The following section is dedicated to an exploration of conceptual models and values that underpin the Smart City related activities of the mSL project as compared to the pre-existing approach to integrated mobility planning in Hamburg. To contextualize this exploration, relevant actor constellations, the prevalent approach to participation and the democratic status of the experiments shall be described first.
Actors, status, ambitions and dynamics of Smart City experiments in Hamburg
The impulse for Hamburg’s application to the Smart City call of the EU (H2020-SCC) was given by the Senate Chancellery’s office for international cooperation against the background of the mayor’s prioritization of the Smart City topic. The Hamburg consortium has been consisting of a triple helix partnership of public partners from the city and the district, partners from science and research, and private companies, e.g. MOIA, a daughter of Volkswagen AG, the public transport provider VHH,Footnote 5 DeutscheTelekom AG as partner for digitalisation issues and Hamburg Energy, one of the local energy providers. This newly established consortium of public and private partners (as defined in the proposal from 2015) privileges a type of flexible and digitization-oriented staff both within the public administration and in “innovative” companies that collaborate in these projects. After all, a closed consortium was selected to benefit from the “lighthouse” project status and the connected funds, and to consequently shape the implementation of model (mobility) solutions in Hamburg-Bergedorf and beyond. The prescriptions of the EU-SCC calls (e.g. prioritizing public-private collaboration) matched well with a municipal state government, which since its inauguration strongly promoted public-private partnerships in order to mobilize both skills and capital from the private sector. The decision to include partners in the consortium was taken by social networks bridging the city state government with technology providers, researchers and consultants. In consequence, the actions now implemented as part of mSL have been selected on basis of the solutions potential partners promised to bring to the consortium and whether they were expected to increase the consortiums chances of winning the bid. Such considerations of the ‘weight’ a potential partner could bring to the consortium’s bid naturally overruled a potentially critical assessment of the extent to which any such “solution” would actually solve perceived problems.Footnote 6
The project aims at broad participation of citizens in the research and decision-making process which is organized by a private agency for urban planning and communicative processes at the neighbourhood level. The scope of the project was initially communicated in a rather diminished form: It was portrayed as an uncertain attempt to win EU funds for a set of experiments in a single district, which may, however, eventually earn the city the precious status of a “lighthouse city”. At the same time, the proposal involved the shaping of partnerships and technological choices, that are likely to determine future infrastructural trajectories both in the ICT, energy and mobility sectors and may preconfigure future decisions in the metropolitan area, e.g. via the establishment of development partnerships.
The formal status of the project is interestingly hybrid: Although the development of the bid to the H2020-SCC call was formally authorized by the city-state government and involved an officer of the district that was envisaged to become the site of experimentation, the negotiations on the emerging consortium had a very preliminary and informal status. Decisions, e.g. on how to eventually invest in transportation infrastructure - were made under the assumption that the chances of receiving the EU funding were quite small. Consequently, the negotiations were not made a subject of democratic deliberation and decision making e.g. in the districts parliament. The district parliament was informed about the project only after it had been started, that is after the district administration had already been commissioned by the Senate Chancellery with the realization of the project. In principal, the practicalities of bidding within such EU calls lead to frictions concerning the parliamentarian legitimation of the agenda setting that such applications necessarily contain, as they are usually developed under high time-pressure. Against this background, decisions about best ways to fulfil the content-related and procedural requirements of the calls are hence usually taken from a very pragmatic perspective.
The content of these decisions already reveal some of the normative underpinnings: the activities that the proposal prescribed for Hamburg and the two partner cities include mostly new technological developments in connection with refurbishments of buildings, usage of renewable energies, clean transport and supporting ICT solutions. As a core rationale, the mSL project aims at reducing the CO2 emissions of the participating cities, increasing the use of renewable energy sources and making the demonstration cities more environmentally friendly in general. By joining forces, the cities intend to deepen their understanding of technological solutions to common challenges such as smoothening traffic, improving city services and reducing CO2 emissions, and this knowledge is considered key to upgrading of infrastructures and the delivery of new services.
