Smart Cities are known to combine the use of cross-cutting and innovative technologies (ICT but not only) to improve the provision of urban-based services to citizens in a more efficient way if compared to the traditional methods employed so far.
In the age of the CoVid-19 pandemic, where distances have represented the first line of defense against the increasing degree of contagion from this virus, smart city project managers have had to face a new conundrum: how can cities continue to function when movements are being limited for health-related reasons? Indeed, different waves of lockdown have affected Europe as a whole, to different extent but with a halt to the freedom of movement as being a common factor to all countries in Europe and beyond.
To this end, different cities have started to reimagine their urban environments as micro-clusters that can provide whatever is needed to citizens within the span of a few minutes. Usually, limitations have been imposed on short distances or on the borders of the single municipality: for this reason, the maximum amount of time employed by people, on foot or by bike, can be calculated in just a few minutes – or just one, even.
This was the challenge launched by the Swedish national innovation body Vinnova and design think tank ArkDes. The idea is to combine a participatory approach to urban policy planning through the involvement of local citizens and the implementation of innovative solutions, also technology based. It represents a good example of cooperation between the idea of smart city project managers trying to implement on a small scale while taking into consideration during all phases of development both the needs and the ultimate goal of the project – that is, to enable citizens to enjoy all cities’ services within minutes from their residence.
This approach to innovation and smartness can be considered to take place at the neighborhood level, and it is fair to define them as smart neighborhood. Furthermore, Sweden is not the only example in this category. To different extent in terms of time employed, but also Barcelona (the “superblock”), Paris (“15-minutes city”) and other cities have been working on this kind of solutions.
Then, what exactly are the measures that are being put in place to allow citizens to move less but to actually experience and enjoy more their city at the neighborhood level? A first aspect that felt like needed rethinking was the space used by streets. With the progressive use of nature-based solution, developed according to the needs identified by the local residents, neighborhoods have started designing new structures that can help citizens enjoy more their local areas rather than having to move further away from their home. The same goes for similar green initiatives, like urban gardens – addressing both community-building and food supply issues (as in Los Angeles). Other digital solutions are the widespread of bike sharing technologies, with cities’ sidewalks flooded with such opportunities, or cashless transactions.
The goal of this neighborhood-based solutions is to prove that smaller scale solutions for smarter cities are not only possible, but advisable in terms of practical benefits, governance and lower costs.
 ArkDes website. Accessible here: https://arkdes.se/arkdes-play/nu-flyttar-streetmoves-fran-stockholm/. See also: O’ Sullivan, Feargus. Make Way for the “One-Minute City”. Accessible here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-01-05/a-tiny-twist-on-street-design-the-one-minute-city
 Yeung, Peter. How ’15-minute cities’ will change the way we socialise’. Accessible here: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201214-how-15-minute-cities-will-change-the-way-we-socialise
 Berg, Nate. An illegal curbside garden flourishes in L.A. Accessible here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-04-10/an-illegal-curbside-garden-flourishes-in-l-a
 Moreno, C. et al. Introducing the “15-Minute City”: Sustainability, Resilience and Place Identity in Future Post-Pandemic Cities. Smart Cities 4 (1), 93-111, 2021. Accessible here: https://www.mdpi.com/2624-6511/4/1/6
This article is based on a study done so far on the Project Smart Skills for Smarter Cities (Skills4Cities), launched by the Cluster Sofia Knowledge City at the end of 2020 with the support of the Programme Erasmus +. It reflects the work of the partnership till now and is a first attempt to draw some important conclusions the partners came to regarding the so-called skills gaps in the field of smart cities projects.
Smart City is a term denoting the effective integration of physical, digital, and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive future for its citizens. The smartness of a city describes its ability to bring together all its resources, to effectively and seamlessly achieve the goals and fulfill the tasks it has set itself. Undoubtedly, the administration and other professionals that work for smart cities require new competencies that currently the education systems provide quite fragmented.
Few universities provide to the learners a well-balanced curriculum for smart city governance. The new types of jobs require the experts to be well trained to meet the needs of smart cities. Such learners, being the future drivers of these industries and smart city agents, are the main human resource to fulfill the vacancies of these workforces.
