What is a smart city?

The term “smart city“ was coined towards the end of the 20th century. It is rooted in the implementation of user-friendly information and communication technologies developed by major industries for urban spaces. Its meaning has since been expanded to relate to the future of cities and their development.
Smart cities are forward-looking, progressive and resource-efficient while providing at the same time a high quality of life. They promote social and technological innovations and link existing infrastructures. They incorporate new energy, traffic and transport concepts that go easy on the environment. Their focus is on new forms of governance and public participation.
Intelligent decisions need to be taken at the strategic level if cities want to become smart. It takes more than individual projects but careful decisions on long-term implementations. Considering cities as entire systems can help them achieve their ultimate goal of becoming smart.
Smart cities forcefully tackle the current global challenges, such as climate change and scarcity of resources. Their claim is also to secure their economic competitiveness and quality of life for urban populations continuously on the rise.


More than half the world’s population already occupies urban spaces. Estimates reckon that number to reach two thirds by 2050. This dramatic development is ultimately due to the many opportunities people are awarded to design their own lives in cities. Rising urbanisation, however, also means greater challenges: as cities grow people’s needs and demands must be met in ways that go easy on the environment.

Scarce resources

Resources such as fossil energy, clean water and disposable land are limited as most of us are aware of. We also know that cities consume the lion share of all energy produced worldwide. Food, housing, mobility and waste removal require raw materials and energy.
To maintain a high standard of living for the long term cities must reduce their ecological footprint and seek for alternatives to scarce fossil resources.

Climate change

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues we are currently faced with. CO2 emissions must be reduced in the decades to come while measures need to be taken to reign in global warming, floods and extended heat waves. Cities are responsible for approximately three quarters of greenhouse gases worldwide. Being major polluters they are also called upon to provide solutions.


Worldwide networking of labour forces, institutions and information has its repercussions on cities too. Economic and social structures are changing and urban politics need to adapt their strategies to these new circumstances. It means positioning cities internationally between cooperation and competition. The measures taken must not serve the sole purpose of appearances but must focus on internal social, economic, spatial and structural aspects as well.

All is smart – all is well?

Concepts and ways towards becoming a smart city are as diverse as cities themselves. Some approaches are technology-oriented, while others, such as the Vienna Way, have put the social aspect in the fore. Measures cover the full range in between but they all have in common their aim to continuously add substance to the concept of smart cities.
New technologies must be assessed as to their benefit for the public interest and the preservation of creative freedom in public spaces. Smart ideas, to be implemented, require active public participation. Skills must be acquired to handle the new tools with care, especially with regards to data management and data security. Ultimately synergies must be developed across systems so that objectives and solutions can be found for smart cities to become forward looking, use resources with caution and provide an environment worth living in for everyone.

Smart urban development?

The first step towards becoming a smart city is taken at the strategic level.
Main fields of action in this context are energy, mobility, the environment, the economy, society, politics, administration and quality of life. Some of the above are intertwined and increasingly networked with the support of IT. Technical, economic and social innovations provide the foundation for such activities.
Smart cities build on sustainability but also on resilience in the sense that cities as systems are made more resistant and adaptable to influences from inside and out.

Energy and the environment

Reducing energy and raw material consumption and forward-looking resource management are among a city’s major concerns.
Smart supply and disposal systems are just as important as process driven changes, technological developments and networks for energy, mobility, infrastructure and buildings. Smart grids, for that matter, are a step towards smart energy consumption: intelligent networks and monitoring systems are put in charge of energy generation, storage and consumption. Smart meters are installed to make actual energy consumption more transparent.


Smart mobility means innovative traffic and transport infrastructure that saves resources and builds on new technologies for maximum efficiency.
Accessibility, affordability and safety of transport systems, as well as compact urban development are essential factors in this context. New user-friendly facilities will make it easier for people to switch to integrated transport systems focused on environmentally friendly transport modes. Joint utilization, i.e. “car sharing”, instead of private ownership is what counts these days when using motor vehicles.


Smart economies actively support education, qualification, research and entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, productivity and flexibility. Continuous knowledge acquisition and transfer, as well as local and global networks are the main ingredients for creative output. Enterprises offering IT, environmental and energy services in particular are considered the driving force for smart economies.


Smart Governance promotes both, changes in governance and coordination processes, and planning processes with public participation. The administration encourages cooperation among municipal organisation units and is opening itself up to a wide range of players from business, research, civil society and other local authorities.
Projects in their implementation stage increasingly rely on cooperation among the above. Public digital data are widely accessible to allow for more transparency and enable people to participate in decision-making processes.


Increasing people’s quality of life requires more than technical innovations. Also and above all it is the social dimension that needs to be taken into account. Civil society must be actively involved in making smart cities become reality. Main focus must be on education, lifelong learning, culture, health, safety of individuals, plurality of society and social cohesion. Urban everyday life provides sufficient leeway to promote people’s creativity and competences. Networking and self-management are major pillars of society without which smart cities would be doomed to fail.

