Iris Belle 00:00:00 How do we get the digital out there and connected with the physical in a way that's aesthetically pleasing, that just looks right, that makes good use of space, and that makes good use of resources. And I feel that not many have mastered it.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:00:26 Welcome to 'Smart in the City - The BABLE Podcast'. I am your host Tamlyn Shimizu, and really at BABLE, we aim to connect the players in the Smart City industry with high-quality information and ideas through our platform and services. This podcast is really an extension of this goal and mission to drive the change for a better urban life. And first, a quick announcement from BABLE as a company dedicated to driving the change for a better future. We at BABLE express our support for all victims of the Ukrainian-Russian war. To all our listeners if you're wondering how to best support Ukraine from a foreign country, please visit the following website: supportukrainenow.org. And now onto our episode.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:19 And today I am speaking to yet another very special guest with, uh, quite a unique perspective, as well as she looks at Smart City topics through an academic lens. And, uh, today we'll explore a little bit about what municipalities, industries and academia require from Smart City professionals. And I'm sure we'll dig into a bit more as well. So with that being said, I would like to introduce all of you listeners to Iris Belle, uh, the Professor and Dean of Studies at the international Master program for Smart City Solutions at the Stuttgart University of Technology. Welcome onto the podcast.
Iris Belle 00:01:57 Hi Tamlyn. Thanks for having me
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:02:00 Our pleasure. So, um, just to get a little, uh, warmed up here, I wanted to ask you, or so what's your favourite topic to teach
Iris Belle 00:02:10 My favourite topic to teach that's a hard one. <laugh> so my favourite in teaching is actually the students. Uh, I take great pleasure from working with, uh, individuals who already have a career in cities, in technology, in architecture who are curious and want to reach, uh, the next level. So our course is of course it's very structured, but it's also a journey that we undertake, uh, together that we undertake, uh, with lecturers who come from the industry who come from cities, who bring topics to the table, new each, uh, semester who throw it at us. Um, and we explore with our students. So I think, uh, in a nutshell, because do have a curriculum, my, uh, favourite is the general one. It's really the global view on, uh, climate challenges, demographic change, um, economic challenges, migration, because this is something that ties together. Our student body, who's very international. We're an English speaking Master's program. Uh, and everybody has a say, everybody has the experience and it just shows everybody why we are doing this smart city exercise and what, uh, humanity and society at large can gain from it.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:03:41 Yeah. Some, some interesting and very complex topics, that are ever-changing also. I'm sure. So, yeah, very interesting. And, uh, so with, through all your travel, so through your experience, as well as through your research and everything, um, can you name like, uh, one of the most unique case studies that you've ever, um, seen or taught before?
Iris Belle 00:04:05 This is very hard <laugh> this is actually the most disappointing part to most people who invite, uh, Smart City experts. And I think it's, it's not just the case with me as speakers cause they, um, expect to be shown, uh, a piece of city that is super futuristic where everything is there at your fingertips, at a push of a button. And then the, um, the unexpected revelation is it's highly complex, um, Smart City project start not by putting in hardware and software and putting it to use. They start by training people. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, they start by, um, finding, um, goals and aims that you want to achieve in a development that is that future inhabitants, future users would be willing to pay money because yes they say yes, this really provides a value to me. And until the, um, solution, the app, the feature is put in, it takes a really long time for it to be visible.
