England & Wales, Global, Ireland, Scotland Technology

Viewpoint: Turning Denmark into a smart cities leader

For national governments, the ‘smart city’ concept represents an opportunity to improve its country’s towns and cities and to access a large global market, estimated to be in the order of $1.3 trillion and growing by 17 per cent each year. Smart cities present the opportunity to harness digital technology in urban environments in order to achieve greater efficiencies, job growth, higher public participation, and manage city challenges. The Danish government has the ambition to make Denmark the world’s leading provider of smart city solutions; a place where companies can develop and test their solutions using the country’s cross-sector collaborative approach to technology development (academic, public, and private sector) and the Danish expertise in design that is focused on the end user, the human experience.

Building the case for national coordination

A group of stakeholders provided input to this research, including representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Danish Business Authority, regional and municipal governments, academic and innovation agencies working on smart cities. Their intention was to collect and review evidence for why smart cities should be given a higher priority in generating business and growth in Denmark. A key objective for the research was to explore how smart city initiatives can be coordinated and co-developed across Danish cities in order to help create and uphold them as internationally-leading development and test centres for smart city solutions.

Arup, in partnership with Danish consultancy CEDI, carried out the research. The findings highlight how pursuing smart cities at a national level would enable Denmark to take a lead in the market, bringing new flows of funding and employment opportunities, and to avoid costs related to inaction. It would also improve Danish towns, cities, and regions, making them more efficient, environmentally friendly, and liveable.

Recommendations for future action

The research showed that Danish municipalities are pioneering smart city initiatives across the country. However, these are not always working together to scale solutions up. The report recommended five actions to the public authorities, which have subsequently been supported by the Minister of Foreign Affairs:

1. Develop municipal digital governance

Help municipalities to create their own vision and strategy to guide their use of digital technology to improve the city. Support the creation of a capability within municipalities to manage smart city projects to address issues or opportunities across municipal services, and provide a single point of entry to the municipality for solution providers.

2. Strengthen city collaboration

Build on current networks between municipalities to support the sharing of knowledge to improve digital governance and the pooling of interests to attract private investment. Use these networks and the regional governments to identify and highlight areas of expertise within Denmark and attract global recognition.

3. Clarify standards and regulation

Monitor and provide guidance on the numerous existing policies and standards to address the needs of municipalities on legal and technical issues relating to smart cities. Work with world leading organisations on remaining issues on standards for data sharing.

4. Address public concerns

Ensure municipal governments listen to the concerns and needs of their citizens related to smart city projects, adapting their digital education programmes or feeding back needs to national government. Apply the Danish user-centred design approach to smart city projects so human concerns are addressed through the design of the project or product.

5. Communicate the opportunity

Publish a national smart cities vision to generate a better understanding of the value of smart cities to Denmark and to convey commitment to its growth, including clear outcomes and targets to be achieved. Analyse the domestic and global market for smart cities to identify priority sectors and geographies, aligning domestic competencies with global opportunities. Set national research challenges to spur the development of products and services, and to grow digital skills and literacy domestically.

For more details on smart city activities across Denmark and Arup’s recommendations, please download the full report.

Ina Dimireva is a consultant on Smart Cities with Arup.