Mastering the Digital Challenges in Urban and Rural Areas

By Titus Molkenbur | 05 November 2019

The Smart Country Convention 2019 provided a great overview of the challenges that digitalization brings to urban and rural areas. We’ve learned a lot from the bright and purpose-driven speakers, presenting their innovative solutions and strategies.

The digitalization of the Public Sector, in Europe and in Germany takes place in societies that are heavily urbanized. Urban areas are currently housing 72% of the EU-28’s population. Rural populations on the other hand showed a steady decline over the last 50 years; in 1960, 35% of Europeans lived in rural areas, compared to 28% in 2010. Germany is not an outlier of this trend.

While digital services can improve and soften the impact of urbanization, they can also exacerbate existing problems. Rapid advancements in technology and social change challenge the political realities on the ground and public officials need to show that they are able to create a smart and sustainable future for their citizens.

The challenges of digitalization also differ vastly between rural and urban areas, especially when it comes to mobility and the provision of public services. In recent years, cities have witnessed a profound change in mobility patterns. New forms of individual mobility services such as car-, ride- and bike-sharing shape our daily lives. These services lead to new spatial demands, like designated parking facilities and charging infrastructures. While traffic behaviour in German cities is increasingly multimodal, the private car remains the number one means of transport in rural areas: 72% of residents depend on their own car or two-wheeler. Furthermore, 70% of workers living outside urban centres travel by car to work, regardless of commuting times.

Rural areas: Challenges and Solutions

The mayor of Bad Nauheim, Klaus Kreß, presented his city’s approach towards digitalization at the Smart Country Convention. Bad Nauheim, is a great example how digitalization can help a city reinvent itself. Before the reunification of Germany, Bad Nauheim had the oldest population in the whole country. Since then, they decided to tackle this problem head-on with new digital tools while keeping in mind local traditions and concerns. According to the Mayor, there are clear goals for digitalization in the rural context: Problem solving, sustainability and efficiency, enhancing experience and creating an innovative identity. With this in mind, digitalization can be a major driver for sustainable, innovative urban development, but also for more identification and experience. Dr. Stephanie Arens from @suedwestfalen presented a different solution: Coming together as a region.

Digital, sustainable and authentic: that’s the DNA of our digital strategy as a region.
Dr. Stephanie Arens
Head of Regional Development at suedwestfalen
Suedwestfalen is a development company founded to develop a concept for a digital future with 59 cities and communities of this West-German region. This innovative private-public venture bundles the strengths of business and politics to set up the region for growth and innovation.

eGovernment on the rise in German cities

Cities are using the benefits of sharing capacities to their advantage as well. The mayor of mid-sized German city Ulm (122.000 inhabitants) described how his city only tackles certain questions like mobility, energy, infrastructure together with surrounding cities. This way they managed to work on a coherent strategy and save costs.

Thomas Bönig (CIO Munich) on stage at the Smart Country Convention 2019

Munich’s Chief Innovation Officer, Thomas Bönig, presented the city’s three strategic pillars for handling the digital revolution: Firstly, meet citizens where they are, don’t stop new developments that emerge from the bottom-up. Secondly, no city is an island, using interdependencies and cross-pollination between cities to be more efficient. Thirdly, it’s crucial to find the middle ground between individualized focus and standardized best practices.

All of these efforts are bundled under one umbrella agency, Munich Digital. Their vision: Make Munich by 2025 a future-oriented and sustainable metropolis that uses digitalization actively and responsibly – for the benefit of its citizens, making it possible for everyone to digitally experience Munich.

Smart City Index: Quantifying German digitalization

While these anecdotes were certainly enlightening, Bitkom Research went one step further to understand the whole picture of Germany-wide digitalization. They collected, checked and qualified a total of 7,800 data points. All 81 German cities with at least 100,000 inhabitants were evaluated in five areas: Administration, IT and telecommunications infrastructure, energy and the environment, mobility, and society. Learn More

The 20 smartest German cities according to bitkom.

While many of the examples mentioned in this article and the Smart City Index, are shining examples of a smart future, it is also clear that the road ahead is difficult and mistakes will be made.

Location Intelligence’s role in managing the digital transformation

One example for the difficulties of digital solutions are E-Scooters. We already touched upon this phenomenon in this recent blog post. Right now, the research suggests that e-scooters are nothing more than another mobility gadget for urbanites: They dominate in city centers but are mostly vacant in outer-city areas where they could solve the problem of the first mile: Getting people to the next public transport station, and thereby eliminating the need for expensive infrastructure expansions to all corners of urban settlements.

With Location Intelligence, city planners can better arrange parking zones and routes and make a tangible impact on public transport efficiency.

The electrification of public transport networks in Europe will be an iterative process that changes with the needs, quantity and preferences of its citizens. Such networks will need to be flexible and open to new electrified vehicles for urban transportation. Targomo’s data-driven approach can help public sector officials optimize the planning phase of electrified public infrastructure projects, analyse the results after implementation, and effectively plan for future projects.

We are already helping our innovative customers such as Ruter#, Oslo’s public transport authority, to optimize their public transport network and deliver better services to their citizens.

Are you interested in how Location Intelligence can support the Public Sector? Find out more on our website.

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