Iris Belle 00:05:20 Now there are projects that have managed to, um, implement these quick wind projects. So there are some cool projects, like there's the, um, Franklin barracks, which have, uh, very nice, um, test pilot buildings where they have, uh, an indoor climate control, uh, a system where citizens actually refused to have the controls automated. They said, no, we need to be able to regulate indoor temperature to turn down the heating, which is insane because we have all the technology who, uh, uh, to steer, uh, towards, uh, a near to, uh, optimum, uh, indoor climate. Yeah. But it is in the psychology of the resident that they say, my home is my cast, I'm the king or the queen. And I, I get to rule the temperature. Yeah. So, so in that project, the beauty was, um, that the engineers decided to go for a gamification approach. And they said, okay, we cannot obviously for, uh, data protection reasons, um, make it known who is heating the most efficient way and saves most energy, but we can anonymize it. We can relay, um, the average of energy consumed the highs and the lows to each resident, and then, um, trigger their ambition to, to become better in that game. So I think this is a very, uh, a very interesting application and that kind of shows us how, um, how we can put E smart city solutions on offer, not mandate them for everyone, but really put them on offer as an opportunity to use.
test pilot buildings 00:07:18 Yeah. And I think it's important that as you pointed out, the most unique case studies are the most interesting ones to study and are often the ones maybe that don't have the most advanced technologies that are plug and play. Everything goes, um, but are really the ones that, you know, the case studies where you look at and they really, uh, co-created something together with the citizens, or they, uh, took a different approach to how they address citizen participation and citizen engagement or things along these lines such as gamification, for instance. So, um, yeah, I like that example a lot. And, uh, yeah, an interesting one to look at. Um, so
Iris Belle 00:07:55 If I'm allowed a second example.
test pilot buildings 00:07:58 Please.
Iris Belle 00:07:58 Quite from the other end. So, uh, so this was pre-COVID. Um, I've been visiting the Swiss, uh, city of Sion, in German it's Sitten. So it's in the, uh, in French-speaking part of Switzerland and they have an autonomous shuttle bus, or they were running it back then two years ago. I'm not sure how far that project has advanced. So this is, of course, super high tech. It's like this small vehicle it's it's glass all around you sit there. It only has, I think like eight seats. You, you really see the tech in there. Like all the sensors are exposed. It's not a, um, a mass production-ready vehicle yet. And there was one conductor who was there at the time. Uh, I took it with my friend and he was explaining us everything. And he was also explaining that he actually wouldn't need to be there and there's sensors at every traffic light.
Iris Belle 00:08:55 So this is quite the opposite. So this is, uh, a Smart City solution and autonomous shuttle, which of course, uh, dramatically increases the frequency of rides that you can take through the city. But, um, for me, it was, it was probably the, uh, most techy, Smart City experience that stuck because you're literally as a rider, you become part of, of that experiment that shows you how the future's developed. So it's, it's something quite different. It doesn't, it works as it's intended, you can see that, uh, a safety level is probably not there or the trust is not there. Uh, but there was also something very special on a, on an, on a, just on an experience level. And I think these are really the two poles that are very important. Now, if we go for Smart City development that we have implemented in the cities, some of these projects where it becomes really visible, that the ambition becomes visible. Also the, the different levels of, uh, of difficulty become visible. And then we have some low key applications that already work in, in your home and you have a choice to use them, but they don't bother you if you don't want to.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:10:20 Yeah, that's another great example. It also reminds me, we have a use case. I'm pretty sure on the, on, on the BABLE platform that talks about an autonomous shuttle bus that was implemented in Tartu in Estonia. Um, and, uh, I think it connected the airport with the city center and, uh, I'm also quite, I think it was a fairly recent project. So I'm also quite interested, um, to learn more about that as well, to see how these different autonomous, um, vehicles progress in the future. Um, yeah. But great example and yeah, moving on from there. Uh, do you have, um, so you've, you've taught, um, many students, um, looking into this field. Um, so what would you say for, for those looking at, you know, maybe expanding into this field, what do you think are the top qualities of a Smart City professional and what does really like Smart City professional even mean?
