The number of benefits associated with leveraging and creating smart solutions for citizens is steadily increasing with the development of both science and technology. Several Swedish projects are currently exploring the possibility of accelerating the journey towards “super cities”, i.e. cities powered by data. Some of these are so finely integrated in our lives that they go unnoticed. So where exactly are we in the process and what’s next?

Sweden, being one of the most digitized countries in Europe according to the EU, has progressed in the field and is currently testing several smart city models across the nation. A notable example is “Smart Grid Gotland” that runs across the Swedish island, Gotland, in the Baltic Sea. They have created a smart grid that makes it possible to regulate, in real-time, a household’s electricity consumption according to the fluctuations in the wind energy supply. Hence, also regulating and reducing the household’s costs. They are currently testing local energy marketplaces that can balance supply and demand locally to further reduce consumption and add flexibility to the system.

Another great smart city effort is called “Drive Sweden Innovation Cloud”. This is a project that is being tested in both Stockholm and Gothenburg that leverages 5G to create sustainable, connected, and automated mobility. Both projects rely on systems and piles of data that communicate with each other and require fast, safe, and reliable technical infrastructure.

We have spoken to Anna Starrin, trend analyst and culture anthropologist, and Mia Wahlström, PhD Urban & Regional studies, KTH, who both agree that taking smart cities a step further to so called “super cities” is possible due to the already highly developed IT infrastructure and the large, skilled workforce. However, both agree that there are many players involved who need to become aligned and collaborate. As we see in the examples above, academia, politicians and businesses need to collectively see the value in evolving and creating solutions together.

“It is critical to set a long term strategy around data management, ownership and the utilization of data to create data-driven cities in Sweden,” said Anna Starrin who emphasized the need to align across all sectors in order to drive realistic and long-term technical solutions for cities. 

Micro-steps closer to the super city and the road ahead

Sweden has been the home of several data-driven projects over the years. Some digital implementations have been so well integrated in our everyday lives that we hardly see them. One interesting project is “iWater” that the City of Stockholm initiated and confirmed with a proof of concept in 2017. “iWater” is a system that enables risk mitigation through real-time monitoring of water quality – a service that may go unnoticed by the public unless the water gets contaminated. Another example is “BankID”- an official digital method of identifying oneself with service providers or governmental agencies. This service is based on Swedish public personal data and set a new official standard for digital identification for approximately 8.5 million users in Sweden.

There are still concerns regarding the use of personal data as smart cities rely on collecting and utilizing both public and personal data. Not to mention, there are challenges linked to both collecting and managing data when governmental agencies or companies are involved as the data resides in multiple sources and different formats at the same time. This further emphasizes the need for up-to-date regulations and transparent collaboration between academia and businesses which could potentially ease some of these concerns.

Anna Starrin highlighted the importance of setting a clear long-term strategy around data management, ownership and data utilization. Mia Wahlström added,” system standardization will be key to this strategy and its scalability.”

In order to create super cities that leverage all that data has to offer, politicians, academia, and businesses need to align. We see that this type of multifaceted cooperation does indeed exist locally, however, regulators are still struggling to keep up with the speed of technological advancement on a national level. A full modernization of data regulations and ownership will be the catalyst that helps us take that technical leap from local smart city solutions to data powered super cities.