ISCN Symposium

International Smart Cities Symposium 2023

On November 8th, the International Smart Cities Symposium was held at the Smart Country Convention (SCCON) in Berlin. Experts from Thailand, South Korea and Germany shared their thoughts on this year’s topic “From Smart Cities to Smart Communities: Insights from towns and rural areas on how to make the most out of the smart approach”.


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Urban development isn't limited to big cities alone—it also extends its reach to small towns and rural villages. These communities are eager to adopt smart solutions to address their unique challenges, which may differ from those faced by larger urban areas. However, this doesn't mean that rural areas can't benefit from smart and sustainable development.
What does the future Smart Region look like, and how does standardization play a role in smart urban and rural development? These were some of the key questions explored at the ISCN symposium during the Smart Country Convention in Berlin on November 8th. The event provided insights and encouraged discussions on the role of smart rural development in both Asia and Europe. Representatives from Germany, Thailand, and South Korea, each with unique approaches, shared their experiences, offering a diverse global perspective.

Renate Mitterhuber, the Head of Division Smart Cities at the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development, and Building (BMWSB) in Germany, and Peter Sailer (International Smart Cities Network) welcomed the participants of the symposium.  Ms. Mitterhuber highlighted the fact that "innovative development happens in smaller communities as well," urging actors to unleash their creativity in building resilient and livable cities tailored to unique needs. Mr. Sailer urged attendees to adopt a wider perspective by looking beyond borders, facilitating exchanges with funded German cities, and sharing knowledge and experiences within the ISCN partner network.

Dr. Non Arkara from Thailand's Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa), Smart City Promotion Department highlighted the importance of understanding people's perspectives before implementing smart city measures. He stressed the need for flexibility and agility in introducing new technologies, reiterating that smart cities should be citizen-centered, ultimately focused on "enabling people to have a good life."

Zooming into a specific town in Thailand, Dr. Kanop Ketchart, the Mayor of Nakhon Si Thammarat, shared captivating insights. The municipality became more resilient to crises by implementing a smart city mobile application involving 60,000 subscribed residents and volunteers, engaging in comprehensive flood prevention. The low-cost, highly efficient warning system not only prevented flooding damages but also fostered public trust and collaboration.

Shifting to Germany, the SmartesLand project in Ilzer Land, presented by project lead Lena Schandra, showcased a unique blend of analog and digital measures. With twelve communities involved, the region faced the challenge of bundling different interests and gaining acceptance for digitization. The interplay of digital and analog measures proved effective in countering these challenges.

Ellie Lee from the Smart City Association Korea captivated the audience with South Korea's forward-thinking approach. Highlighting the establishment of their first ubiquitous Urban Comprehensive Plan in 2009, Lee demystified smart cities, stating, "Smart cities are not utopia, but simply providing people with services that make city life better." Advocating for a trial-and-error approach, she encouraged cities to experiment with existing resources.

Finally, Monika Heyder, Senior Expert Sustainable Cities and Communities at ICLEI, and Chair of the German Mirror Committee "Sustainable Development in Communities," emphasized the relevance of standardization for cities and communities. Heyder noted that the EU's diverse funding projects resulted in fragmentation, calling for better standardization to harness the digital transformation achievements already made.

Key take-aways:

  • A citizen-centered approach, which prioritizes people over technology, has enabled Thailand to achieve greater acceptance of its smart city initiatives. It is crucial to address the actual problems faced by citizens before introducing sophisticated technologies. A smart city need not resemble a futuristic utopia; instead, it should be livable and lovable. 
  • Involving citizens in the usability of the system can be highly beneficial. As demonstrated in the village of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand, when people see the impact of their contributions, their trust in technology can increase.
  • Taking a hybrid approach can be a crucial decision in establishing acceptance. The hybrid approach in SmartesLand has demonstrated that it is preferable to take digitization step by step.
  • Being pragmatic and assessing what is already available and what is necessary to solve citizens' basic everyday problems can be a more effective strategy than hesitating due to a lack of innovation. South Korea has demonstrated that starting with small steps can lead to smartness.
  • Standardization, rather than fragmentation, is crucial to achieving greater resilience, digitalization, and sustainability globally. The European Standardization Strategy aims to achieve this by strengthening the Single Market and promoting inclusion.