Iris Belle 00:11:20 That's a good question. That's a good question. So let's, let's start, let's maybe start with what it means, because there is, uh, a reason why the subject Smart City Solutions exists at the University of Technology in Stuttgart. So it, it, the story goes back to my, uh, predecessor that's, uh, professor Roland Dieterle. Who's an architect and urban designer himself. Who's been practicing many years. He retired last year. So that's why I, uh, got to take over. And, uh,
Iris Belle 00:11:55 In his practice he had a lot of, um, quite reasonable ideas in urban planning like that heating should be, um, considered together with your urban morphology, like how you, um, shape your, your buildings, uh, in a way that you minimize the envelope that you have good solar intakes in, in a way, uh, of, of thinking about a car free, uh, district, like how wide your roads need to be. So you can put in a good, good amount of, of residential density and other functions. And he always felt frustrated when he was talking to developers and talking to the city because they would not quite buy into it. And he said, where are these experts that can make the case? So he understood there need to be, um, there needs to be a, a crucial percentage of experts who are on the same level who really press for, um, thinking across the disciplines and considering, um, a couple of aspects together to plan for, um, more sustainable and more resilient neighborhoods that are nicer to live in.
Iris Belle 00:13:14 And he felt that if nobody else is gonna do it, he's gonna create this curriculum, which helps. Um, so he was looking, uh, for students who have already, um, one year or more of, of a professional work experience. So ideally they came to a point where they felt the same frustration that he felt at the time, then when he had the idea that let's, let's just educate the people in, in this way and, and create a good momentum of professionals. So, so the aim was really to have professionals who can, uh, look into different silos, who are not afraid to expose themselves to the, uh, thinking, uh, the methodologies and also the, the performance indicators of the related disciplines and say, okay, let's, let's, uh, let's go for a, for a second and a third round of planning and let's optimize the planning. So, so we reach a better balance.
Roland Dieterle 00:14:21 Yeah. That's, that's a great example. Um, a great story that you told to explain also to flip it a bit, um, cause our audience is largely already professionals related or in the field. So what should they take away from this perspective, um, that you bring, should they, uh, yeah, basically what should they, um, learn from also the newcomers coming in, et cetera?
Iris Belle 00:14:49 Well, it's an, it's a, the Smart City field is a field that is evolving very fast. Like when I came back to Germany three years ago, everybody was very interested to hear about what's happening in Asia. What's happening in Singapore, what's happening in Shanghai? I said, well, what's happening in Singapore? I can't tell you because that's already three years, uh, passed <laugh> that I've I've left Singapore. So they've, they've moved on. What was happening in China at that time was not so much, um, within the domain of architects in the domain of urban planners. Yes, but they were busy comparing cities coming up with all these indices coming up with, um, standards for smart city, from a, from an urban competition, uh, point of view, to give, uh, mayors a tool to evaluate how, uh, digital ready their cities were, how digitally advanced they were, uh, cuz you always need to compare at least in China with your peers to know, uh, how well uh, you are doing.
Iris Belle 00:15:55 So what I would give the advice I would give, uh, professionals who are already working in the field is really to watch very closely to watch, um, the, the pilot projects that are being undertaken. Uh, nowadays, if they're in Germany, of course, to watch the model, project, smart cities like the Model Projekt Smart City, which have received, um, funding over the past, I think now the longest running projects are, are in their third year. So this is, this is definitely exciting. There's also this, uh, coordination and transfer, um, organization. That's now, uh, coming into operation, which is an, an exciting body to watch. Um, also talk to the industry because the industry is doing a lot with regards to, uh, standards, but also the, uh, software and it industry. They're doing a lot concerning components concerning software hardware and uh, these experiences or these products are now slowly implemented.
Iris Belle 00:17:12 So it, it pays, uh, to watch these, it also pays to watch, um, initiatives that are not done by municipalities that are, um, undertaken by private developers who have a different leeway. So I think for me, this is most interesting. And that's also why, uh, you mentioned I'm, I'm at the University of, of, uh, Technology here in Stuttgart. I just, um, uh, left, uh, my, my previous contract, which was, uh, with a consulting company called Zama. I still keep contact because there, um, uh, my team started to, uh, develop, uh, a platform that's called the
Smart City demonstrator and the idea's not new. So these kind of platforms are popping up everywhere, but for us being consultants at the time, it was very necessary to understand what kind of solutions the industry players are putting out. So we could incorporate it into our consulting for municipalities, for, uh, private, real estate developers, but also for, um, operators of, uh, larger, uh, real estate portfolios.
