Bodø Smart City – the Dot That Wants to Become the Center of the World
- Bodø may not be the largest city in the world, but this unique project attracts the biggest actors. The dot on the map gains significance.
Project Manager Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen realizes that Bodø is a small city. That is the only concession he is willing to make about size in the project "New City – New Airport". For this is large-scale project, also in international terms. Mayor Ida Maria Pinnerød (Labor) in many ways inherited the project from her predecessor Ole Henrik Hjartøy (Conservatives). Nevertheless, she has no problem promoting it.
- We depend on having strong and good cities, especially here in the High North. The EU's Urban Agenda states that in a few years, more than 70 percent of the population will live in cities, and that is happening in the north too. Therefore, we need to have cities that take on an international role in how we develop functioning, new and green Arctic cities.
Without it, we hardly have any possibility to make use of the full potential that lies here – food for the people of the world, minerals, knowledge and the climate changes – it all rests on strong professional environments, strong cities.
That is where Bodø now has a unique possibility to become the spearhead, or rather a snowplowing truck, as we are familiar with those around here, that can clear the way and show the possibilities. We can do that because we can build a new city – almost from scratch, with a clean slate.
Existence builds on international contact
Ida Maria Pinnerød has no problems showing enthusiasm over the "New City – New Airport" plans. Of course not. How many mayors get to build their own city?
- Do you find yourselves as snowplowing trucks, then, to establish the understanding that the North is far more than just tundra, polar bears, reindeer fells and tourist destinations?
- That is, perhaps, the most fantastic thing about Northern Norway, the fact that we are small, yet well-functioning international societies whose existence is built upon close contact with the world outside, for more than a thousand years.
Pinnerød adds: - We see some of this in Italy working closely with us now in order for us to reach our goal of becoming an official European Capital of Culture. This cooperation is a result of centuries of tradition and contacts between Italy and Nordland County, in particular Røst. Much of the foundation for our close current dialogue is to be found there.
Our experience is that we are taken seriously and that we are highly respected for what we represent when we meet significant and heavy environments further south in Europe and the rest of the world. Often because that which we bring to the table is exciting, like an unpolished diamond, and also because of the knowledge clusters we actually represent. There is no need for us to be beggars among choosers when representing what we have.
Good that the fighters disappeared?
We have strong, if not too large, knowledge clusters. For such a small city, in an international context, to possess so much knowledge is quite impressive, Mayor Pinnerød argues and refuses to hear otherwise. Nor will she agree to anything but Bodø having a key strategic geographic position, even without fighter planes based on the peninsula.
- It is about the food on our plates, about all the blue industries that emerge. There is extensive knowledge about how to produce seafood. It is also about the geopolitical and security-political aspect, including the one emerging as the northeastern sailing routes are opening more up. Remember that our human relations have stretched out in all directions, not just towards Europe but also towards Russia.
- Is it possible to say aloud soon that the decision about moving the fighter plane base away from Bodø has been turned into an advantage?
- Well, that is the million-dollar question, Pinnerød says with a loud laugh. – Hindsight is, after all, an exact science, which we all possess in quantities. Though I presume only time will be able to tell what the actual answer will be. There is no doubt that Bodø has made the most of the opportunities this gives us, and that is the crucial part. We used the opportunities that lay in the fighter planes through 70 years, and now we make the most of the opportunities that arise when they leave us.
Fish – Defense – the Groundbreaking City
Bodø was built on fish and fisheries, restored by the Defense, but now what?
- Research, the future, or perhaps the groundbreaking city? The point, Pinnerød says, - is that the city has managed to embrace its opportunities and has dealt with the many and significant challenges that have arisen over the years. Because there is no doubt that the decision of 2012, in which it was decided to shut down the fighter plane base, the largest transfer of state jobs from any city, created a challenge. However, we embraced it. In addition, we must keep in mind that much of the knowledge that we talked about earlier is a result of the Defense having a base here through decades.
- High North News recently presented a commentary from Siri Beate Arntzen, a North Norwegian master student in London, titled "Bodø's Clean Slate", where she among others asked about who the smart city is to be there for, who shall live there?
- We are now talking about the many steps that lie ahead of us, now that the Government and the Parliament have agreed to this project. Technicalities still remain, such as planning, planning decisions, regulations, area plans etcetera. Many things need to fall into place. However, the big question is just that: What shall people do here, because we do think that many people should live there.
Ocean, security and exoticism
It is all about creating jobs, and I think there are three pillars on which to rest it all. The first one is the obvious one; it is all about our location, right in the middle of our food basket, and through that the marine industries. We must take a stronger position and cultivate more jobs, making sure that a larger part of the value creation takes place right here.
