January 13, 2022

“Neighbourhoods, cities and metropolitan regions are highly complex ecosystems”.

What will the former airport look like in the future? We regularly talk to partners about the importance of after-use plans and Berlin’s path to becoming a smart city. Mirko de Paoli, Chairman of the Board of the Bundesverband Smart City e.V., sees Berlin with its smart city strategy in a pioneering role in a national comparison. The Bundesverband Smart City e.V. is a critical and constructive sparring partner for the Berlin TXL location when it comes to digitalisation issues.

What expectations do you personally have of the Urban Tech Republic and the Schumacher Quartier and what significance do the two projects have for Berlin?

New neighbourhoods offer particular opportunities to implement and test progressive approaches to urban mobility. It is important to think holistically and not just promote “trendy” forms of mobility. All forms of local mobility must be integrated into the overall system. The backbone must be a very well-developed public transport system that everyone can afford. Autonomous driving should also be a building block, in public transport and for on-demand transport. New districts should be technologically prepared for this. In addition, we must finally say goodbye to car-centred planning. What is the point of even the most beautiful green traffic-calmed district if so-called “mobility hubs” are built on its periphery, which are essentially neighbourhood garages with a few additional functions that offer no relief for the overall traffic situation in the rest of the city. I have a different understanding of the mobility hub: it must first and foremost be a meaningful place where people enjoy spending time, where social interaction takes place and which invites people to linger. It is obvious that motorised individual transport can only play a subordinate role in such a concept.

We also have to start thinking and acting holistically with regard to energy supply and consumption. As we know, we can only spend each euro once, so it is important to find the greatest possible leverage for each investment in terms of energy efficiency and CO2 reduction. However, neighbourhoods, cities and metropolitan regions are highly complex ecosystems whose countless sub-processes, interconnections and dependencies often have a counterintuitive effect and are beyond human understanding in their entirety.

However, in order to make targeted investment decisions, we first need to understand these ecosystems. Humans cannot do this without technical support, and since the relevant technology has not been available to us so far, investment decisions have been made more or less according to “gut feeling”.

Today, however, we have the possibility to map neighbourhoods and entire cities with all the energy systems they contain and all their interactions in the form of so-called digital twins and to simulate investment decisions and their effects on costs and CO2 savings in advance. We should make use of these new possibilities, and new neighbourhoods are virtually predestined for this.

If Berlin is brave enough in implementing people-centred, truly sustainable digitalisation, the Urban Tech Republic and the Schumacher Quartier can become fanals of digital transformation with global appeal.

In your view, how far along is Berlin on the path to becoming a smart city and where do you see the greatest need for action?

With the transparent and open participation process for the development of the new smart city strategy, Berlin is in a pioneering role in a national comparison. Such a broad and long-term involvement of all population and stakeholder groups is unique in Germany.

I am very pleased that the Bundesverband Smart City e.V. (hereinafter referred to as BVSC) was involved in this process at an early stage and can continue to accompany it – especially in its functions as facilitator and corrective.

In my opinion, the greatest need for action – but also the greatest opportunity – for Berlin lies in acting with the constant awareness that digitisation is least of all a technical challenge. Digitisation is political because it will openly or covertly challenge our value system and must therefore be embedded in a democratic negotiation process. However, something like this is not a project, but a continuous process. And with the new technologies, for the first time in human history, the permanent, non-discriminatory participation of all citizens capable of acting is now possible.

This realisation must find its way into the development of municipal transformation strategies, but also into the implementation of technical solutions. Everyone must be able to participate equally and have non-discriminatory access to all systems that serve services of general interest.

“The greatest need for action – but also the greatest opportunity – is for Berlin to act in the constant awareness that digitisation is least of all a technical challenge.”

When you think about the future, what would personally be your greatest wish for Berlin in 2030?

I am convinced that technology must serve people, not the other way around. People and the environment should therefore always be at the forefront of digitalisation. In 2020, I took up the position of Chairman of the BVSC in order to change the course of society from a more technology-centred and efficiency-driven digitalisation to the aforementioned sustainable digitalisation “on a human scale”.

For me, the central question of our decade is how fragmentation through particular interests and polarisation in filter bubbles can be overcome and thus the resilience of society can be strengthened. Fear-free meeting spaces that enable diverse social interactions and in which people feel safe and comfortable strengthen social cohesion and are the most stable foundation of a free society, especially in times of crisis.

But this requires a fundamental change in mentality. In the meantime, however, approaches are being propagated as “mindshift” or “new mindset”, which again lead precisely to the silo thinking and wrangling over competences that are the cause of most of the problems we encounter today in the context of digitalisation and not the solution.

I wish that the residents and especially the politicians of Berlin would dare to question the axioms of the 20th century and leave tautologies behind, in the certainty that there is no one who can tell them which is the right way. And because that is the case, everyone must find the right way together in a transformation process in which everyone is an expert and must be heard. The BVSC is happy to be your partner in this process, dear Berliners.

Mirko de Paoli has been a member of the Bundesverband Smart City e.V. since 2016 and since February 2020, as its Chairman of the Board, has been striving to help shape technological progress in the sense of development that is humane, sustainable and thus fit for the future. As an IT service provider, he has supported infrastructure projects for medium-sized companies, developed enterprise websites, software for the aviation industry and software products for hospitals and communications companies, and managed IoT projects. In addition, he volunteers privately and as an entrepreneur for various non-profit NGOs.


January 13, 2022

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