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SmartImpact – making smart districts work with URBACT

22 April 2016

This article has resulted out of a set of discussions and one interview with the Lead Partner of “SmartImpact” - Mark Duncan from the City of Manchester. Mark is Resources and Programmes manager within the Policy and Partnerships team at Manchester City Council, managing a range of externally funded projects and programmes (UK and EC funded) including transnational work such as Urbact.

Joining URBACT
- Why did your city decide to join or set up an URBACT Action Planning Network?
The City of Manchester led an URBACT II Network (CSI Europe – Making Financial Instruments Work for Cities) and gained a great deal from the URBACT experience. Our focus was on making Financial Instruments Work for Cities. Following the end of the project, the EIB are actively promoting our materials through fi-compass; Nord Pas de Calais have now established their first Financial Instrument (they worked with us on the project alongside our network partner Lille Metropole); Den Haag have significantly increased the scale and scope of their FIs within their ESIF programme; Den Haag, Manchester, the UK Managing Authority and the EIB have made a joint submission to the EC's Multi-Regional Assistance programme as a direct result of the joint work we did as part of CSI Europe (decision pending); Sevilla are now in direct dialogue with their Managing Authority to establish an FI within their ESIF programme (something they tried and failed to do before joining CSI). All of these results are directly linked to objectives with city LAPs and the objectives of the project.
The URBACT experience allowed us to gain much deeper insights into Financial Instruments, to build a strong Network across Europe, not just with our nine partner cities but with other key stakeholders including the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB). When we saw the URBACT III launch we felt very strongly that we could use the URBACT approach again to develop a key policy area for us which is around planning and implementing smart districts and constinuously improving municipal services in the city planning, developing and maintenance by using a data-based approach and by better connecting the relevant departments and offices in the city administration with businesses, research and civil society.  


- Who was behind the initiative to join? (internal staff, consultant, group)
The decision to look seriously at URBACT III came first from me on the back of our URBACT II experience. I consulted with colleagues within the City Council and also talked to other local partner agencies such as our transport authority to consider which policy objectives would be best to focus on and which of these we would gain the most value from by leading an URBACT Action Planning Network. This generated particularly strong interest from the Head of Future Cities, Steve Turner at the City Council and from political leaders who supported our proposals.  This was mainly triggered through a successful proposal for a HORIZON 2020 lighthouse project on Smart Cities and Communities (called Triangulum), which we won together with the cities of Eindhoven, Stavanger, Prague, Sabadell and Leipzig. Through Triangulum Manchester is receiving financial support to implement several smart solutions (technology- and data driven) for reducing emissions and improve liveability in one district of Manchester. Together with local partners Manchester installs a virtual power plant, provides renewable energies to buildings and shifts district mobility and logistics towards e-mobility in Triangulum
Smart City – the technology is not the problem!


- What is the main policy challenge or problem you would like to address in the network?
The European Commission and many other large political players put high hopes into the concept of Smart Cities. The promise of the smart city is that IC-Technologies, Big Data and the Internet of Things help to make urban infrastructures more efficient, increase the liveability in our cities and improve decision making and city operations, thereby contributing to an environmentally sustainable and economically prosperous urban development. Connecting clean technologies in urban environments and implementing smart systems of socio-technical solutions seems to be bearing huge potential for achieving a range of political goals: the reduction of GHG emissions, clean air, a healthy environment, an innovation based economy and economic growth at the same time.
Whilst the larger EU and other nationally led Smart Cities programmes are putting a strong emphasis on technology-based and data-driven development of smart district demonstrators, little emphasis is put on governance structures, processes, business model innovation and integrated action planning to support the actual delivery of results. This is where we want to focus our URBACT III action plan. The two main policy challenges that Manchester seeks to address in the URBACT network SmartImpact are around Governance and Replication. We have been successful in developing one or two smart district pilot projects, but in order to mainstream intelligent and ICT-based urban development into everyday operations, we need to develop integrated decision making processes that expand across sectors and departments, and we need to understand and finance clean and connected technologies in the context of the wider benefit that they produce for multiple stakeholders in the city. This means that we need to find new ways of procuring and investing into smart urban solutions in order to make them leave the niche of pilot projects.
We therefore want to explore potential pathways of organisational transformation within the city management and governance, including collaboration with the private sector, in order to better deliver a systemic and integrated approach to smart districts.
A second policy challenge is to better articulate and understand the potential role of city authorities, industrial partners, SMEs and academic institutions in effectively implementing smart city districts including financing and on the ground delivery to better integrate smart cities technology opportunities into the mainstream of city planning.
Planning, developing and implementing the smart city, requires a fundamental shift in how cities are managed and how city managers (politicians and city administrations) collaborate with the private sector, research and the civil society. Due to the economic crisis and increased demand for public services, the public sector – locally and centrally – has limited finance to develop sustainable and technology-based districts. This means that new market-oriented and sustainable strategies of public-private cooperation must be developed and cities must seek greater levels of external investment. The investment community seeks certainty, and scale. However, most cities, at an individual level, presently deliver neither of these. Continuing 'business as usual' will not create enough value and scale for city administrations, cities, businesses and solution providers. Joint approaches are required to address some of the financial challenges including; those around overcoming the perception of risk attached to what are often immature and innovative solutions with potentially long payback periods; uncertainty around pricing policy and price itself; and the large amounts of investment required and the limited capacity of public bodies to meet this demand.