In this sector, the mayor includes research on new sea-based industries, such as e.g. the opportunities provided by algae that can be harvested for proteins and production of new important food sources. The professional clusters around Nord University and UiT Norway's Arctic University are strong and keys in this effort.
- Secondly, I think about the dimension around security and preparedness, where we expect many jobs to be created in the time to come. We see the developing of the drone industry, where technology and digitalization also has a spillover effect into other areas. There are countless opportunities here – and we will be harvesting them.
Thirdly, I am 100 percent convinced that as more and more people come to live in increasingly larger cities, the desire and need to get away and out to experience exotic and exciting nature in an Arctic environment will just keep increasing. In other words, tourism and experience-based tourism will keep increasing. People want to feel that they are alive, Ida Marie Pinnerød emphasizes – the mayor of what is to become the world's smartest city.
Time will show wheter it succeeds.
The international dimension
Nevertheless, the fact that a medium-sized Norwegian city is set to refurbish its airport, and even establish a brand new one, is not made for international headlines. On a national level, there might be some activity, but London? Rotterdam, Amsterdam, New York, Brussels – internationally? Hardly.
No sooner had Bodø decided that when building a new airport, which was necessary, the areas currently covered by today's airport should be made available for city development.
The idea was to think of the greater good for society, thinking about what a moving of the airport might trigger. In reality, some would argue, a kind of mental crisis triggered creativity and energy. That is, at least, a view held by many who are involved in the project today.
The Norwegian Parliament decided that Norway's most important and Northern Europe's largest fighter plane base should relocate, from Bodø to Ørland, near Trondheim. Bodø city was in a state of shock. Through a parliamentary brushstroke, the 'defense city' was decimated and crushed. As were large parts of the population. Bodø experienced a severe identity crisis, and it felt real.
"Never underestimate a crisis" Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen proclaims, and refers to the enormous creative power that ensued once the city had drawn its breath once or twice and processed the Parliament's decisions.
What can we get in return? Which potential does this new situation release?
The reality was that more than half the Bodø Peninsula – more than 1,200 acres – were at the liberty of 250 employees/jobs, largely what remains of the Air Force in Bodø. For a city experiencing growth, that is a sparse density of jobs, even for a city experiencing growth.
Truth be told; there are about 2,000 jobs at the airport today too, however, the changes following the closing down of the airforce base are nevertheless significant.
This constitutes the background for Bodø now picking cherries with the large and clever cities. A new airport is to lead to a new city, a modern city, a city that will be a showcase for the entire world to see, and a city created by its own inhabitants.
The traffic hub
When looking at the Bodø Peninsula as it is today, it is easy to realize that it is possible to build out a large and functional port area on the northern side of the outermost part of the peninsula.
The close proximity between the airport and the harbor will be unique– just a stone’s throw away.
Then there was also the idea that if one could have the railway, which has its northern end in Bodø, into the same area, then the roads, railway, sea transport and air transport would meet more or less in one and the same place. A significant point.
Just imagine what this could do for airfreight of seafood. This region already produces every 10th salmon in the world; here you are in the middle of the most important food basked of the future.
This hub would also carry the potential of playing a vital part for the increasing sea traffic to the northeast, through the Northern Sea Route.
The world woke first
This was what first rose international research attention – airfreight and tourism, connecting with the large markets in Tokyo and New York, a destination to which Avinor (the Norwegian state’s airport-owning corporation) also wants to establish routes.
Within this scenario, there are countless challenges for the national as well as the international research community. Above it all soar the visions about the most environmentally friendly, the most rational, the most futuristic. The smartest – ever.
Moreover, it is not to compete with the Ofoten Railway. Volumes are so, so large; not just considering what is to be brought in, but also thinking of what is to be brought out from the Arctic. And the volumes increase.
Retirement put on hold
Following a presentation in Maastricht, where “New City – New Airport” was presented as the somewhat loose idea it still was at the time, a professor of Urban Development said “Hello! I have planned my retirement that is due to start in about six months’ time. I am now putting that on hold! I want to be a part of this!”
He then started painting, with a large screen and wide brush, how this – little Bodø – could be the logistical hub of interaction in the world, stemming from the resources of the High North.
Bjarmann-Simonsen comments: - It is quite interesting that a man sits pretty detached from the High North, down in Maastricht, and immediately grabs hold of this thought and idea.
