[Seminar] Hong Kong – Vienna Dialogue: Integrated and Networked Urban Redevelopment in the European Union – ‘Smarter Together’ in Vienna, a Horizon 2020 Project

[Seminar] Hong Kong – Vienna Dialogue: Integrated and Networked Urban Redevelopment in the European Union - ‘Smarter Together’ in Vienna, a Horizon 2020 Project

Date(s): 15/11/2016
Time: 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

City Gallery, Central

Language: English

Admission: Free

Event Partner(s): (see "collaborators")



  • Mr. Ken Lai Sze Fat, Assistant Urban Planner

European cities commonly work on the assumption that effective urban redevelopment requires an integrated approach with broad private/public partnerships. Ideas and practical experiences gained in such urban projects are being exchanged among Europe-wide city networks. This seminar brought together experts from Hong Kong and Vienna to discuss their respective urban renewal strategies and the question how cities worldwide can engage in (and benefit from) knowledge exchange.

The European Union  _________________________________________________________

In his introduction, Prof. Hans Werner Hess explained that European cities now tend to look for qualitative transformations and improvement of liveability in the existing urban fabric rather than creating new districts from scratch. The situation is rather different in big Asian cities where migration processes still require new construction on a very large scale.

He also reminded the audience of a major shift in urban thinking since the 1970s. Until then, European post-war urban planning had been inspired by the ‘modernist’ ideas of Le Corbusier and his vision of a city divided into sharply delineated mono-functional zones. Modernist planning wanted to break up crowded, chaotic, unhealthy inner city cores into an urban landscape in which work and housing should be functionally separated. Streets and public transport lines became functional arteries to transport good and people between these sharply delineated zones. The apartment block turned into a mere ‘machine’ for sleep and relaxation, set apart from production, administration and recreational zones. The modernist city turned out not to have any multi-functional centre at all.

Beginning in the 1960s, this concept came under increasing criticism. The German psychologists Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, for example, published an angry study already in 1965. ‘The inhospitality of our cities. A deliberate provocation’ became a classic of urban studies (and a popular bestseller) until today. In it, they wrote:

“Squeeze the employees behind the uniformed glass façades of the high-rise buildings, add the uniformed monotony of the block of flats, and you have created a state of existence that makes any planning for a democratic freedom illusory.”

Due to the post-war reconstruction boom, by the 1970s most European cities had a more or less clear separation of inner city ‘business districts’ and mono-functional ‘satellite towns’, which increasingly became social problem spots. The functional separation also created enormous environmental problems.

The counter vision of the Mitscherlichs and other influential critics was a city grown over time by people themselves, a city ‘indifferent’ to grand designs, in which public and private spheres remain mixed on principle, and social classes remain physically close to each other. Such a city would require ‘more intellectuality’ and more ‘impulse control’ – precisely because the diversity in it does not allow a robot-like existence in ever-uniform routines of daily life. Conceptually, this was a return to the traditional European town model. Since the 1980s, the criticism led to a gradual emphasis on ‘post-modernist’ urban planning and development, which concentrated much more on filling the still-existing gaps in inner cities, a much greater emphasis on the existing urban social fabric (the ‘street life’ in the words of Jane Jacobs) and restored mixed-use development or re-development of urban districts.

As a consequence, European urban development projects have become smaller in scope but also much more numerous.  The European Union co-funds hundreds of such urban renewal or urban revitalization projects in a variety of thematic areas and of different territorial scope (e.g. neighbourhood, city, metropolitan region). However, they all share common characteristics: They follow a cluster of objectives (e.g. a project on energy has to achieve greater social cohesion as well), are not carried out by a single developer but in cooperation between various partners, including public–private partnerships (a ‘double helix’ of development actors) and increasingly the immediate participation of citizens and civil society groups (‘triple helix’ of urban development).

Prof. Hess explained that this takes place within the framework of emerging multi-level governance models in Europe. The EU here is not a centralized decision-making body, but rather stimulates a constantly evolving network of urban knowledge exchange, in which actors of the local, regional, national and supra-national levels all take part. Out of this communication network, a general consensus about the necessary priority axes for union-wide urban development is being derived and continuously fine-tuned. In a circular motion, experiences in cities are transformed into policy guidelines at the EU level, while these the policy guidelines subsequently influence national and regional regulations and inform actions at the local level.