Constant improvements in and re-evaluation of the curriculum taught to the learners have to be done regularly to keep the learners up-to-date in fulfilling the requirements of the industries and corporations. So, our understanding is that the new era cities need well addressed vocational training of experts who should upgrade their competencies and skills after their classic (normal & formal) education.
In regards to the smart cities' competencies’ needs, we can divide the professionals, who are most involved in the process of transforming cities into smart and realizing activities to implement smart city plans and activities, into three main groups:
1. Internal staff (employees of the cities) of the urban and regional administrations, that is directly committed to the realization of the local government policies, strategies, and plans. From one side these are city officers who are members of the specialized administrations and departments engaged with the smart city matters and from another side, in case of lack of specialized departments, these are regular city officers who are engaged with the realization of such activities on a project base.
2. A large group of hired external representatives of the urban economic environment, architects, engineers, as well as technicians who work in the field of technical solutions for smart cities, economists, geologists, cartographers, lawyers, among others, all working as service and equipment suppliers (individuals or companies).
3. Free-lance professionals, hired on a project base, that have competencies to develop, manage and implement smart city projects - milestones of the cities' transformation process. Skills4Cities project defines these professionals as smart city project developers, managers, and consultants. To our understanding, these professionals are the most important agents of change that can motorize the process of transformation. They are design thinkers and very often leaders of the realization of smart city projects.
Skills4Cities Project Findings
The following three findings at this stage of the project are important for this article:
1. Among many different drivers for the smart cities’ development, it was found that the “smart city project” is a key instrument for making cities smart. For that reason, the smart city project was put on the stage as the main standpoint for competencies mapping and modeling.
2. The third, from the above-mentioned target groups, i.e., the freelancer professionals like projects developers, managers, and consultants, was crucial for smart city projects' success. That is why the Skills4Cities team focused on upskilling these practitioners with a set of competencies, which can make them real agents of cities' change.
3. It was also found that the set of competencies of the above-mentioned freelancer professionals includes:
Smart City Projects
One project is considered a smart city project when it’s associated with a higher number of smart city main dimensions which are economy, people, governance, environment, mobility, and living. Each dimension represents a particular aspect of the city where a smart project aims to achieve smart city goals in efficiency, sustainability, and high quality of life.
One of the challenges of smart city projects is their size and scope where two types of projects can be defined. Greenfield projects, which are huge, long-term, usually start from zero, and brownfield projects - smaller sized projects, short-term and fast implemented, which are usually built on existing infrastructure and are preferred by investors for generating fast revenues.
Undoubtedly, smart city projects are very complex, multidimensional, multi-stakeholder, citizen-centric, and citizen opinion sensitive, requiring serious leadership, managing change approach, and building on the normal managerial and project management knowledge and skills.
Mapping Smart City Projects
Let's start, in a systematic way, to map the smart city projects, showing where the cities usually invest, domain by domain. As it was already stated, this is based on the study of the results of the mentioned survey.
1. Economy, trade, and industry.
This domain includes projects and initiatives for attracting business, generating growth, and industrial development. The most effective projects that one city implements to improve economic, trade, and industry development are these that make it possible to track economic & industrial trends to make decisions; working with business & academic community; aligning higher education with local industry needs; attracting companies through incentives & work with trade groups and attracting/developing talent & skills.
2. Government and education.
In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
3. Living and health.
This domain includes projects for ensuring the well-being and equity of citizens. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
4. Public safety
This domain includes projects for disaster early warning systems, computer-aided dispatch, drones, and in-car and body cameras for police. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
5. Mobility and transportation
This domain includes projects for partnerships, innovative funding, technology, data, and governance and policy to help people and goods move faster, more safely, and efficiently, and without leaving a carbon footprint. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
6. Environment and sustainability
This domain includes projects for promoting the circular economy and using gamification to boost recycling, reduce food waste, adopt zero waste programs, and digital track waste disposal. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
7. Energy, water, utilities
This domain includes projects to enhance services, encouraging the use of renewable energy, and promoting efficient water usage. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
8. Digital infrastructure and networks
This domain includes projects to become better at using data and analytics to understand where the divide exists, providing free Wi-Fi, working with partners to provide free devices, and leveraging PPPs to foster digital equity, partnerships with telecom providers to provide smart services, to use data analytics to understand the digital divide and to use PPPs. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:
Smart City project competencies in our understanding apart of transversal skills, knowledge about key technologies and skills for dealing with the challenges, include also knowledge about the areas of application and the way such technologies аре use. Undoubtedly, people working on smart city projects need access to accumulated knowledge and information for good practices of how smart city projects are generated, initiated, developed, and implemented in the listed smart city areas.
