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July 2, 2019

The issue of smart – the rational development of villages, cities and regions has resonated for a number of years in local and regional politics, in the business world and in the academic community. The objectives that the Smart concept follows have more than once been abused only for marketing purposes, misinterpreted or misunderstood in terms of its content.

The Smart City concept is a natural reflection of changes that arise from the transformation of an industrial society into a post-industrial and knowledge-based one, transforming the life and development processes of villages, cities and regions. Many towns and villages, when contemplating this development, have set out on the path of goal-driven change, building on smart
development strategies. Some have done so without declaring their efforts to become smart, but by designing strategic documents and implementing tangible activities, they have laid the groundwork for their own smart development. In the optimal case, the concept of smart has become the core of that town or village. They have integrated strategic planning documents, such as economic and social development programs and their regional plans, and have chosen to develop separate smart strategies. When looking at the implementation of strategies that are said to be smart, even international ones, they show that there is not always a real understanding of the meaning, essence or purpose of a truly sound strategy.

Development is All About Efficiency

At first, the concept of smart development was mainly focused on towns and metropolitan cities, since these are the areas that play by a key role in the process of social transformation. Here there
is a concentration of population and economic, social and cultural activities. Population centres are the driving force behind an innovative economy, they bring utilisation and value to knowledge
and invention. Now, the concept of smart development is being understood in the broader sense and it extends into all areas of social life. This approach is also becoming the leading concept in the development of rural settlements and regions. The recent expansion of this idea into these regions can be regarded as a key innovation of the smart concept, particularly important in regard to the conditions of Slovakia. Not only cities but also villages and regions have to be „smart“ to be able to respond effectively to current challenges and to be competitive in creating conditions for improving the quality of life for its citizens in their city, village and region, the quality of their business environment and visitor attractiveness, and to make effective use of their potential and reflect the current challenges for their sustainable development. Implementing true smart strategies is not about wasting public finances on the luxury of the latest technological advances. On the contrary, it is about using them to increase the efficient operation of the city, community or region. Reasonably low-cost solutions rather than expensive technological and technical solutions should be employed, effectively meeting the real needs of the population rather than implementing options that do not meet actual demand.

We Need an Overarching Approach

The concept’s added value for the city, village and region, whether in the form of an independent strategy or as a plan for their development under the Regional Development Promotion Act, is
to link the individual measures and strategies to the whole in order to make more efficient use of available resources for the benefit of the population and visitors to the city. Therefore, this  document is formulated as an approach that encompasses and interconnects individual areas and issues of city development, integrates objectives defined by key strategic documents, defines visions, goals, principles and key strategic measures to strengthen the position of a given city, village or region as smart and competitive. Emphasis is placed on joining both the conceptual and implementation dimensions of smart development. Therefore, this document contains the concept itself, as well as an implementation map (implementation plan), linking together ongoing,  planned and new projects.

This concept has been formulated as encompassing and integral, and naturally touches upon a wide range of subjects, communities and individuals. Its creation then does not have to lean solely
on their needs and interests. The strategy itself should be based on the reasonable assessment of the potential of the concerned participants as well as the potential of their logical synergies. The
main focus of a smart development strategy is the cooperation of key players in the implementation of individual smart development activities evolving from city management, through state and
local government institutions, entrepreneurs and their associations, university and scientific research institutions, stakeholder associations to end users, businesses, residents and experts all
supporting the implementation process.

The Influential Role of Local Government

A sensible and creative city, village or region is driven by effective communication, partnership and cooperation between key interested parties and groups (stake-holders). These participants
and groups have different roles, bear different degrees of responsibility, and can stimulate different sets of activities. What they all have in common, however, is the need for better coordination of
their activities so that they can achieve more effective and better results, and thus have a more positive impact on the development of their village, town or region. Local governments play a key role here, coordinating and framing the scope for initiatives by individual stakeholders within the framework of the following blueprint:
Within the group of interested parties and stakeholders, key groups can be defined as:

  • Local government bodies (villages, towns and regions)
  • Authorities of state administration (Ministry of the
    Economy, Ministry of Transportation and Construction, Office of the Slovak Government and other ministries and district offices)
  • Residents across all social and age groups, active citizens, creative groups and enthusiasts
  • Local and regional economy actors, private companies and startups, coworking centres, incubators and accelerators
  • Education and research institutions, universities and colleges, research concerns, experts, consultants, professional organisations and other institutions
  • Non-governmental organisations and foundations
  • Neighbouring and cooperating regional entities (villages,
    regions, federal states)

