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Reclaiming our role as agents of urban space in the Digitized City

The report, videos, pictures, presentations. Everything about our conference ‘Livability & Affordability in the Digitized City’ is here!

Tallinn, 21 June 2018 | Published in Urban, Social
Check out our Photo Album from the day:
Check out our Photo Album from the day:

More than 130 participants. 25 interventions. 7 hours full of debates, networking, videos, pictures, innovation shots and coffee. Tallinn has been an excellent host of this year’s edition of our agenda-setting event around affordable housing in Europe. Livability and affordability were the two threads that helped us navigate during our trip through the Digitized City. Below you may find a detailed recap of the day, including the videos and the slides of all presentations, a large selection of pictures, the link to the movie that was screened as well as the conference brochure with the profiles of all speakers. Do you prefer an overview of our live tweeting session? We’ve got you covered, too! Have you attended the event? Before you finish reading, please fill in the evaluation form at the bottom of the page, it only takes 2 minutes.

This summer Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing and EKYL- Estonian Union of Co-operative Housing Associations took a digital look in the future of our cities hosted by the City of Tallinn within the framework of Estonia100 at the impressive Estonian Film Museum in the Maarjamäe Palace.

Do you want to take the fast- Twitter- lane? Our Live Tweeting session #housingeurope30 will provide you with the highlights in a few characters.

Welcome Session

The event kicked off with a welcome message by the Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, Urve Palo. Mrs. Palo unfolded the country’s housing ambitions, combining modern technology with affordability.

The Mayor of Tallinn & Eurocities Executive Committee Member, Taavi Aas highlighted in his opening words his ambition is to turn the city into a true housing capital of Europe, using the occasion of the presence of public, cooperative and social housing providers from across the continent in the Estonian capital as a starting point.

Andres Jaadla and the team of EKYL made sure that everything is ready over the last months. Andres, also a Board Member of Housing Europe and European Committee of the Regions Member, kicked off the event calling for a human-centered approach in digitized, smart or whatever we call our future cities, highlighting that “housing doesn't consist of Technological Solutions in first place. Housing consists of people”.

Closing the introductory part, our President, Cédric Van Styvendael gave his own definition of a smart city: “a city can only be actually smart when it can provide housing for all, fight inequality and ghettos”.

Participants’ views

As every year, all participants in the Housing Europe conference were invited to share their views on a number of issues related to the event agenda using the Mentimeter online polling tool.

Keynote session | Radical technologies: the design of everyday life

We already depend on the smartphone to navigate every aspect of our existence. We’re told that innovations—from augmented-reality interfaces and virtual assistants to autonomous delivery drones and self-driving cars—will make life easier, more convenient and more productive. Having successfully colonized everyday life, these radical technologies are now conditioning the choices available to us in the years to come. How do they work? What challenges do they present to us, as individuals and societies? Who benefits from their adoption?

World-renowned writer and leading technology thinker, Adam Greenfield delivered the keynote presentation this year, inviting us to reconsider our relationship with the networked objects, services and spaces that define us, both at home and in the wider urban environment.

Adam suggested that “the 'Smart City' is almost a content-free term! Nobody can tell you what it really means” taking us on a roller coaster ride through everything that is changing in the digital urban environments. Adam Greenfield reflected on the transformations of the urban land use and the role of affordable, equitable housing within it presenting a number of innovative initiatives in Denmark and Spain and elsewhere bringing together grassroots movements and the Digital potential to co-produce more democratic decisions on the use of space for housing.

Emerging practices of urban democracy may indeed be the opportunity that the digitized cities trigger, said Adam, making the point that “The posthuman city is already with us” and stressing the defining role of big corporations in it, what he called "morally unacceptable".

Closing his fast-paced and passionate keynote, the acclaimed author of the ‘Against the Smart City’ manifesto called participants to “reclaim our roles as subjects of urban space”.

