Digital innovations kick off Presidency discussions on regional and urban development
What are the inventions and innovations that digitalisation will bring for the cities of the future, and how will they advance sustainable development, make cities work better and improve the quality of urban life? How can digitalisation help to connect regions? What other major challenges should be addressed in the EU’s revised Territorial agenda?
These were the questions with which Finland’s Presidency opened two meetings on territorial cohesion and urban policy in Helsinki on 11 and 12 September 2019.
In its current presidency role, Finland is seeking to raise the stakes beyond the concept of the ‘smart city’ – to shift the perspective from a purely technology-driven model to a more human-centred and comprehensive blueprint for the digital city. Digitalisation provides opportunities to design better cities and to open up new markets. The Presidency will shine the spotlight on pioneering cities and national strategies benefiting from the digital transformation in the EU.
Meanwhile, Finland will continue to promote the Urban Agenda for the EU, launched three years ago, and the thematic partnerships derived from it. The meeting identified a new approach: the linking and combining of thematic partnerships into strategic and crosscutting themes.
One such theme is the digital transformation, which was explored by the simultaneous development of new mobility services together with digital platforms for cities and for the sharing economy. This combination represents one possible method for making the functional and inclusive digital city a practical reality. The idea of a cross-sectoral approach received enthusiastic support from many participants as a renewed way to take the Urban Agenda forward.
As part of the meeting, a visit to the ‘smart city district’ of Kalasatama provided insights into ways to put digital solutions into practice. The visitors were particularly interested in a robot bus that is being tested to transport passengers in Kalasatama.
Digitalisation also has positive regional impacts. Although digital solutions tend to emerge first in urban areas, which often are more open to innovation, smaller communities can be more agile in adopting them and in strengthening their digital links with larger centres and thereby reducing disparities between regions.
To enable digital, human-centred cities and regions to develop, cities need to strengthen their networks and share new solutions. It is also important for the European Union to promote this goal, using the various policy instruments at its disposal.
These are among the themes Finland’s Presidency is raising to promote new advances in the development of digital cities. Since the member states have responded with considerable interest, these themes are likely to feed into conclusions to be adopted in October, with a joint declaration by cities, member states and the European Union to follow.
Olli Voutilainen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, tel. +358 295 064 919
Juhana Rautiainen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 295 250 075
Olli Maijala, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 295 250 174