The top strategy of the European Union at the moment has four objectives: (1) growth, (2) innovation and education, (3) climate protection and (4) social inclusion. These development goals are formulated in the so-called ‘Strategy 2020’. It is commonly agreed that the targets can only be reached by actions undertaken at the level of cities because that is where over two-thirds of the population already live and three quarters find employment. The cities, therefore, will determine the future of the Union as such.

Since 30 May 2016, the EU therefore has an overall ‘Urban Agenda’. This so-called ‘Pact of Amsterdam was signed by the national ministers responsible for urban matters of all 28 Member States.  The Agenda is the outcome of three decades of steadily increasing cooperation within the ‘multi-level governance’ structures. It integrates economic, environmental and social objectives in all projects carried out on its basis. In a traditional ‘top down’ perspective, it attempts to ‘translate’ the general EU development goals into concrete actions ‘on the ground’. But simultaneously, it constitutes a bottom-up mechanism to let cities actively shape the future trajectory of national and European policies.

For over a decade now, support for cities has been ‘mainstreamed’ across all policy areas of the EU and all administrative levels. Cities are therefore supported if and when they create new jobs and new enterprises or provide training and education in future-oriented areas of technology development. They are also supported in projects of developing a resource-neutral ‘circular economy’, cleaning up the environment, reducing energy consumption, raise their ‘resilience’ against climate change or finding ways to increase their share of renewable energy consumption. EU guidelines require that all of these priority axes mentioned nowadays need to be worked into any urban development plan. This finally delivers benchmarks against which all urban actions can be assessed. The comparison of urban development on this basis then also allows collective learning from each other.

In recent years, some European cities have shown themselves as particularly resourceful and proactive. In current EU terminology they are referred to as ‘frontrunner cities’, which have already drawn up comprehensive plans for ‘smart’, sustainable, resource-efficient urban development. They have also shown themselves adept at encouraging research and innovation on the way towards a reinvigorated ‘knowledge economy’, and they are known for seeking out constant, productive consultations with their own citizens. The EU supports frontrunner cities especially for conducting so-called ‘lighthouse projects’, which focus on innovative solutions for urban problems. Lighthouse projects are always carried out by several frontrunner cities from different member states. They are linked to ‘follower cities’ with which they share expertise and experiences gained before similar measures will be implemented there as well. Affiliated ‘observer cities’ monitor these processes to adopt best practice later on. Vienna is among the top group of European frontrunner cities.

Hong Kong ______________________________________________________________

The presentation of Mr. Roger Tang shed light on the growing urban decay problem in Hong Kong, urban renewal efforts and application of ‘smart city’ concepts in the context of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA). URA is the statutory organization in charge of improving standard of housing and the built environment in Hong Kong through renewal, promotion of maintenance and preservation of buildings. It was founded in 2001 in accordance with a new Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance. By June 2016, the URA has implemented 59 redevelopment projects, involving the construction of 18,000 new flats (of which 8,000 have been completed so far). It has also created 400,000 m2 of floor space for commercial purposes.

Mr. Tang pointed to ageing of the population and the ageing of buildings as two major challenges which Hong Kong will increasingly face in the foreseeable future. Estimates show that by 2040 one third of the population will be above 65 years old and one third of residential buildings will be older than 50 years. The number of such buildings (9,000 at the end of 2015) will go up by 156% to 23,000 in 2040. Many of the buildings date back to 1960s, when building regulations were relaxed and Hong Kong experienced a building boom. At that time, the city was also struggling with water shortages. Seawater was used for concrete reinforcements, which lowered their quality and over time can cause corrosion. Moreover, even though concrete buildings could last up to 100 years, many of them have not been properly maintained, adding to the pressing need for renewal. To ease the urban decay problem, URA currently conducts projects in five areas: redevelopment, rehabilitation, revitalization, preservation, and building retrofit.