The presentation was followed by a discussion with Lorna Wilson, Innovation and Future Thinking Lead at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and Kimmo Rönkä, Future Living Specialist at the Housing Fair Finland Co-operative. The debate focused on the important role of housing associations in keeping people and communities connected digitally, socially and emotionally, underlined initially by Lorna Wilson. “The future is about location, community and purpose” claimed Kimmo, while Adam seconded our moderator’s, Eddy Adams’ point that “Post-heroic technology implementation" by local authorities may be key in unlocking further potential of our cities”.

Innovation Shots, Round 1

The coffee breaks this year were quite different… Participants had the chance to combine their coffee with a shot of innovation, listening to short presentations of interesting initiatives across Europe on a number of issues, using the time to network and maybe even block their agendas for future events.

In the first round, Susanne Juranek, Coordinator of the European Network for Housing and Urban  Development (ENH) at the European Education Centre for Housing and Real Estate invited public, cooperative and social housing providers across the continent to send their young colleagues to Bochum between 16 and 20 July for the second edition of the summer school, a joint venture by by EBZ with EFL, the European Federation for Living, IWO and Housing Europe.

Across the hallway, Housing Europe Innovation and Project Manager, Sebastien Garnier introduced HEART, a Horizon 2020 project, we are involved in tackling technical, economic and social aspects of energy retrofit. The ‘HEART toolkit’ integrates different subcomponents - envelope technologies, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), RES (Renewable Energy Systems) and BEMS (Building Energy Management Systems) – and offers high levels of performance by making them communicate with each other. This enables to convert buildings into Smart Buildings, i.e. in interactive buildings characterized by dynamic and multidirectional flows of energy and information. At the centre of the project are two buildings managed by social housing providers. One is managed by Est Metropole Habitat with activities nearby Lyon in France and the other one is from ACER and situated around Regio Emilia in Italy.

Session II: Connecting the dots of the digitized city

With people in the center, the session aimed to put together the pieces of the puzzle that the digitized city appears to be for many of us. What are the driving forces and the prospects of the digital transformation? Can we measure it? Are zero emission neighbourhoods possible in smart cities? What is the role of public, cooperative and social housing providers in making the link with other services for their residents? How does a living lab look like?

Miimu Airaksinen, Managing Director and CEO of Finnish Association of Civil Engineers (RIL) started her intervention, stressing that the digitized city needs new leadership forms. Miimu said that technology may indeed enable better efficiency and user well-being, calling for a move away from the Internet of Things towards things of meaning. Miimu also offered one of the most memorable quotes of the day with which she concluded her short talk, saying that “the future is always overpredicted but underimagined”, what turned into food for thought throughout the day.

Architect Raul Järg, Head of the Estonian Centre of Architecture and Curator of the Estonian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale of Architecture supported balanced approach on the real added value of technology in cities of today and tomorrow, providing with a number of historical examples to build his case. “Technology is not smart by itself. Cities don't have to be smart, we have to”, insisted Raul who closed his contribution by suggesting an holistic view on cities in general, since “most resources used by cities come from outside cities”.

Niki Gaitani, Senior Researcher & Project Manager at the Research Centre for Zero Emission Neighbourhoods in Smart Cities of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology focused on the possibilities and challenges of zero-emission neighbourhoods (ZEN) in smart cities. Niki presented a practical ‘how-to guide’ towards ZEN, stressing the value of experimentation in the urban environment, as showcased through various examples, in particular from Nordic countries.

Anders Lago, Chair of HSB Cooperative Housing Association in Sweden, a member of Housing Europe, shared the rich experience of his organisation with sustainability and digitalization in creating homes of the future. Anders indicated the increasing importance of digital tools in communication with cooperative members, describing how they support 4000 local housing cooperatives with their administration via advanced digital technologies. Anders impressed the room in the end with a fascinating example of living research as the HSB Living Lab.

Kalle Virkus from the Tartu Region Energy Agency (TREA) used the Project SmartEnCity as a vehicle to explain the transition from Khruschevka to Smartovka, i.e. from the Soviet type of buildings to modern, energy efficient and smart buildings in Estonia. Kalle questioned the notion that ‘Smart homes = smart city’, inviting everyone to really reflect upon it while suggesting his own definition of smartness that makes sure that the extensive use of ICT for smart governance is accepted by smart citizens.