How is smart urban development funded?

The European Union has developed numerous funding programmes meant to boost the development of smart cities in Europe. The SET Plan and the 7th Framework Programme for Research in particular have given “smart cities” a European dimension. In Austria it is the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), as well as the Climate and Energy Fund, which are primarily responsible for developing and implementing smart city initiatives. Various funding schemes have been put in place to support the City of Vienna and Vienna Urban Planning in creating smart initiatives that would not be possible without national and international funding programmes.

Strategic Energy
Technology Plan (SET Plan)

The Strategic Energy Technology Plan was launched in 2007 as a first major tool at European level. It seeks to secure affordable and sustainable energy supply for the long term and enable rapid market introduction of innovative energy technologies. Investments for a period of ten years are envisaged at approx. 70 bio Euros.

The SET Plan’s aims are to:

  • accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies
  • improve the competitiveness of innovative energy technologies
  • pull its weight to achieve the climate objectives by 2020
  • focus on demonstration and implementation
  • employ technologies with the greatest potential
  • implement major projects or project clusters

In 2010 the European Commission introduced the “European Initiative on Smart Cities” as part of the SET Plan. Its aim is to promote cities and regions that want to reduce their greenhouse emission by 40% by 2020 through sustainable energy utilisation and generation.

The European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC)

In July 2012 the European Commission established the Innovation Partnership to promote development and utilisation of smart urban technologies. Main emphasis is on networking cities and promoting cooperation in an effort to find joint solutions for increasing energy efficiency, amongst others. Investments in the public sector and industry are clustered to support implementation of lighthouse projects in the fields of energy, traffic and transport, as well as ICT.

Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP)

The Strategic Implementation Plan was introduced in 2013 as an action plan for putting into practice the EIP SCC. The Plan covers actions in a variety of different areas, the following three having a clear substance definition:

  • sustainable urban mobility
  • urban districts and built environment
  • integrated infrastructures

Other areas, such as public participation, governance, financing, etc. are to serve as catalysts in the process.

EU Framework Programme for Research

A total of seven EU Framework Programmes for the promotion of research were implemented between 1984 and 2013. The SET Plan was the first tool introduced by the European Commission and in fact kicked off the “Smart Cities and Communities” initiative in the 7th Framework Programme for the period of 2007 to 2013. Primary objective of the Framework Programme was to enhance the EU’s scientific and technological foundations and to promote its international competitiveness. The last two rounds of competitive bidding in 2011 and 2012 featured “smart cities” -relevant topics in several of the programme’s lines.
The 7th Framework Programme promoted the TRANSFORM (Transformation Agenda for Low Carbon Cities) project, amongst others.
Selected cities, among them Vienna, are developing practical strategies for becoming smart.

Horizon 2020

“Horizon 2020”, the current Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, combines research funding with the Framework Programme for Competitiveness and Innovation and other programmes initiated by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology. Horizon 2020 promotes projects related to excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. Roughly 80 billion Euros have been made available for the period 2014–2020, “Smart Cities and Communities” received a sum of 107 million Euros for 2015.

EU Structural Fund

Implementing smart cities measures in different urban districts alone requires a minimum of several million Euros. The Structural Fund budget for the European Union regional policy for the new funding period 2014-2020 could provide a major source of financing. Austria has launched the “STRAT.AT 2020” process in cooperation with BMVIT and the Association of Austrian Cities and Towns to promote increased utilisation of these funds for implementing smart cities measures.

National funding programmes

BMVIT – city of the future

BMVIT with its research and technology programme “city of the future” installed in 2013 has also pledged support for the smart city efforts in Vienna. The programme promotes research and development of new technologies, technological systems and urban services. The current bidding will make available 3 million Euros for research and development projects in energy-oriented urban planning and design, innovative business models, technology development for building improvements and modernisation, demonstration buildings, as well as technologies for urban energy systems.

Climate and Energy Fund

Back in December 2010 the Climate and Energy Fund introduced its own smart cities initiative and since then has played a major role in putting smart cities on the Austrian agenda. Its preliminary work and achievements have made sure that Austrian players, across Europe, are viewed as competent partners in EU research projects initiated by the European Commission, as well as in transnational cooperation projects and networks.
The Climate and Energy Fund’s vision for the programme “Smart Cities – FIT for SET” is to implement, for the first time ever, a “Smart City” or a “Smart Urban Region”, in other words, emission-free urban districts, emission-free residential areas or urban regions in Austria.

VIENNA IS NETWORKED Farsighted, robust and sustainable for generations

This development focus is targeted towards advancing the mobility system and preserving green and social infrastructure as prerequisites for securing a high quality of life and the environment. Priority in the transport and traffic system is given to the environmental alliance and attractive design of public space. At the same time the network of open spaces will continue to grow and large green spaces will be preserved and expanded to ensure lasting quality for a growing population. Ultimately social infrastructure too must keep pace and fulfil its integrating function.