By the year 2050, the United Nations predicts 80% of Europeans will live in cities or towns. Over time, wealth, businesses, workers, and jobs have all concentrated in cities, driving greater urbanisation around the world. Yet wealth is not equally distributed, and the dividing line between rich and poor can be even more acute in urban areas. Most big cities have neighbourhoods that struggle with issues such as crime, unemployment, and homelessness. How can those areas be rejuvenated?

Can we use technology to solve the problem? Obviously, there is no “one size fits all” quick fix, and each city (not to mention each neighbourhood within a city) is going to be different. But what sort of projects are out there (either in the public sector or private sector) that are aiming to solve some of these challenges using innovation, entrepreneurship and new technology? We spoke to people working on such projects in three European cities: Brussels, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, to see what they would have to say.

Curious to know more about using innovation and technology-led solutions to revitalise inner cities? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Rui, who argues that the biggest problem facing innercity areas (such as Molenbeek in Brussels) is persistently high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. Can innovative projects on the ground help deliver real jobs?

To get a reaction, we put Rui’s comment to Ibrahim Ouassari, co-founder of MolenGeek, an innovative project created in 2016 to encourage local start-ups and entrepreneurship, teach coding skills, and provide a co-working and networking space. The project is centred in Molenbeek, a commune of the Belgian capital known for having high poverty and unemployment rates. What has been his experience?

We also spoke to Julie Foulon, another co-founder of the MolenGeek project, to get her take. Here’s what she had to say:

Next up, we had a comment from Kaj, who agrees that cities can be “change agents” but adds that we shouldn’t forget about transparency and accountability. Not all experiments in innovative solutions can be successful. How can we ensure that cities are transparent when experiments don’t work out, and that they share the results so other cities can avoid their mistakes?

We put this comment to Marius Sylvestersen, Program Manager at the Copenhagen Solutions Lab in Denmark. In 2016, their “Street Lab” was established, a laboratory in centre of Copenhagen where new solutions can be tested under real urban conditions before potentially being scaled to larger areas of the city. As somebody in charge of trialling innovative ideas for a major European city, what would he say to Kaj?

The development of new solutions requires systematic and targeted experiments on the right scale. Therefore, we have developed urban laboratories to test and demonstrate solutions before scaling them to the entire city. The ‘Street Labs’, as we call them, deliver an important foundation of knowledge about investments in new technology.

An important point in doing experiments is that some of them are going to fail. This provides us with important knowledge about which type of solutions can be scaled to larger areas of the city and on the difficulties that lie in implementing new technology. Actually, when we launched Street Lab our Mayor mentioned, in his opening speech, that if do not fail once in a while chances are that we haven’t been bold enough. More information on this lab can be found here.

Finally, we had a comment sent in from Stephane, who argues that finding innovative solutions to the problems facing cities is expensive, and there is simply no money in Europe for this kind of thing at the municipal level. Is he right to be so pessimistic?

To get a response, we put Stephane’s comment to Ger Baron, Chief Technology Officer of the City of Amsterdam. His city has committed to making life “better and more convenient” using technological and data-driven solutions, addressing everyday challenges from traffic congestion to sustainability in a smart way. But do cities really have the budgets to experiment with innovative new solutions?

I think cities are still ridiculously rich and spend a lot of money on bulls**t (and you can quote me on that), so there’s a lot of margin to do things differently. In the end, though, it’s not about doing extra things. It’s about doing differently things that we’re already doing. So, in that case, a bit of upfront investment would be logical and, obviously, it’s logical not to invest in theoretical research on stuff that might have a role in 25 years; we are talking about things that a bit closer to market and our innovation, most of the time, is making use of [already existing] technology and innovations, so it’s more ‘process innovation’ than it’s ‘technology innovation’. I think you can do that pretty easily, in a business-case driven way, by… not doing more but rather doing things differently. So, I disagree with him.

How can we revitalise inner cities? Can innovation and technology help us solve problems like crime, unemployment, and sustainability? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Paul Sableman
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9 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    catherine benning

    How can we revitalise inner cities?

    This is an easy one but it’s going to go against your endless nonsense of political chicanery that will end up destroying you and our lifestyle. Nevertheless, here we go.

    1) Make the city safe from killers, thieves, gunmen, knife carriers, acid throwers and sneering aggressive women who have problems with the society they live in and see snubs in every breath normal people take.