Movie Time | ELEVATION: How drones will change cities

Right after the lunch break conference participants had the chance to watch the latest DEZEEN production that had premiered a few days earlier at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

Drones will transform cities, revolutionising how people travel, how goods are delivered and how buildings look and are constructed, according to this documentary by Dezeen. “Aerial highways” will relieve pressure on roads as deliveries and human transportation take to the skies in unmanned electric vehicles. Architecture will change dramatically as the ground floor entrance is replaced by rooftop landing, parking and recharging zones and deliveries arrive via specially constructed portals on the sides of buildings.

Session III – Affordability: Digital as a disruptor and an opportunity

The digitalization of the housing sector, all the way from design and construction to management seems to raise challenging issues, while generating attractive opportunities. On the one hand, Building Information Modelling (BIM) and e-construction reduce the costs and optimize the whole construction process. On the other hand, digital aspects of the sharing economy like AirBnB have a direct impact on affordability of rents, raising regulatory challenges for local authorities.

What are the integral inequalities of sharing economy? How can housing providers make use of the digital platforms for the best management of their stock and service provision?

Cattis Carlén, Housing Policy Expert at Riksbyggen in Sweden, a member of Housing Europe, showcased the Swedish strategy for digitalization, focusing on the added value of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the construction process. Cattis presented a number of examples of measures Riksbyggen is using to achieve maximum affordability and efficiency ranging from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to smart energy management.

Johannes Lutter from Urban Innovation Vienna reflected on the question whether sharing economy is indeed a fair economy, suggesting ways to get a grip on the short-term peer-to-peer renting market. Johannes explored the effects of digital sharing platforms on cities and on affordable housing, sharing the Vienna experience that had a big rise in AirBnb listings, from approximately 1,000 to more than 8,500 in just a few years' time.

Jüri Rass, Deputy Secretary General for Construction at the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications provided with an overview of the future of E-construction in Estonia. Jüri presented the significant impact of the so-called ‘X-road’ in Estonia, including the acknowledgment of Internet access as a social right, making 99% of services available online among other things. Mr. Rass concluded that the Estonian challenge for their 200th anniversary is to make their whole territory of 45,339 km2 smarter.

Evgeny Maksimov, Project Manager at the Tallinn City Property Department suggested that BIM helps the City of Tallinn save money but more importantly create more meaningful information and fewer errors. Evgeny also presented some examples where BIM has been particularly useful in Tallinn, such as the newly renovated Teachers’ House that provides affordable housing targeting school teachers.

Bernd Rießland from Sozialbau AG in Austria, a member organisation of GbV, a Housing Europe member, focused now on the question of construction costs, presenting an overview of the opportunities and the limitations of digitalization. Figures shown by Bernd suggested the tripling of land prices for construction of social housing which is a big challenge to maintain affordability. Bernd concluded that market changes dominate structural and technological options, raising a challenge on how to communicate with market believers. Is it interest or faith the driving force?

Innovation Shots, Round 2

In the second round of ‘Innovation Shots’ that unfolded during the afternoon coffee break, two additional best practices were showcased to the conference delegates.

Sebastien Garnier, Innovation and Project Manager at Housing Europe presented the case of Triple-A Reno, a Horizon 2020 Project that has just kicked off with the participation of our organisation. When preparing for deep energy renovation, the decisions of residents and their acceptance can be a huge challenge. TripleA-Reno will make deep and nZE renovations more attractive for consumers and end-users by providing them with clear, unambiguous and meaningful information and communication on real, proven performances on energy, indoor environment quality and personal health. It will strengthen consumer centred business models. TripleA-reno will achieve this by developing an open end-user-centred gamified platform for validation and community building. Housing Europe members, FEDERCASA from Italy and AVS from Spain are involved.

