Leader of Umeå’s work in the Smart City Lighthouse project RUGGEDISED, EU-funded between Umeå, Glasgow and Rotterdam, and several research and business partners
Carina Aschan is a development strategist in the city of Umeå in North Sweden. Umeå is one of the fastest growing cities in Sweden and the City’s overarching agenda for the municipality demands that growth is realised sustainably. With a Master’s degree in Sustainability and Corporate Economy, and many years of experience in project development, Carina is passionate about an inclusive transition and is well-positioned to help build the partnerships needed to make Umeå climate-neutral by 2030 as one of the cities chosen for the EU’s Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission. For the past six years, Carina has led Umeå’s work in the Smart City Lighthouse project RUGGEDISED, which has been an EU-funded partnership project between Umeå, Glasgow, and Rotterdam and several research and business partners.
TSCJ.- How would you define a ‘smart city’?
CA.- A smart city has an effective infrastructure and develops without jeopardising the next generations’ possibility to live their lives. In a smart city, everything and everyone is talking to each other all the time. Everything is connected in collaboration, both technology, and people – cooperation on all levels is the key. A smart city is open and shares information with its citizens, but also listens to people in the city to improve their welfare. For me, a smart city is a sustainable city, with perhaps a bit more ICT and technical solutions involved in the development.
TSCJ.- How has RUGGEDISED contributed to Umeå becoming a smart city?
CA.- The partners that are working together in RUGGEDISED have a special relationship with each other and so many new cooperation projects with new shared solutions have come out of this. It is thanks to RUGGEDISED that we have realised how important it is to keep doing this together. In RUGGEDISED, we have allowed ourselves to be innovative and visionary, to afterward implement what we came up with. We were far from sure that our ideas for the smart solutions would work, but if we had not been a bit crazy in the planning stage, we would not have reached as far as we did. A city will never reach the final stage of being smart: it is an ongoing process. But now, we are talking about smart city strategies with our political leaders and we have a governance structure in place that will ensure that we keep on developing the smart city.
TSCJ.- RUGGEDISED has been a six-year journey. If we would ask you to highlight only three moments, aspects, or milestones of it, which would they be?
CA.- One aspect is the understanding of how important it is that people work together and share knowledge. Technology is hardly ever the issue: it is always the cooperation that makes the project a failure or a success.
One milestone was the first meeting with all other partners. It was “love at first sight” for some of the like-minded technicians from the other cities when we met. It was so great to hear them talking about their innovations and sometimes being super surprised that something that someone from Umeå thought was mainstream, could be seen as innovative somewhere else. It really inspires people!
We kind of thought that when we would be done with the implementation of the solutions, that would be it. However, the interest in what we are doing in the innovation area has been huge. Citizens, other actors in the city, and other cities in Sweden are all eager to learn from our experiences. This has led to so many new projects and new partnerships.
TSCJ.- What solutions developed and tested within the project are you most proud of and why?
The one solution that was most effective for the climate was the system that we developed for demand-side management. It helped us realise how many offices and other premises at our University were empty at times or not even used. Before RUGGEDISED, we were planning to build a whole new wing of offices, but now we know we do not need a new building. Instead, the partners have engaged in new cooperation on how to co-locate and share space both indoors and outdoors.
CA.- I am also proud of our Smart Data platform that has enabled people to follow the City’s progress towards climate neutrality and to make their own decisions on how they can contribute. We need everyone to get involved if we are to reach our climate goals.
TSCJ.- What solutions tested in Umeå have more potential for replication?
CA.- I think most solutions have the potential for replication. Again, it is a matter of whether or not the cooperation between the actors succeeds because hardly any of our solutions would be possible if implemented by one actor alone.
The Demand Side Management solution has already been replicated across Campuses in Sweden and it has been developed further with digital twins to manage the solution even more effectively.
Our Smart Bus stop has gained a lot of publicity, but the main motivation behind its development is sometimes not mentioned. Plus, it has a lot of potential for replication. It was constructed especially so that young women would feel safer and more comfortable waiting for the bus. It is quite sad that women do not feel as safe as men do in our cities. We need to work harder to change that development – smart city or not.
TSCJ.- As part of the EU’s Cities Mission, what are Umeå’s ambitions?
CA.- To become a 100% climate-neutral city by 2030. More than 50% of Umeå’s CO2 emissions come from transport. We are putting down a lot of effort to involve citizens in the mission as we know that we cannot continue driving cars around as we do today. Involve citizens in the mission is a priority. We are also including consumption-based emissions in our work, which can be quite controversial sometimes, however, it is part of our CO2 emissions so we cannot ignore the fact that the rich part of the world is consuming faster than we want to admit.