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Nordic Cities Beyond Digital Disruption

URBAN DEVELOPMENT is not the same as it used to be. In many cities in the Western world, urbanisation continues, while compromising on a building stock in dire need of renovation. Radical changes in structures of economy and work, our need to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, the emergence of the sharing economy, and many other strong drivers are changing the way we live, faster than ever before.

This report is one of the products of a Nordic project called Smart Retro. It demonstrates how built environment actors can use emerging trends to their advantage – steering the development of our cities in a desirable direction. In our framework, cities are pushed onto a new path of success by improving their inhabitants’ experience of the urban space through incorporating a new wave of smart urban services in the existing built environment

Smart urban services are essential to new urban development, as they improve quality of life. Many urban areas – both structural buildings and services and urban activity – are dilapidating. Smart urban services provide new jobs and make cities more livable: the strongest urban vitality often derives from the engagement of locals, the existence of good services and suitable infrastructure.

Furthermore, the sustainability requirements of the coming years dictate that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by a large margin and that resource efficiency needs to be radically improved. Smart urban services enable us to harness the available resources in new ways, and, thus, carry great potential in helping us reach those targets.

In contrast to many smart city projects that focus on building new, Smart Retro takes the existing stock of buildings and infrastructure as its starting point. Building entirely new stock does not address the challenges and needs of our existing cities: in 30 years’ time, the majority of urban dwellers will still live in neighbourhoods built in the 20th century. Smart solutions must therefore be integrated in the existing built environment.

Creating a smart city using existing built environments requires experimentation that brings together incumbent actors, who control and shape the urban space and its building stock (such as city governments, real estate companies, construction companies and retail), with startup companies, who work on new digitally driven services. In the Smart Retro project we conducted a number of practical experiments with the goal of creating a new model for urban development in the digital era.

This research report is authored by Demos Helsinki and KTH CESC. The aforementioned organisations are solely responsible for its content.