Moreover, the project’s objectives go beyond the environmental dimension and also aim to create more inclusive cities that offer a high quality of life, where citizens play a vital role in the development of the city. In this regard, it is a further objective to develop the concept of “smart people”. This ambition is specified in a project document: Peoples views shall be considered in decisions, “in order to ensure social acceptance” (mSL 2017). Yet, the consortium agreement with the EU on the funding details includes already what measures and technologies are to be implemented. Even the number of electric buses to be purchased and the number of public charging stations to be installed was contractually agreed upon, before there was any possibility of public participation. This factually constrains any future participation to relatively minor issues like the placing of charging stations. And the format of the public events, that have been conducted so far to ensure public participation, reflect this orientation towards “ensuring acceptance”: they have predominantly been designed and announced as opportunities for getting informed and discussing about particular “smart” technologies, like e.g. smart grids or smart lampposts, rather than more openly discussing perceived problems and all possible solutions.
Probably typical for a Smart City agenda (Söderström et al., 2014) mSL evidently narrowed the discussion, e.g. what sustainable mobility could look like in Hamburg, towards technological and high-tech solutions that correlate with strong economic interests of the automobile industry and ICT companies. Memorandums of Understanding with CISCO in 2014 and Daimler in 2017 underline this classical growth orientation which is affirmed by the strategy and actor constellation of the mSL project. Both are closely aligned with priorities of the EU calls and overarching economic agenda by mainly targeting technological solutions and efficiency increase and related stakeholder networks but do not reflect alternative and growth critical concepts like economic sufficiency or changes of life style.
In a nutshell, mSL involves the implementation of experiments as defined in a binding proposal on pilot sites together with European partner cities by members of a “triple helix” public-private EU H-2020 consortium. The Smart City experiments in the field of transportation specifically call for a shift away from planning for a slowly transforming mobility system towards the management of flows “in real-time” under the condition of ever faster technological change and connected uncertainties. Such “real time management” has indeed been used in several speeches of the lord mayor as a marker for heralding the innovative strength of Hamburg and for positioning the city as a primary “testfield” for emerging technology. Apparently, this ambition is shared across various departments of the city state administration, and in 2017 has also manifested itself in the (later successful) application to host the ITS world congress of 2021.
As can be seen in the following section, the activities of mSL clearly differ from the approach of integrated transportation planning particularly due to their experimental character, their spatial selectivity and their hybrid formal/informal status.
Actors, status, ambitions and dynamics of integrated transportation planning in Hamburg
In sharp contrast with the experimental approach of the Smart City activities, the mobility program of 2013 described a rational, territorial, sequential planning process (Hamburger Senat 2013). It is supposed to start with the identification of political objectives, on which coordinated steps towards the implementation of related infrastructural change would follow. It was developed by the local transport authorities and meant to be implemented in governance arrangements that had developed locally over many years. Transportation planning in Hamburg is hence seen as an integrative process under the leadership of the responsible department and its senator.
The program also clearly reflects an ambition to make transportation planning a rational, continuous and transparent process, in which public authorities lead multi-stakeholder consultation processes in a predefined and systematic way. It pays tribute to a trend towards network governance, yet in a highly formalized way. A section on “transportation planning with whom” (ibid.:61f), for example, defines exactly which public authorities (across governance levels) and which external partners have to be involved in a continuous dialogue in order to ensure acceptance of the final decisions. Importantly, in each step, and particularly in the phase of articulating political objectives, this process is meant to be inviting political contestation. Debates are foreseen primarily within the mobility advisory board, in which “the relevant groups of society” are to be represented (ibid.:61). To a certain extent, however, the making transparent of “objectives, targets, scenarios and measures” also enables civil society organizations, which are not part of the advisory board, and even individual citizens, to voice concerns and preferences. The advisory board has met eleven times since its establishment in 2014.Footnote 7 A set of objectives and target values was published in January 2017, but a comprehensive transport development plan, which was originally planned to be released by 2017, has not been adopted by the Senate, but is currently to be developed in a participatory process that was started in September 2019.Footnote 8