradigm shift has led to rethinking urban space, investing in human and social capital, infrastructure and technology: all initiatives that, if executed through participatory governance processes, will continue to stimulate a sustainable economic growth.
The author: Sabato Angieri
Graduated in European Literature at the University La Sapienza of Rome, he is a freelance journalist and editorial translator, he has collaborated in several cultural and artistic projects as an author and writer. He currently collaborates with Media Duemila, Lonely Planet as an author and with Elliot Publishing.
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