At the second station, Noemi Gallo presented how her organisation, ATC del Piemonte Centrale, a member organisation of Housing Europe’s Italian member Federcasa, supported by Compagnia di San Paolo Foundation and by ATC’s subsidiary Case Srl has developed a smartphone application to reach their tenants in a smart and innovative way. The application allows tenants to find, access and manage their home from the palm of their hand. The main features include highlights from ATC, news on maintenance for buildings, social events, a complaint box with the chance of sending video/pictures up to 100 Mb and more. Tenants can log in and fix an appointment, change their household members, have a look at their last (3) bills and know how to pay them, see the tenants’ wall (building manager, janitor, local social events…) etc.

Session IV – Livability for all is the answer no matter what the question is

The last panel debate of the day aimed to support the case for inclusive livability at a time when smart cities are on the top of the agenda of local authorities across the globe. Smart homes are a priority for a number of businesses and housing providers. But does smart mean the same thing for all population groups? How can we make sure that the transition does not leave a significant number of people behind? Health, security and data management are just a few factors that are still raising challenges…

As Internet of Things and automation become mainstream in housing, risks of cyber-attacks need to be on the radar, highlighted in a very vivid way, Professor of Cyber Security at Ulster University, Kevin Curran. Kevin put together the issues of data privacy and security to the table, focusing on the various risks of the so-called smart devices/homes/cities, questioning the level of “intelligence” of the streets of our cities, inviting all housing professionals to make truly informed decisions concerning the digital transformation of their sector.

Stuart Hitchman, Eurhonet IT Topic Group Leader and Head of IT at Rooftop Housing Group in the UK was strong on the point that “we should make sure we do not leave anyone behind in the digital journey”, presenting his organisation’s strategy to ensure accessibility and availability for all. Stuart suggested that housing providers have a key role to play in ensuring vulnerable groups do not fall into the digital divide and concluded with a summary of the all necessary elements for the digital revolution to deliver benefits to our society.

Aart Wijnen, CEO of De Twee Snoeken presented the Dutch City Deal for Data Infrastructure that helps people improve their homes, neighbourhoods and cities. The City Deal provides the framework for the transition of the Dutch cities involved towards a digital living environment with three main objectives, including large-scale digitalization of housing, enabling the cost-effective development of
innovative residential and care services with the overall aim to increase social cohesion. Aart presented how the City Deal attempts to address both national and personal needs through the Woonconnect platform that allows people to express their own concerns on a number of issues related to their home and their neighbourhood.

Tallinn City Government Deputy Mayor for Housing, Eha Võrk presented how municipal housing can really make a difference in delivering homes for all, especially when it comes to certain social groups like teachers. Eha shared the wide range of digital tools the City of Tallinn is using to deliver more affordable homes for all, such as the Tallinn City Property Registry, the Avalinn mobile application and the portal that allows local authorities to collect operational information from their dwellings.

Hashtag Conslusion

Housing Europe President, Cédric Van Styvendael was the one who had to put together the main takeaways and the key messages of the day in the last lap of the event. Cédric started by saying how happy he is that Housing Europe is able to organise such a high-level event, while highlighting that he wouldn’t have accepted the task to summarize the conference, if he knew how many content-ricpresentationson he would have to put together.

Cédric claimed that there has been something for everyone on the programme, from the technophobe to the biggest fan of tech. He stated that in the end of the day he remains optimistic although “we realized there is no such thing as a smart city and I also remain optimistic because we focused on the essence, namely who cities are for and what are they supposed to do”.

Cédric seconded Raul Järg’s quote that “technology is not smart by itself, cities do not have to be smart, we have to”. He also shared Kimmo Rönkä’s view who stressed that “no matter what the city is, it’s supposed to serve its citizens”.

Housing Europe President said that probably the key message of the day is that “we have to be agents in the digital context and subjects of the urban space”. After all, if ‘post-human’ is already with us, it stills needs humans and this is a good thing, as per Cédric.

Last but not least, Cédric Van Styvendael underlined that he is still optimistic after the exchanges that occurred during the day, because “we did not pick sides on whether technology is good or evil and having this question or dilemma in mind is probably the best way to take the right decisions concerning the digital transformation”.