Building the Responsive City: Kista Science City

By Thomas Andersson

Thomas Andersson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Electrum Foundation and Kista Science City AB. Before that, he was working at the Stockholm Business Region Development as Chief Operating Officer. His responsibilities have included the 2012 Stockholm Meeting, the region’s involvement in the Mipim real estate fair and the Nobel breakfasts. He also launched the World-Class Business Areas development project. Thomas was Business Development Manager Sweden at Veidekke Bostad. He has also worked as Assistant Head of the City of Stockholm’s Finance Committee, with responsibilities including development and industry issues. He has worked with ICT, infrastructure and housing since the mid-1990s.

Imagine a place inventing the mobile phone. Imagine that same place inventing the second generation of gsm (Globile System for Mobile Communication). And the third. And the fourth. Imagine that same place in the process of inventing the fifth generation. A standard where telecommunication moves from mostly being about voice to being mainly about machine to machine.

That place is known as Kista Science City. A suburb to the north of the City of Stockholm in Sweden. Why here? And what now?

The first question is easy because it is past tense. In the mid 80’s a unique cooperation gathering the private sector, the public sector and academia decided to develop this suburb into a center for electronic research. It was partly a result of the industrial crisis in Sweden following the rather harsh 70’s. But it was led by the Mayor of Stockholm and the board of the organisation leading the work consisted of high-ranking officials from big tech-companies and universities. In particular the Royal Institute of Technology decided to point out Kista as the place to focus on radio och telecommunications.

We have been successful. Today research institutes, universities and companies – notably telecom giant Ericsson – runs it’s own ecosystem. It focuses on – of course – communication. Or as Ericsson says – The Networked Society. In just five years or so we will have at least fifty billion devices connected to the Internet.

At the same time the suburb is developing into a city centre. What prerequisites does a city centre need if it’s ambition is to underpin what the context around it is all about? Well, it needs to always supply the best Internet connection in the world. That is my opinion. It needs to showcase the future. It needs to embrace the global presence in technical progress. And it needs to understand that an abundance of cultures is an asset.

The future city – putting it short – needs to be responsive.

Responsive is beyond smart. Way beyond. Responsive is about building something where it’s inhabitants can change the reality that surrounds  them. In real time. This is not to be invented. It is really here already. In the old days, actually just a couple of years ago, smart cities where described as something where the Mayor could pull some levers and change the city. Well, that’s perhaps good for the Mayor but a bit less interesting for those living in the city.

I am more interested in a bus that when you get on it knows where you want to get off it. That’s also technique already here. Or a house that shifts color because the majority passing the house wanted it green. That might be a nuisance to most city planners or architects. I might suggest then that they decide to move into the future.

Building something that has been unseen and unheard off is not as hard as one would imagine. I think it is easier than doing something that has already been done. And definitely more rewarding. Being a copycat is never a position that will give you heads-up. Catching-up however is quite different because that is about investing in equipment that’s modern and new. Copying is doing the same with the same gear but a bit cheaper. So the rational for Kista Science City in the future is to inspire the one’s that want’s to catch-up. And they are welcome. Because without you, progress would be so much harder.

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