Mr. Tang mentioned the Kwun Tong Town Centre and Langham Place in Mong Kok as examples of complete urban redevelopment, but he stated that not all of the old buildings in Hong Kong have to be pulled down. If feasible, rehabilitation is carried out to extend the lifespan of buildings and the URA helps private owners take care of building maintenance. Buildings of a special historical value, such as Western Market, Central Market or pre-war buildings at Prince Edward Road West, are being preserved and revitalized. There were also attempts to refurbish and retrofit old buildings with modern design while preserving some of their traditional architectural characteristics, for example the Tung Fat Building in Kennedy Town. Beside the modernization of facades and interiors, urban renewal also attempts to adapt buildings to the needs of the elderly and the disabled. The URA is now trying to move away from single interventions towards creating synergies among its projects in a more district-based approach. In this case, the renewal covers clusters of buildings and takes into account the urban fabric and dynamics of a particular neighborhood. Mr. Tang stressed that piece-meal, ad-hoc and single ‘pencil’ tower redevelopments in small site areas lack planning benefits and do not improve the overall built environment. They also often result in provision of numerous individual entry and exit points, which tend to destroy the street frontage. Equally important for district-based planning is the upkeep of the existing street life and vibrancy. The URA now also tries to adopt ‘smart’ design solutions in renewal projects. In Kowloon City, for example, it plans to introduce underground communal parking, create a new road network to improve traffic flow, pedestrianize parts of Hung Fook Street and Kai Ming Street for on-street activities. Small lanes as part of the urban fabric will be preserved and closed to traffic.

Mr. Tang said that economy, mobility, environment, people, living and governance are areas with opportunities to apply ‘smart city’ concepts at district level, area level or building level. At the district level, smart solutions could include e-commerce, applications like Open Rice, district cooling systems, and channels for the communication of complaints or suggestions to the government. At area level, the URA can, for instance, provide better pedestrian linkage with open spaces and community facilities. At the level of individual buildings, environmentally friendly solutions in energy and waste management, lighting or water recycling are being sought. At the same time, the conventional model of building podiums dedicated to retail will be abandoned and mixed use ‘all the way up’ will become possible under certain circumstances

For smart living it will be essential to share knowledge and help turn people’s attitudes towards greener and healthier lifestyles.

Mr. Tang said that the URA currently implements a ‘Smart Residential Building 1.0’ pilot project, the outcomes of which may allow possible mass application. Buildings can be designed in a ‘smart’ way maximizing natural ventilation, optimizing natural lighting and reducing solar heat gain. Inside buildings, household energy and water consumption data can be captured through smart meters to better inform users about their consumption patterns. Sensors can be installed to monitor temperature and humidity levels and to detect emergency situations. Waste can be separated, with waste collection data for each floor, block and estate then communicated to users. The combined data, together with other services and notices can be delivered to tenants via smart displays. As part of ‘smart management’ practice, a ‘Building Information Modeling System’ (BIM) is used to facilitate design and construction of buildings. ‘Building Management Systems’ (BMS) are intended for the integrated control of a building’s ventilation, lighting, water and electricity supply and its fire and security systems. Intelligent car park systems can inform about parking space availability and reduce time and energy spent in car searching. Sustainability targets are also of high importance in urban renewal, such as a 30% greening ratio and the objectives of 18% of energy savings, 30% of water saving, and 10% of recycling materials for external works. Mr. Tang added that green spaces such as roof gardens, podium gardens and vertical gardens could be used to reduce solar heat gain and improve the visual quality of the environment.

Vienna __________________________________________________________________

Dr. Julia Girardi-Hoog outlined the characteristics of the EU lighthouse project ‘Smarter Together’ co-funded via the Horizon 2020 programme. It is one of seven lighthouse projects in which 42 cities implement strategies for urban renewal and retrofitting of existing buildings. As such, it is part of a big and competitive movement among European cities to become ‘smarter’. The projects are also embedded in Europe-wide evaluation frames such as ‘CITYKeys’, which is focused on developing key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring the progress of urban renewal and retrofitting.

‘Smarter Together’ will operate for 5 years (2016-2020) with a budget of 29 million € (24 million € from the EU). It brings together partners from eight countries, including three lighthouse cities – Lyon, Munich, and Vienna. Santiago de Compostela, Venice and Sofia are classified as ‘follower cities’, while Kiev and Yokohama have the status of ‘observer cities’. All the frontrunner cities in this project are in landlocked areas and constitute ‘urban heat islands’ already affected by climate change. They are also experiencing significant population growth. Partners in the project are the municipalities, utility consortia and private companies. Dr. Girardi-Hoog explained that the project initiated a new cooperative style also among the various municipal departments, which normally tend not to communicate with each other very effectively. Without the EU project frame exerting pressure to cooperate, it would be a challenge to maintain overall quality of life and think about ‘smart solutions’ in the context of the wider city planning strategy.