The cooperation of the above listed array of interested parties and stakeholders has become the basis for:

  1. Identifying current trends and challenges, defining the potential and vision of the development of a village, city or region with a special focus on resources, innovation, quality of life, as well as defining the target qualities for development in the long run
  2. Identifying the main stakeholders to work with to implement the strategy
  3. Formulation of an integrated system of principles and strategic goals as pillars of the overall strategy
  4. Implementation Map (Action Plan) as an Implementation Tool of the Strategy

Creating Strategies

One of the critical starting points for creating strategies, in particular, for defining design vision, a conceptual framework and identifying key strategic and specific objectives, is the identification
of problems and needs, and then the design of key areas of interest such as areas requiring intervention, paying particular attention to public sector participation. Particular attention must
also be paid to defining the problems and needs and determining their priority. Most importantly, the key elements have been marked by those which represent the common denominator for
the entire priority areas of city development, that is, the whole city. It is necessary to take into account not only the opinions of the representatives of local governments and experts, but also
the subjective perceptions of the inhabitants and other stakeholders about the significance of problems, which can be ascertained using a social research survey.

Why is it Important Today to be Smart?

Smart City has now become an expression used on various occasions. And since this term is not of scientific origin, everyone can make up their own definition. On the other hand, there are
common denominators used in understanding the qualities that a city must exhibit in order to be perceived and acknowledged as smart. The quality of „smart“ can be understood in different meanings and contexts depending on the areas it is applied to. By referring to dictionaries, we can find the following explanations for this term:

  • Very good at learning or thinking
  • Sensible, showing intelligence and good judgement
  • Stylish or elegant
  • Connected, engaged, responsive

 

Very often, the term „smart“ is associated only with technological aspects. However in Bratislava, for example, the concept of the Smart City is based on the fact that technology is only part
of the quality of being „smart“. Above all, technologies must be tied to human needs and, at the same time, must be understandable and easy to use for all social groups of the population.
Regardless of a technology’s maturity, it can become an obstacle rather than a driving force unless the city and its inhabitants are able to use it in a transparent and fully accessible manner.
Therefore, there needs to be awareness in all „smart city“ activities of the ability for technology to respond to specific challenges, and also of the ability of specific population groups to use
it in ways that lead to higher quality of life as the objective of smart cities.

A Smart City is understood to be a city that works efficiently and sustainably, efficiently utilizing and capitalizing on all its resources (natural, financial, human, technological, creative, cultural) as well as having the potential for collaboration and division of labour. A smart city is a place where the primary goal is the quality of life of the population, the quality of the environment for business
people and the satisfaction of visitors. The concept of a smart city goes above and beyond the simple implementation of information and communication technologies and other advanced innovative technologies that promote better use of resources and minimize the burden on the environment. The concept of the Smart City of Bratislava as Vienna’s twin city was understood as a concept integrating different policies, city and stakeholder activities and innovative approaches to solving some of the city’s problems. It has been seen as more interactive, more sensitive, and with city management more responsive to problems, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of all citizens, entrepreneurs and other roleplayers across the age and social groups.

This means that smart cities are more focused on creating positive impacts on the environment, society, the economy or culture rather than on solutions to their negative environmental impact,
socially marginalized groups, unemployment, or cultural heritage. Being a Smart City means ensuring consistency between development goals and the needs of the population and real  understanding of the content of current challenges. Defining the most realistic and clearest challenges is in fact key to providing effective, comprehensive solutions that require the
consent of citizens and other stakeholders before they are implemented. The Smart City is aware of its specificity and uniqueness, which form the building blocks of its development and prosperity. In professional terminology as well as at EU level, in this context we meet the term “rational specialisation”. The idea of the development of a smart city, village or region is a concept that creates space for their specialisation, which follows 4 basic principles of rational specification, which are: selecting the main priorities and concentrating on them, using your own competitive advantages, taking a leading role in cooperating with key stakeholders by promoting collaboration and, where possible, creating cooperative clusters.
The definition of a strategy of a smart village, city, or region can be described as „smart“ using the 3P triangle, which is made up of three basic pillars: the rational use of resources (the environment), a reasonable economy (prosperity) and a smart community (participation), and should be achieved through reasonable changes.