Iris Belle 00:18:32 So, uh, the ambition still is, and, and what we've been doing there for the past, uh, one and a half years is to build this ecosystem that will be in constant dialogue about talk about the upcoming needs. So the, um, providers of software and hardware can react, but also about the opportunities that the software and hardware industry is offering. So this is, and this is something, if you ask me about my, my, um, advice to, to people in the space is get, get in your networks, start to discuss, uh, follow, follow the trends, follow what's happening, and also put in, put in your needs. So there's a lot, a lot going on in that space. And, and you are, uh, you are, uh, an, uh, an example par excellence like BABLE is, is also doing the same thing on a, on a much higher level.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:19:32 Yeah, absolutely. And we see this really as being one of the biggest challenges is that, that for one, everything is so fast evolving. Um, that for example, in the government, they really have to stay up to date and consult the market on many things, but we see this massive divide between the public and private sector. Um, and that's one of these bridges that we, we try to build, um, whether it be facilitating market consultations or through our platform and other services. But, uh, yeah, it's, it's one of the biggest challenges that we definitely see in the market today. Um, and I expect it to continue being a challenge. Um, <laugh> in the future as well. Um, so I guess also to play devil's advocate a bit. So because this is such a fast evolving topic, how much can we really teach? Right. And how much can they do students just have to go out there and practice and stay up to date. Um, do you, do you have any thoughts on that?
Iris Belle 00:20:29 Yes, I do. Because this is actually a major task of my every day is I, I, I constantly, uh, like I do not restructure the curriculum in a sense that we invent new subjects, but I constantly change the reading list. Mm-hmm <affirmative> because it updates so fast, but then there's also very classical texts. Like, I, I very much like, um, the Chicago school of sociology, you know, like your Park and Burgess who wrote in, in 1925, that book on the city where they discussed in different chapters, you know, how does information get to citizens? What's the ideal, uh, commute, like how do we deal with, uh, with ecology and plants in the city? So those are topics that are, uh, are ever occupying us. They don't go away. So there are these texts that are, are timeless in, in, in the ideas they bring forward.
Iris Belle 00:21:30 And then there are of course, very new texts as to, uh, you know, how should we do stuff? Um, how, how do we organize, uh, complex, um, consolation of stakeholders to, uh, even speak their minds? So what we do here, what, what we do offer in the curriculum is, uh, the case study. So for the past, um, one and a half semesters, we've been lucky to work with the city of Ulm, who is, uh, among the first cohort to receive funding for a model project, Smart City. Who've just completed their, uh, strategy, their two year strategy phase last December. So, um, our students have in parallel and in close contact with the, um, employees of the digital agenda in all, uh, put forward their propositions. And it's interesting because I said we're an international, uh, program. So our students come from all over the world this year.
Iris Belle 00:22:33 We don't have a single German student, so nobody's native German. So all they get from Ulm is through their perspective. So they're looking at a city from a very different vantage point and what they get is mainly through, uh, translation programs, uh, if they are looking at the material that has been produced in Ulm and they also, for them, it was a bit curious, you know, to hear about this whole series of, of stakeholder involvement of the workshops of, uh, strategizing together with, uh, stakeholders from the public. So they thought it's, it's very curious, but now they got into the process and I, I feel they're quite identified with the process themselves, but each of them have different different perspectives. Like some come from countries where there's having CCTV cameras at every street corner is just, you know, it's, it's a matter of good hygiene.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:33 <laugh>,
Iris Belle 00:23:33 It's, it's, it's, uh, nothing that's, that's frowned upon or, or looked at as, uh, surveillance and suppression.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:41 Yeah. The different cultural perspectives is super interesting when we, when we look at these topics, uh, we also come from a really vast, uh, a wide variety of different backgrounds here. Um, and so that's always interesting, not just in work, but also in, you know, uh, social encounters and everything, seeing how really observing these different, um, ways in which we view life. Uh, but I think that's really important when we are looking at such complex topics to really look at it from a diverse perspective, not just have this tunnel view of where you were raised from. Uh, yeah. So before I roll into our last segment and close out here, um, I just wanted to see if there's another topic or anything that you feel like we should really touch on. That's very pressing or, um, anything that might be interesting or fun to talk about for you?
