Green and smart are not twins

Recently, the European Commission launched a 100-city plan, the EU Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities. One hundred European cities that aspire to be climate neutral by 2030 were invited to register and count on supplemental funding. And yes, more than 100 did. As the European Commission aspires a simultaneous green and digital transformation, it is taking about green and digital twin. I immediately thought of another 100-city plan, India’s Smart City Mission. In 2015, Prime Minister Modi announced that in six years 100 Indian cities would become ‘smart’ with the goal of solving the uncountable problems that Indian cities face. This connection failed. Therefore, my advice to the commission is, stick to one ambition, becoming climate-neutral.

The main reason of the limited outcomes of the Indian mission is the gap between its ambitions and the nature of the problems that India is facing. Cities are bursting at the seams because of the millions of poor people who flock to cities every year in search of work and a place to live that find them only in the growing slums. The priorities for which the country must find a solution are therefore: improving life in rural areas, improving the quality of housing, ensuring safe drinking water, waste disposal, sanitation, and purification of wastewater, good transport and less polluting car traffic. 

The ‘Mission’ has not tackled these problems at the root, but instead looked for a solution in ‘smartification’.

IC solutions have been concentrated in enclaves where businesses and prosperous citizens are welcomed. The Government of India Special Rapporteur on Housing therefore notes that the proposals submitted had a predominant focus on technology rather than prioritizing affordable housing and doubts the correctness of this choice. Instead of emphasizing the role of digital technology, the focus should have been on equitable, inclusive, and sustainable living areas for all. 

The European Union cherishes the image of a ‘green and digital twin’, a simultaneous green and digital transformation. Digital technology will certainly contribute to the energy transition, for example in ‘smart grids’. However, the reduction of greenhouse gases and digitization should not be seen as extensions of each other. Making a city climate neutral requires much more than (digital) technology, certainly if this aim must be achieved before 2030. This is only possible by focusing on the basics: building wind-turbines, spreading VF-panels, adapting the grid and organize the availability of green hydrogen and finally cherish citizen’ participation.

This post based on by the new e-book Better cities, the contribution of digital technology.  Interested? Download the book here for free (90 pages)


Hardcore: Technology-centered approaches

1. Ten years of smart city technology marketing

2. Scare off the monster behind the curtain: Big Tech’s monopoly

Towards a humancentric approach

3. A smart city, this is how you do it

4. Digital social innovation: For the social good

Misunderstanding the use of data

5. Digital twins

6. Artificial intelligence

Embedding digitization in urban policy

7. The steps to urban governance

8. Guidelines for a responsible digitization policy

9. A closer look at the digitization agenda of Amsterdam

10. Forging beneficial cooperation with technology companies


11. Government: How digital tools help residents regaining power?

12. Mobility: Will MaaS reduce the use of cars?

13. Energy: Smart grids – where social and digital innovation meet

14. Healthcare: Opportunities and risks of digitization

Wrapping up: Better cities and technology

15. Two 100 city missions: India and Europe

Epilogue: Beyond the Smart City