    2) Get rid of rough sleepers by giving them a place to stay off the street. They are there day and night. Most of them sick and in need of care. The tax payers is giving the internal revenue a fortune for our safety and public health, this is part of what that public health is all about.

    3) Stop mass immigration. There is no room and no desire to be attacked by crazed, aggressive people who feel they are entitled to support by a society they intensely dislike and are not willing to support. They have the mind of babies, feed me, feed me, Cry, Cry, Cry. Rather than using their energy to pull their own homeland out of the dog pooh they left it in. And don’t come back with it’s not possible. Everything is possible if the will is there. Our people and our sense of direction pulled us out of war torn squalor of the worst kind, well, so can they if they get off their arses and do it. It appears to me they want to kill the wrong people. The man and woman in the street is not the core of their problem.

    3) Clean up the environment. London is filthy and so is Paris. Who wants to pay a fortune to roam around up to their knees in shite .

    4) Don’t despise the car. Give it top priority. Yes, I know you want to lessen the use of them, but that is not the way to go about it. People need access to shops, cafe’s, night clubs, if you want them to spend. Not ridiculous buses which really don’t work for shopping. Public transport is a nightmare. The tube is full of gropers and no room at all if you have bags or items in your hands. Stores better start thinking deliveries in a serious sense if they want to survive. How is it they knew how to do it fifty years ago but not today? Shopping, or the High Street should be a joy and fun. A feeling of luxury. A place to look forward to, not this horror show we have now. Sneering, non communicative sales staff, nothing you can relate to inside the store. Totally unsuitable items on sale, poorly made stuff that doesn’t fit. All third world and oh so raggedy Anne. Outfits hanging for miles around in what looks like a souk. If you want Morocco you go there. If you want Coco Channel you go to Deauville. There is a big market in between.

    5) Remember Tradition is where people are mentally. Not some ludicrous idea you have of avant guarde. The kind you try frantically to shove down our throats and choke us all to death. It’s severely uncomfortable to find yourself being pressed up against what you consider freakish outsiders with attitude about you because you conform to the norm.

    Think more seriously about the joy of environment. The lift from feeling you are on top.

    Today the head is stuck in scum mentality and its not a good selling tactic. People don’t want to buy tickets en masse for your idea of political ideology and perpetual warnings of destruction. You turn fun and experience into drudge with a violent dirge in the air, rather than happiness and possible romantic respite. You have expanded cultural devastation instead of inspired aspiration for levity.

    Hence our society is in its death throws.

  2. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Not only the inner city- but the whole EU & CoE!

    * Economic infrastructure:

    The reliability and availability of infrastructure and the provision of utility services is crucial for development. Who needs the EU for data or political advice? Why not demand from national government to save, (by cutting EU contributions by 50%) and rather spend on your local infrastructure?

    * The World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes a list of the best infrastructure in the world:

    * The estimated global infrastructure investment needs are estimated as follows:

    * The logistics performance index: (LPI) gives a quick overall view about the health of a country’s economic infrastructure and its trade efficiency. Germany is tops.

    Hasn’t every sovereign nation in Europe enough brainpower & skills (& money) to work out what is best to be done? An “European intergovernmental cooperative” system exists already within the CoE which is sufficient and cheaper to run.

    If not, you may swallow the EU enlargement pill or keep dreaming about the Utopian “European Super state” who will do “everything” for you and even give you a guaranteed income grant! Sheer bliss!


  3. avatar
    Luc Quadflieg

    I fully support this initiative that will help to get young disadvantaged people into the present technology and look at the future in a positive way. Next should be to open the minds and maintain the bodies by promoting arts and sports. This will help to support the hard pressure that is part of the IT professional activities.

  4. avatar

    Drain the swamp. That will help!

  5. avatar
    catherine benning

    Can technology and innovation help revitalise inner cities?

    Western inner cities are fun a minute for so called ‘wealthy shoppers’. ‘Wealthy shoppers’ do not do Western inner cities. Which kind of technology and innovation will rid these troughs of subjugated thieves? The only way to revitalize inner cities is to clean them out of foreign degeneracy? Line up the war ships and take them home.

  6. avatar

    Only when combined with capitalism. Socialism only hinders technological advancement and innovation thereby driving down living standards and raising poverty & crime. So it all depends on who you chose as your government.

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