With reference to the priority axes of ‘Europe 2020’ (growth, innovation and education, climate protection and social inclusion) and the Vienna Smart City Strategy goals (resources, innovation and quality of living), ‘Smarter Together’ pursues essentially four goals: (a) the provision of high-level affordable urban services, (b) integrated and citizen-centric planning modes, (c) the development of urban data platforms whose standards and architecture can be applied across the entire EU, (d) the creation of new jobs and business models.

In the case of Vienna, Dr. Girardi-Hoog explained the goal – expressed in accessible language – would be a ‘better life in the district’, with less traffic, lower energy consumption and an integrated infrastructure including ICT usage. For that goal, several ‘toolboxes’ are already available, namely for the introduction of district heating and energy from renewable sources, smart electricity grids, smart data usage, e-mobility concepts and ‘holistic refurbishment’ of blocks of flats. The most important toolbox, however, would be ‘citizen engagement’ – without which the other objectives could not be reached.

For Vienna pays particular attention to keeping housing affordable, while maintaining a social mix in neighborhoods, thereby facilitating integration. Although it is increasingly difficult to achieve in fast-growing cities, Vienna tries to avoid the gentrification of districts by pursuing a citizen-centric approach, which can keep long-term residents in the area. It is believed that spatial stratification of income groups and ‘ghettos’ for certain social groups would only add to actual financial and social costs for the municipality. Working with citizens is also indispensible in energy-efficiency projects whose success depends on the ability of residents to handle building technology properly. Dr. Girardi-Hoog said that even so-called ‘zero-energy buildings’ need inhabitants willing to change their daily habits. The human aspect cannot be forgotten while redesigning the city. Users need a lot of explanation why and how they should take up energy saving habits. This is also true for the development of open data platforms, which requires new standards for data sharing between different sectors and (crucially) a public demonstration for citizens affected that data collection and analysis can help improve the entire city. To increase investments in smart energy provision, for example, new ‘business models’ have to be developed and explained convincingly. They need to move away from calculation rent alone, but must also address the potential for reducing the overall cost of living for tenants, especially when retrofitting leads to lower energy consumption bills.

Creating ‘low energy districts’ is a very important aspect of Vienna’s strategy of improving the quality of life and achieving climate protection goals. ‘Smarter Together’ focuses on post-war buildings in Simmering, a social housing area with relatively less educated, low-income residents – a population segment often reluctant to accept innovations and changes in everyday life routines. Although the city administration initially did experience strong opposition to retrofitting and there were no immediate energy savings effects, the situation is now changing due to extensive dialogue with the residents on the future of their neighborhood. Dr. Girardi-Hoog stressed repeatedly that no significant progress could be made without constant contact and dialogue with citizens: ‘It’s all about changing habits and attitudes. You need to speak to people.’

To meet climate protection targets the city has to find clever ways to change heating and mobility patterns. In a district like Simmering, this again requires intensified dialogue with and among citizens because ‘people can’t relate to big objectives’ and may not even be familiar with ‘smart’ tools like phones or chip cards. Consequently, they could be convinced of ‘smart’ metering, ‘smart’ energy consumption or e-bike and e-car rental systems only if they were approached directly and would get the opportunity to get familiar with new technologies in a gradual way. The consortium will closely monitor results of such an approach so that successful aspects can be replicated in all of Vienna and other cities.

Beside the citizen engagement, another distinctive feature of ‘Smarter Together’ is the shift to a neighborhood approach to heating and the use of renewable sources. There are still technical and business challenges, especially with the integration of heat from waste with the smart grid. Refurbishment has to be treated holistically, taking into account investment, legal frameworks and social acceptance factors. The project also collects energy and water consumption data and has to cope with related sensitive issues such as data privacy and legality of recording data. With regard to ‘smart mobility’, the project is about to introduce e-bike and e-car sharing. Dr. Girardi-Hoog said that local residents originally saw this as an alien, ‘upper-class’ idea. In the meantime, however, there is surprisingly high interest among families unable to afford a car, and for a ‘cargo version’ of the e-bike for transporting groceries home.