The collected above diverse types of investment projects taken from hundreds of cities generated within the eight smart city domains report a very high return on investment of over 90%. Thus, these projects can facilitate the identification of good practices in studying each city and be a basis for measuring and benchmarking results.
They also provide an opportunity to be used in the training process of this target group and can contribute to filling in the missing elements of the competence framework for these new professions directly related to smart cities. So that the mapping of smart city projects provides a good although an insufficient basis for the accumulation of knowledge that the target freelancers (smart city developers, managers, and consultants) should be familiar with before committing to develop, manage, and consult smart cities projects.
@Cluster Sofia Knowledge City
In the beginning of March 2021 the Skills4Cities Bulgarian partners IBS and CSKC laid the grounds of a common initiative inspired by the Skills4Cities project and in favour of the sustainability of the project’s results and the impact it aims to achieve – a Center for Competencies for Innovation Management and Smart Cities.
The Center will focus on the preparation of human capital in accordance with the European Skills Agenda with an emphasis on skills in managing innovation and deep technologies for digital transformation and smart cities. At the heart of the initiative is the most important building block of any smart city, namely the "smart city project".
This will be the first specialized Competencies Center in the Bulgaria, which will upgrade and certify skills, knowledge, and abilities directly related to the new professions, so necessary for the cities of the future. The initiative envisages offering lifelong and specialized training to expand and improve the professional qualification and skills for technology management, innovation, and projects for smart cities.
The target group is the innovative professional community, which includes employees and managers, experts, consultants, mentors, urban planners, economists, architects, engineers, geologists, cartographers, lawyers, as well as technicians working in the ICT sectors, etc. who, by upskilling with new competencies and subsequent certification, will claim knowledge and skills in the management and implementation of various types and sizes of the smart cities projects.
After the completion of the Skills4Cities project, the Center will have the necessary resources to prepare and certify the first three new job roles.
On the 13th of November 2020 the Skills4Cities project (Smart Skills for Smarter Cities, No: 2020-1-BG01-KA202-079071) kicked-off with an online meeting hosted by the project coordinator Cluster Sofia Knowledge City - CSKC (Bulgaria) and all project partners: ARIES Transilvania (Romania), ECQA (Austria), GAIA (Spain), IBS (Bulgaria) and IDEC (Greece).
The project implementation will continue 24 months and is funded under the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. Erasmus+ is the EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe.
During the kick off meeting the partners agreed on an agenda that would focus on producing quality intellectual outputs and would result in the development of a three job profiles targeting the smart cities projects – the “building block” of any smart city.
What is Skills4Cities about?
The main objective of the project is to develop and test learning and validation tools for the training of experts, personnel and managers of smart city projects for their newly emerging roles.
Skills4Cities Results and Impacts
Considering the emerging technologies and the digital transformation of the cities the urban management requires new competencies that the education systems provide currently quite fragmented. In this respect the core activities of the project are focused on the development of two so called intellectual outputs (IO):
IO1 - Toolkit for smart city competencies framework
IO2 - Validation tools for smart city competencies
Project Impact and Sustainability
All project results will be available in all partner languages (5) and in English, facilitating this way their use even by stakeholders in non-participating countries. All materials will be accessible through the project website for free.
The project impact envisages a rise of awareness on the new roles of the cities' staff regarding the smart city-related challenges and increasing the efficiency of the cities as a result of an improved competencies of the HR of the cities. The last will be a result of a certified training based on the new competencies framework and the training curricula and materials, elaborated under the project.
A potential longer-term benefit could be considered the opportunity to link the reference competencies framework and the validation mechanism for recruitment, training or retraining of personnel working on smart city projects, to the national and European qualification systems and to have it recognized on national and European levels.