Iris Belle 00:24:34 Well, my, of course the topic that's dearest to my heart right now is, uh, how do we train the future generations of Smart City professionals? So I think you've with your question, thank you for that. We we've got that covered pretty well. The other topic that's dear to my heart is of course, our small platform, like the Smart City, um, demonstrator mm-hmm <affirmative>, uh, which, which is, um, of course, a concern to BABLE as well. Like how do we get players off the industry to talk to each other? How do we evolve in this whole ecosystem and a Smart City? It is, um, it is a task that can only be, um, furthered in partnership. So there's no single one player who can equip a city. Um, another big pressing topic. Of course, if we talk about that is the one of standards mm-hmm, <affirmative>, uh, it's also, um, the digitalization in itself, which is the, uh, very, um, technological opportunity while we're even speaking here.
Iris Belle 00:25:47 So this is, this is a big, uh, topic, and then maybe coming full circle in the beginning, I said, I'm, I'm, I'm an architect by training. I used to work as a designer for both, uh, buildings for, uh, interiors exhibitions, but also urban design. So for me also being here at the department of architecture and, and design, one of the big questions is how to make all these ideas that we have about Smart City, how to, how, how to make them feel good and feel right. And for me, style is a big, a big key to that. So I'm also talking about, I'm talking about the digital, like about the front end and the back end, if you think about the users. So we have these horrible statistics of, uh, public monies being spent on digitizing processes, like getting your car registered. Now that is something that's very far away from architecture and urban planning, but there's these shocking statistics that municipalities spend, um, up in the 100 thousands of Euro.
Iris Belle 00:27:04 And then they've got four cars registered on that system, uh, because it's just so complicated. It drives people insane. And then in the end they say, okay, I just go there in person to get it done. I'm, I'm fed up like uploading things. So I think this is one of the big tasks. And then coming back to my profession, coming back to architecture. So Smart City for me is more than just digitizing processes. It's the cyber physical. So we need, if, if we, uh, let's put it differently, we know we've done a good job at the task when the Smart City becomes visible. And it's designed in such a way that the Smart City in Stuttgart looks different from the one in Mannheim, from the one in Ulm, from the one in Berlin, because of its, uh, expression in design. And that's the big challenge.
Iris Belle 00:28:05 How do we get the digital out there and connected with the physical in a way that's aesthetically pleasing, that just looks right. That makes good use of space. And that makes good use of resources. And I feel that not many have mastered it. Yeah. And for me then a whole new discussion that we have not touched is the one, uh, on metaverse or whatever you want to call it. It was caught the cyber physical, uh, before. So it's the question of how we move in between these two spaces. And for me, the, the design part is really key. That's why I'm for my, um, research part. I'm quite obsessed with residential neighborhoods, because I think those are the most complex forms of, of, of co-living, of co-existing, of co-investing where you have to draw boundaries, um, that delineate your private sphere, your family's fear, your, you know, closest neighborhood and then your gradually opening to the outside world. And for me, this is super interesting. And here I see a great opportunity of, of, uh, harnessing the digital and Smart Cities were not quite there yet. It came out very promising, you know, with the, um, co-working the co-living, uh, it kind of took a few steps back, uh, with COVID.