Dr. Girardi-Hoog briefly compared project specializations and measures chosen by Lyon, Munich and Vienna. In Lyon, ‘Smarter Together’ is being implemented close to the city center, in the former industrial area of Lyon-Confluence with 7,500 inhabitants. Munich focuses on an urban periphery with 30,000 people. Vienna’s site, on the other hand, is a district on the fringe of the inner city, still has substantial industry nearby and includes 21,300 inhabitants. All these lighthouse projects aim to refurbish social housing, integrate renewables, and improve district-heating systems. E-mobility will be supported by EV charging stands, a ‘mobility house’ and shared car park in Lyon, and ‘mobility points’ combined with district boxes for parcel delivery in Munich and Vienna. The goal is to develop ‘intermodal transport’ whereby people can cycle or walk to public transport stops and at the same place access various services or collect products ordered online. All the lighthouse cities have created ‘urban labs’ in the form of public contact points to provide information and discuss projects with affected citizens. Dr. Girardi-Hoog emphasized that although the Horizon 2020 call for project proposals concentrated more on innovation and resource preservation, Vienna added a strong social dimension, emphasizing social inclusion and co-creation. This was positively received and later incorporated into subsequent Horizon 2020 smart city calls.

Discussion ______________________________________________________________

In the open discussion the panelists discussed problems in conducting dialogue with citizens. Mr. Tang said that the success of the renewal project in Kwun Tong Town Centre was based on four years community engagement on design and approach to renewal. Dr. Girardi-Hoog mentioned that Vienna is also struggling with conflicting interests, but even confrontational approach can be something positive as a way of involvement and commitment to district development. Conflict has to be accepted as natural, and compromises have to be found.

Another aspect discussed was whether the dialogue process with citizens results in taking public input indeed into consideration when implementing the project – whether it was mostly a way to convince people to accept proposals against their will. In Vienna, people are initially asked to come up with visions of life in the district in 2030 or 2050, i.e. a vision of a liveable district they themselves would like to leave behind for their children or grandchildren. Before the actual retrofitting processes, residents are then asked about urgent needs and measures they would accept or which solutions they would prefer (e.g. choice of e-bikes, colors of buildings). The local community also takes part in the design of public spaces around the buildings, and moderated discussions take place to reconcile different interests. Dr. Tang stressed that the URA engages people through interactive dialogue, aspiration surveys are conducted to learn about people’s needs and workshops, roundtable discussions during the design process and the initial conceptual stage. Dr. Hirardi-Hoog said that usually people usually do not want to change much in the original plan, they must be able to detect the seriousness of the administration in such ‘consultation phases’ before final decisions are taken. Mr. Lai pointed out that in Hong Kong public consultations were often treated with suspicion because it was felt that decisions were already made before the consultation exercise.

As for URA projects, beside the engagement process social impact assessment and surveys are carried out beforehand. Tracking studies conducted after project implementation help to further monitor the impact (such as gentrification trends). In both cities the project impact is measured by various performance indicators such as lower energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions, distances travelled by private cars in the case of Vienna. Mr. Tang said that beside hard commercial data, social indicators such as people’s happiness or health improvements are also important. Gentrification was discussed as one of the major problems in renewal projects because they lead to higher rental prices which cause rise of rent prices. This problem was particularly severe in Hong Kong or Lyon-Confluence because most of the buildings were privately owned and rent could not be controlled. To some extent Vienna was able to avoid this process because of its extensive social housing programme and heavy subsidies for flat building. Mr. Tang reminded the audience that despite concerns over gentrification, the extensive provision of social housing elsewhere in Hong Kong and the renewal of buildings gave many people a chance to improve their living conditions. According to Mr. Lai, a mixture of old and new buildings should be maintained and the resident population should have the possibility to stay in the area. He also highlighted the role of the property market in Hong Kong. Unlike in Vienna, buildings and apartments generally are treated as investment products only.

Background Information ___________________________________________________

EU Lighthouse Project ‘Smarter Together’: http://smarter-together.eu/

‘Smarter Together’ in Vienna (German only): http://smartertogether.at/

Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority: http://www.ura.org.hk/

Horizon 2020. The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/



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