WeLoveBrussels participated at the first Brussels Smart City event, organized on 3rd of May 2016 at Tour & Taxis. The idea of ‘smart city’ is already popular worldwide and many urban areas are adopting it in order to deal with the pressing challenges of the 21st century. The Brussels-Capital Region is increasingly presenting new ideas and projects to achieve the goal of improving the quality of life of everyone – citizens, visitors, commuters and businesses.

As the website smartcity.brussels states – The smart city project brings together the needs of its inhabitants, the challenges of our age and the benefits that the digital revolution can provide in both these fields. The Brussels-Capital Region pursues its own smart city strategy under the name smartcity.brussels. In particular it incorporates the ambition to transform Brussels into a digital hub.

Improving quality of life in Brussels by getting actively involved in the digital transition is only possible by working with various public bodies involved in building the smart city in Brussels.

The main aims of the smart city are:  

  • Sustainable development: the city combines the functions of housing, mobility, economy and more, while striving to reduce its environmental footprint (resource and energy consumption, emissions)
  • Inclusion: the city works to improve everyone’s quality of life, among other things by bridging the social, education, health and safety divide

The smart city strategy for Brussels revolves around four challenges that respond to key issues for the development of the Region: a connected Region, a sustainable Region, an open Region, a safe Region.

Smart city as the marketing tool?

The positive and strong image of a city can be a big competitive advantage and a useful tool in an increasingly globalized and competitive market. This is why many cities and regions nowadays try to portray themselves as being ‘smart’. However, this branding strategy won’t work well if it’s not followed by concrete actions and measures which transform the city into a more sustainable and liveable place. Only cities which show visible results in this field can expect to be admired locally and globally, and to really gain extra benefits for their city brand (in addition to obvious liveablity benefits which come as a result of being a true ‘smart city’).

In this regard, the idea of ‘Smart city’ branding has two targets – 1) achieving competitive advantage in order to increase inward investments, destination attractivness and tourism, and 2) achieving community development, improving sustainability and liveability of people by using efficient solutions and smart technologies and upgrading all city services (transport, housing, citizen participation in decision making etc) to better serve all the citizens. In turn, this also reinforces local identity and identification of the citizens with their city and helps to avoid social exclusion and unrest.

Brussels’ State secretary Bianca Debaets opened the first Smart City event and emphasized that building a smart ciy also brings visibility benefits outside of Brussels and Belgium. She noted that “people of Brussels show up in big numbers again. It shows we have restored confidence after the terrible attacks. We will use Brussels Smart City as a strong marketing tool to show the world we’re back in business.”

No success without engagement of citizens

Research of the smart city expert Frank Cutitta suggests that the most underestimated universal element to successful smart and resilient city is the ability to get citizen buy-in. It goes back to the old proverb that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This means that most of the successful smart city initiatives show strong evidence of civic engagement strategies that make the taxpayers an integral part of the process. Cutitta also identifies top 5 ingredients for developing a smart and resilient city brand. Here is the excerpt from the Place Brand Observer portal (click here for the full article)

  1. Inspirational leadership and vision at the highest level of city government;
  2. Team members that have the ability to communicate, collaborate and share data across well-protected city silos/departments;
  3. An engaged citizenship that help inspire and drive the smart city initiatives;
  4. Public Private partnerships that put financial risk on vendor in exchange for revenues from city savings;
  5. A supportive academic community that serves as an innovation/start-up incubator outside the normal bureaucratic aspects of procurement and contract review.

If you are interested to contribute with your ideas or to discover and vote for some of the existing proposals for the Brussels Smart City, take a look at http://smartcity.brussels/getting-involved