“No time to lose in sustainable urban development”

Interview with Jennifer Neumann who coordinates the international campaign “Shaping the Future – Building the City of Tomorrow” on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

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The campaign lays special emphasis on five countries in Asia and America. Why?

Generally, the ten smart city research networks invite strong cooperation partners from any country worldwide. However, in our campaign we started networking by focussing on China, Colombia, India, Vietnam and the USA. They were chosen as campaign partner nations, because the current state of their and our research and development on urban transformation match very well. In fact, we believe the chances of yielding productive research cooperation projects and smart city innovations together with our partner nations are quite high. You see, no nation is able to overcome the challenges of the coming decades on its own. This holds true for leading innovation nations such as Germany, too. In this way, we must cooperate internationally in researching and developing solutions for the sustainable urban transformation. And what´s more, we must start cooperation as soon as possible, because we don’t have much time to lose. In a few years, two out of every three people will be living in cities, whose supply capacities are already overloaded.

Which challenges do the research networks address?

The research projects of the ten campaign networks address the main challenges of our cities today, such as supplying energy and resources to cities every day, providing infrastructures, optimising mobility and flow of goods and improving the resilience of the cities in times of strong urbanisation, climate change and their implications, as well as possible extreme events, such as threats of terrorism. In addition, another major challenge is moving into focus: the governance of urban development. The risk of wrong decisions in urban planning is high and wrong decisions are expensive and annoying. They will still be noticeable in 10 to 20 or even 30 years’ time and are not very easy to reverse. The good thing is that we don’t need to start from zero. Longstanding and trusting relationships link us with the USA, as well as with the other partner countries, Columbia, Vietnam, India and China, to help us to successfully overcome those challenges.

What solutions do the research networks offer?

The ten networks offer a great variety of research projects and smart city solutions. They range from self-supplying, floating houses for flooded coastal regions in Asia to intelligent traffic planning in big cities in Columbia and China, right up to satellite-based management tools for recycling contaminated brownfield sites in North American metropolises. Each individual project in the networks is dedicated to the different urban problems facing our partner countries. Look at the more than 3,000-kilometre-long coast of Vietnam, for example: where and how should the people live when their land might be flooded and made uninhabitable due to the rising sea level? New and better tools for urban resilience are not only being searched for in Asia, but also in the Northeast of the USA. Urban planners and disaster managers are conducting targeted research for innovative tools in order to prepare themselves better for natural or man-made extreme events.

Which German smart city solutions might be most innovative for countries in Asia and America?

Innovative methods for the management and governance of sustainable urban development are becoming increasingly important. We predict that the “Urban Design Thinking” experimental approach of the IGSI network in India, which has been successfully tried and tested, will be met with great interest. "Urban Design Thinking" transfers product development processes, which have already proven their worth, to complex issues of urban development and tests them in real “Urban Labs” on site in India. By putting the needs of the local population at the centre of the planning process, you can save resources and costs and increase the likelihood that concepts and projects will actually be brought to life by local people.

About Jennifer Neumann:

Jennifer Neumann is responsible for international research marketing and the development and implementation of campaigns with the DLR Project Management Agency. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research she manages the current international BMBF-campaign focusing on the future of smart, sustainable and energy-efficient cities. Before taking up her current position, she has been working with the Senior Expert Service (SES) and the Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT). She achieved her diploma in Regional Science of Latin America at the University of Cologne with main focus on Political Science.

Contact: Jennifer.Neumann@dlr.de