For more than a decade, Technopolis Group has been driving and significantly contributing to the formulation, advancement and adoption of methodologies essential for navigating and succeeding in the digital, industrial and green transition. For small and medium-sized cities and towns, strategic investment in the right projects – and partnerships – can accelerate these transitions.
There is no singular definition of a ‘smart city’ or ‘smart region’. In the 90s, the concept focused on the use of information and communication technologies to reduce costs and improve public services. Progressively, we can see a shift in focus to ‘quality of life’. Today, when the term ‘smart’ is applied to cities and regions, it has a holistic meaning and set features: sustainability, democratic governance and regional competitiveness, ICTs, transport, energy, natural resources, among others. There are also significant differences between cities and regions, which means that every city and region may have a different path to becoming smart. Nevertheless, smart cities and regions should put citizens and communities at the centre of sustainable, efficient and resilient economic processes and inclusive digitalisation.
Clearly, city and regional actors could benefit from tailored assistance and direction in realising smart ambitions and generating sustainable solutions. To understand this support, we must look at the EU policy landscape and a network exchange for small and medium-sized cities and towns set up under an EU initiative (the Smart Cities Marketplace).
State of play: Cities and carbon neutrality
Urban environments house 75% of the EU population and contribute to over 70% of total CO2 emissions. Therefore, cities need to be part of the solution, taking an active leadership role in the journey towards climate neutrality.
Looking at the policy landscape, smart cities and regions are at the forefront of the EU’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. A host of initiatives attest to this, including the European Green Deal, the reinforcing REPowerEU initiative as well as the binding targets set by the Climate Law. Furthermore, the European Commission aims to mobilise at least €1 trillion in sustainable investments over the next decade to decarbonise economies. Taken together, these ambitions are expected to ensure that this transition benefits all segments of society, particularly supporting citizens and areas most impacted by the costs of decarbonisation.
Also at the European level, numerous initiatives and projects offer guidelines and support in various thematic areas and modes; to name a few, these initiatives include: the Covenant of Mayors, the Intelligent Cities Challenge, the EU City Facility, NetzeroCities, Civitas, Scalable Cities, and the Smart Cities Marketplace (see below).
However, the abundance of initiatives often overwhelms cities with information, leading to confusion about accessing necessary support. Moreover, achieving climate targets relies heavily on mobilising significant volumes of private funding, a task that does not always align seamlessly with the involvement of businesses and investors in city projects.
Finding a match: Investors and cities
The Smart Cities Marketplace is an initiative led by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy (DG ENER). Technopolis Group, as part of the consortium running the initiative, has joined up with researcher organisations, citizen and stakeholder networks. With a budget of over €6 million, the project oversees the design and delivery of matchmaking services, which encompass various activities like info sessions, webinars, financing masterclasses, matchmaking events, 1-to-1 consulting and peer-to-peer exchanges.
The Smart Cities Marketplace is an ideal hub for accelerating investments in smart, sustainable and inclusive projects. Over 130 bankable project proposals have been received and assessed to date, amounting to an overall investment value of €668 million. The initiative provides tailored services, mainly focused on the provision of guidance and expertise. For instance, the Marketplace:
- Supports projects carried out by a city or by a city-led consortium, including private entities and investors in the assistance package next to local authorities and municipalities
- Assists projects with a wide thematic scope, embracing clean energy, sustainable mobility and ICTs
- Provides tailored guidance to de-risking and financial assistance aiming at helping smart projects reach an investment-grade status (for mature or almost mature projects, it facilitates access to private funding and financing through an accredited network of investors who are virtually able to operate in projects covering every theme mentioned above or EU geography, and ticket size)
- Offers free-of-charge tailored technical, legal, financial or governance-related assistance that can, at certain conditions be deployed locally everywhere in Europe in the native language, thus contributing to breaking the barriers of knowledge and language
- Supports small and medium-sized cities, which is where most of the EU urban population live and yet have a huge potential in terms of investment in net zero
- Hosts a very rich and ever-growing repository of knowledge and guidance providing inspiration and actionable examples of good practice for cities with an interest in becoming smart, sustainable and inclusive.
The path to climate neutrality is full of policies and incentives ready to be applied and implemented by cities. Yet, when it comes this implementation, it is often difficult for cities, and our clients, to navigate through the maze of information or identify the best solutions and methods to address different challenges. Technopolis Group, thanks to its position in the Smart Cities Marketplace, and in several other European and national strategic initiatives, can add real value to the design and implementation of impactful smart city policies and investment across Europe and beyond.