Quality of Life

Quality of life is broadly defined, but a smart city, village or region is where the quality of life is accessible to all communities, whether in terms of housing, work, leisure activities, tourism, communication (transportation and mutual human communication) and the provision of services and others. The vision of a smart village, city, and region is based on the central position of quality of life at the very centre of the 3P triangle, defined by the following features:

  • Healthy life in a healthy community (a supporting, communicative, tolerant, unbiased, dynamic and inclusive society)
  • A sense of security – referring to the environment, performing physical activities (such as walking or cycling) and residing in the community
  • Freedom to make decisions and mobility
  • The possibility of self-realisation (creative, innovative, professional)
  • An abundance of positive stimuli and motivations
  • The aesthetic aspects of the environment
  • Suitable housing options, leisure activities (art, culture), work
  • The effective implementation of housing activities
  • The possibility of living in an open, friendly environment without any prejudices, an environment free of bias, an environment of enjoyment and well-being
  • A place of education and sharing
  • A community which supports the integration of each individual and groups of inhabitants into the community within the region
Directing the Processes of Rational Change and Innovation

Implementation of the vision of a smart village, city or region, is defined by the 3P triangle where the quality of life is central, subject to changes and innovations aimed at achieving the following
characteristics:

A competitive village, city or region offers favourable conditions for residents, investors, entrepreneurs, visitors and tourists. It promotes their quality of life, effective leadership and entrepreneurship, a sustainable labour market, a creative friendly atmosphere, security, equal access to high quality services, access to means of transportation and networks with optimal modal
shares, high environmental quality with appropriate green spaces and other public spaces supporting the life of a healthy community; transparent, reasonable management of the area open to active public participation.

A flexible village, city or region capable of reacting quickly and effectively to current and future challenges and adapting to external and internal stimuli such as climate change, the development of the global economy and its dynamic changes, the ongoing globalisation and interconnection of economies, etc.

An effective and sustainable village, city or region capable of reacting quickly and effectively to current and future challenges and adapting to external and internal stimuli such as climate change, the development of the global economy and its dynamic changes, the ongoing globalisation and interconnection of economies, etc.

The village, city or region of people, and for the people – an inclusive, open, humanistic, tolerant, creative, hospitable, business-friendly city that offers the right environment for life and the realisation of the creative and other potential of every resident, respecting his specific ability to participate and contribute to life in the city community and its economy.

Three Fundamental Pillars

There are three fundamental pillars of the smart concept – smart resource use, smart economy, and smart communities; these all work comprehensively to cover the issues of the smart village,
city, or region. Each of the pillars can be described in detail based on the nature of the city, which fulfils the parameters of what characterizes the rational use of resources in the city, achieving an
appropriate economy or community. Against this background, the smart development strategy of a village, town or region can be the key to smart specialisation.
Preparing for the concept as well as implementing it requires the involvement of all relevant stakeholders with their individual strategies, interests and capacities. The main thing is to propose
the institutionalisation of and the functioning of appropriate communication structures and cooperation structures. The strategy of the smart village, city, or region is an integrative concept with
a special focus on the relationship between the community and the city and its resources. At the national level and at the EU level, policy re-flects the fact that smart strategy development and
implementation is one of its principles.

On the other hand, smart strategy integrates all sectoral policies using the conditions for quality of life as a common denominator for all partial strategies and concepts. This integration is more
than just a summary of common elements or links, it is about the synergistic effects of each of the key strategic goals. An important role in this integration is played by regional development policy as a platform for the coordination and harmonisation of all spatially relevant policies. Flexibility and openness are the hallmarks of every rational strategy and concept. It is a natural part of this concept to dynamically adapt to the changing needs, framework and conditions which mirror the diverse interests of the city. The implementation map, which is an important part of smart
development strategies, carries out defined key strategic objectives with very specific activities in the structure of the division of responsibilities in the city, including actions, activities, measures
contained in the strategic documents mentioned above, highlighting the interactions of all activities in the village, city or region’s smart strategy.

The Slovak Smart City Cluster, as an association of cities, villages, academic and business entities, seeks to support such an approach to understanding and implementing smart concepts in the development of cities, villages and regions in Slovakia, using access to the latest knowledge and experience from around the world. It is open to all stakeholders who have an interest in spreading this useful idea and improving it, adapting it to the specific conditions and needs of individual cities, villages and regions, and effectively implementing that one of the principles of Smart Access.

Authors:
Maroš Finka SPECTRA CE EU / Slovak University of Technology and Slovak Smart City Cluster
Vladimír Ondrejička SPECTRA CE EU / Slovak University of Technology and Slovak Smart City Cluster

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