“A Smart City is a challenge beyond technology”: Thoughts from the ISOCARP Institute Special Session 

December 28, 2020

On Wednesday 9 December, we Smart City enthusiasts gathered together virtually to discuss the opportunities and challenges of cities becoming smarter. Hosted by the ISOCARP Institute, this online Special Session was part of the ongoing 56th ISOCARP World Planning Congress “Post-Oil City. Planning for Urban Green Deals”, spanning from 8 November 2020 to 4 February 2021.

The session was spearheaded by our Keynote speaker Luca Mora, Associate Professor of Urban Innovation at the Business School of Edinburgh Napier University, with his keynote ‘Assembling Sustainable Smart City Transitions”. Pointing out the disparity between the abundance of technological applications and the lack of research on how to build platforms for integrating those technologies for making cities smarter, he set the tone for the discussion on the importance of a ‘collaborative environment’. An open and engaging environment that strengthens the capacity of individuals and organizations to implement the technologies and to work together and participate, innovate and improve. Mora mentions the importance of “play” in the process: competitions, hackathons and citizen workshops are a great way to innovate and experiment in a more relaxed setting.

In addition to the many examples of successful real-life collaborative success stories Mora presented, we also heard the experiences from two EU Horizon 2020-funded projects supported by the Institute. The presentations focused on the context-specific strategies chosen for the implementation of Smart City solutions in these two projects.

The first project, +CityxChange, was presented by Project Manager Dirk Ahlers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. +CityxChange is focusing on enabling community-supported energy transition actions. Being a collective project of 7 cities around Europe, Ahlers discussed striking the balance between well-established frameworks but also certain flexibility, which allows taking different cultural and natural conditions into account.

The other EU Horizon 2020 -project, VARCITIES, was presented by Associate Professor Denia Kolokotsa, Technical University of Crete. One of the main goals of the project is the development of a Healthy Cities Helix, a collaborative tool for developing models for increasing the health and well-being of vulnerable citizens with nature-based solutions. These models are especially focused on the symbiosis of urban green and smart technologies.

The presentations were followed by a joint post-it -session, where we discussed the different opportunities and challenges of the implementation, participation and governance involved in initiating new digital and smart solutions. In conclusion, all participants agreed on the importance of flexibility and tailor-made solutions; no matter how fantastic your framework might be, one size does not fit all.

A Smart City is no longer only a question of a technological premise. The technology already exists, but in order to make solutions truly community-based, the gap between technology and the general public needs to be bridged by building platforms of integrated smart city solutions in a sustainable and collaborative manner. After all, a Smart City is a challenge beyond technology.

Speakers and presentations

Keynote Speaker

Luca Mora – Professor of Urban Innovation, Business School of Edinburgh Napier University

Topic: Assembling sustainable smart city transition

Denia Kolokotsa – Professor (Associate) of Technical University of Crete


Dirk Ahlers – Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Topic: +CityxChange

 Pietro Elisei – President-elect ISOCARP


  • ISOCARP Institute introduction | 10 min.
  • Keynote speaker presentation | 20 min.
  • Q&A with audience | 10 min.
  • ISOCARP Institute projects presentation| 15 min.
  • Online Post-it Workshop | 20 min.
  • Closing | 5 min.
  • Didier Vancutsem – Director of ISOCARP Institute
  • Federico Aili – ISOCARP Institute
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or proposals for upcoming sessions.

More news

Event: Urban Future 24

upcoming event: urban future 24 we’re a proud partner The ISOCARP Institute is a proud partner of Urban Future 24, to be

New project announcement: SPADES

SPADES (Spatial Planning And DEsign with Soil) We are proud to announce our participation in SPADES (Spatial Planning And DEsign with Soil),

JUSTNature 5th Consortium Meeting

JUSTNature 5th Consortium Meeting This month, the ISOCARP Institute attended JUSTNature’s 5th Project Meeting and 3rd Collaborative CiPeL Workshop in the cities