Iris Belle 00:29:47 So now I, I think now that we're through the, the pandemics, we can, we can tackle it again.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:29:54 Yeah. And basically the main goal is we want people to feel good about where they are. Right, right. Um, so yeah, the, the whole, the whole idea is that, uh, the design of these different places can make people happy. Right. Or they can change someone's mood completely and shift their entire way of, uh, how they're thinking about the day and how they think about where they live and work and do these things. So, uh, yeah, I really like that perspective, the design perspective as well. So yeah. Thanks so much for sharing. Um, and now, uh, rolling right into a segment of ours, um, a new segment, uh, called 'Shoutout', mention a person, an organization, or a city you think deserves more recognition in the field. So is there someone that comes to mind that, you know, really inspires you?
Iris Belle 00:30:52 Of course, instantly. So it's, it's a gentleman, his name is Damian Wagner-Herold. I'm sure many people know him. So he has been, um, in his last, uh, job consulting, uh, the city of Ulm, where he lives on Smart Cities. He comes, uh, out of Morgenstadt, he's a business admin guy, and he got really involved in Smart City solutions, uh, with the case study of Ulm so he's also the one who's behind, like pushing us to, to attend the next, uh, Morgenstadt event. He has spoken, uh, on our behalfs at the Barcelona Smart City Expo. He is right now, uh, taking forward, uh, the nexus between, um, energy and mobility at a venture, which is called, um, IE2S it's hard to remember <laugh>, mm-hmm <affirmative>, but that's, that's his, uh, his new affiliation. And, uh, I think he's great for the fact that he cares so much, so he's everywhere in the industry.
Iris Belle 00:32:04 Um, he also, uh, in Ulm where he's a resident, uh, is active as a, as a citizen of Ulm, which I think is, is very important that, um, if you are in the, in the field and that you motivate, uh, your local crowd to buy into the Smart City idea, that you don't only influence on large scale, but also, um, at the place where you are. And he's, uh, doing a constantly good job trying to, uh, place our students in internships in master thesis. So he's very involved in Smart City solutions and beyond, mainly in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:32:48 Thank you so much. Uh, good, good inspiration for our listeners. I'm sure. Um, and now it's the question, and I think you've already answered it to some level and some degrees, of course, during our conversation, but in a, in a concise way, I suppose, can you answer the question? What is a Smart City?
Iris Belle 00:33:08 What is a Smart City? Well,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:33:10 <laugh> <laugh>
Iris Belle 00:33:12 Of course the textbook definition is easy. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, uh, Smart City is, is first and foremost, a city that strives towards, uh, sustainability and livability. So sustainability in a, in a social, uh, environmental and economic, uh, sense of course, and also in a cultural sense, if you will. And it does. So by, uh, using the tools that we have, uh, that digitalization has, uh, given us, but then in a wider sense for me, a Smart City is really a city that, um,
Iris Belle 00:33:48 Understands, uh, very well what their citizens need. Also anticipates trends that can go in both directions in, in, in bad directions to mitigate them. And in, in, in very positive directions to give these stakeholders whether they come from industry from academia or from service society, a voice, a place, and also the funding to, to develop further. And then it's also a, a Smart City for me is of course, uh, as someone who's smart, they don't only have a plan, but they also verify if they're on the right track towards that plan. And if that plan, uh, given the changing circumstances is still desirable to achieve
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:34:37 Good point. I love your piece also about, um, the anticipation from mitigation. Um, I think that's super important and I haven't heard that little piece yet. Um, we ask every guest's question, so it's always super interesting to hear the variety of perspectives on it. Um, and so with that, then I will just thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Um, and to all of our listeners, don't forget, you can always create a free account on bable-smartcities.eu to find out more about Smart City projects, solutions, implementations, and more. So, yeah.
Iris Belle 00:35:12 Thank you, Tamlyn. It's been a pleasure.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:35:14 Thank you, Iris. Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.