- Why did you choose to address this problem or work on this policy issue in the framework of an URBACT network?
Having had such a positive experience within the URBACT II programme we felt that the URBACT III Action Planning Network programme was exactly what we needed to bring together local stakeholders here in Manchester, partner cities across Europe who share our objectives around this policy issue and additional expertise from a lead and other experts to really focus in on the issues and develop solutions.


- What concrete results do you expect to achieve through this URBACT network? At local level, as a local authority? At network level?
At local level, our URBACT Local Group will bring together key stakeholders in a focussed way so that we can develop our Local Action Plan to meet our ambition to maximise the impacts from Smart City technology solutions as part of our City planning strategies. For the city of Manchester this means that we develop processes to plan and procure all district- and infrastructure related development projects in an integrated way across different departments, such as planning, transportation, water, environment etc. It also means that we learn how to make best use of innovative forms of procurement for connected and complex solutions, which include an intensive dialogue with local companies and the support of local startups. At network level, we want to produce a set of tools which will help cities across Europe to improve their own development processes and financing tools and to link the city development into the local innovation ecosystem.

Network establishment and enlargement
- How did you set up your initial partnership? Why did you choose these partners? Did you approach them or did they approach you? How was the process?
The initial partnership was set up through an existing link to other lighthouse cities  that have successfully applied to the EU Horizon 2020 call on smart cities and communities (SCC1). Manchester and Eindhoven are already working together towards implementing first districts projects within the project Triangulum. Stockholm is working on very similar issues within the project GrowSmarter together with Cologne and Barcelona.
We met colleagues from Dublin at the URBACT City Festival in Riga and it was clear we had shared objectives in this area. When the URBACT III programme was launched we followed up on that contact with Dublin and asked them to join us. We contacted Porto as we have worked successfully with them previously and they too have strong ambitions in this area. We chose to make direct contacts with cities rather than to make a call for partners. We based this on previous experience of meeting or working with the cities along with their expertise and interest in the topic.


- One of your tasks will be to complete the partnership from your current number of partners to up to 12 partners, how are you going to proceed? Have you received many "declarations of interest”? From which part of Europe? Are you still looking for potential partners? If so, what kind? What are the selection criteria?
There has been significant interest in our network and we have received many applications from a wide range of cities with varying degrees of experience and ambition in dealing with these issues. Based on the URBACT guidelines we are now selecting the right mix of cities from More and Less developed regions to complete our network. We are already in discussion with a range of cities and are very confident to put together a powerful partnership of European cities for smart district delivery. We select our partner cities based on their readiness for collaboration on smart issues. This means that we check, how they have been dealing with smart city projects in the past, whether they have gathered experience in innovative forms of public-private collaboration and whether smart cities is one of their political priorities at the moment. From previous transnational projects, we know that having the right partners who share your goals and are fully committed to the work, is essential.


Next steps

- The network has just been approved for a 6-month development phase. What will be the next steps for you as lead partner city? What will be the challenges? - How do you foresee working with the partner cities?
The next steps for the Lead Partner city are to complete the partnership and to support the Lead Expert in developing the Baseline Study. This means that we will meet with all cities in the Network and help them articulate their main challenges and opportunities with regards to the development of smart districts. The assessment of a standardised set of indicators and questions on the current state of the partner cities is a key task for the coming months, which will help us design the profiles of the partner cities with respect to the policy challenge that we are planning to address in the URBACT network. To me the largest challenge will be to identify the right local coordinator in each city, since this person must be closely involved in steering and managing local smart district processes and - on top of this – be committed to working collaboratively with us and our other city partners within the SmartImpact URBACT network.