The zero-emission city – the new Bodø
Strictly speaking, it was only after receiving this international attention towards logistical solutions that the idea was conceived of making the New city a Smart city.
- That was when it really took off and started becoming interesting, Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen thinks.
Around half the world’s population today lives in cities, and that share is only going to increase. Towards 2050, that number is expected to rise up towards 70 percent. Urbanization is the megatrend of our time – and at the moment, it appears unstoppable.
A few other figures help establish the setting:
70 percent of all climate gas emissions stem from cities
60 percent of all energy consumption takes place in cities
70 percent of all waste is produced in cities
And finally – the cities only take up 0.5 percent of the land areas in the world
Numbers to reflect upon. They were not invented in Bodø, though it is nevertheless a reality that the battle about the climate crisis will stand in the cities – the cities are both the problem and the solution.
To simplify: Building a brand new city represents a unique opportunity to establish a laboratory for trying out solutions for the cities of the future.
Voilá! New city; Bodø.
An evening at the opera and Norway wakes up
There are many questions to which a solution is wanted; how to plan transportation, how to plan energy, how to build in order to secure zero emissions and through that help solve the climate crisis?
Just to be clear: No one believe that a test city with 24,000 – 30,000 inhabitants distributed across 12-15,000 homes in Bodø alone will solve the climate crisis. Nevertheless, it is possible to develop methods, and to spearhead research and development from which the rest of the world can learn and benefit.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the importance of the oil and gas industry will decrease, which means that other industries will have to grow. Research based industries, knowledge industries – the industries that are to save the environment and climate of the entire globe.
Norway and Oslo woke up when the Bodø delegation got its eight minutes of attention at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises’ Annual Conference at the Opera in Oslo. The point was made that things of national and perhaps international interest were happening in Bodø, so perhaps it was worth taking a closer look?
Later, Climate and Environment Minister Helgesen had labeled what happens in Bodø “an international showcase for the Green Shift”. So there you go.
A reversed process
Speaking of the future. Nearly 2,000 inhabitants of the city have been involved in what is referred to as the inspiration process – and 14-year-olds have been targeted for citizens’ involvement. Or the future, if you prefer.
An aim has been to involve people in setting the targets for its own development, to bring out the preferences. Simply finding out what people want, and what they do not want. Perhaps no surprise, then, that the list of what one does not want is the longest list, by far.
In Bodø, all input has been recorded, in particular people’s arguments for why they do not want this or that in their future community. That is to become an important part of the basis for future planning.
The planning process has been turned upside down, which is also a trend in the world right now, where Bodø has gathered inspiration and experiences from Stockholm, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hamburg and, not to mention, Kiruna. The goal is to have a more harmonic planning process, based on people’s preferences, and then letting professionals shape it afterwards.
That is better, it is argued, than for a planning manager to present a ready-made plan and then request opinions on it. Many people find commenting on a plan consisting of hundreds of pages a bit complicated. However, they do know how they would like things to be.
Hamburg, for instance, has its HafenCity, where more than 95 percent of the inhabitants have been involved in developing and shaping the whole district of the city, an old industrial area by the banks of the Elben River.
Greatest of all is insecurity…
What Bodø has more of than anything right now, is faith, hope and insecurity. Well, there are promises of a new airport; it will be built and the large areas will become available. But then what? What to do now?
There are big opportunities, and at least as much insecurity. Of course, much of the insecurity was reduced when the Parliament and the Government embraced the plans, but this is when it is to start. This is when the whole thing is to take shape.
A full-scale pilot project
Delegations from home and abroad have more or less lined up to come to Bodø and study the yet perhaps a bit vague plans up close. For instance, the UN Human Settlements Programme, the UN Habitat’s network called Habitat Professionals Forum, a small network of just six million people world wide, have all been to visit. This network sends out independent experts to both study, advice and consult. They have never been north of Hamburg, Germany before. Now they are coming to Bodø.
And to Bodø, having this input from the outside is crucial. It is better not to be too enthused about one’s own excellence when creating a city that aims at catching the interest of the world. Their attendance is also at the same time an expression of the international interest in the project.
The interest from this network was created during a city development conference in Gent, Belgium, to which Bodø was invited following a presentation in Brussels. The Gent conference gathered around 600 planners from all over the world, and it was apparently completely natural to present the Bodø case there.
When arriving in Gent, it turned out that Bodø was The Case during the conference, and headlining it all.
There is not much doubt that the little dot on the Northern Norway map receives international attention. In that respect, the strategy has worked well.
Several on-going projects
The flagship project, perhaps, is the largest zero-emissions research project ever in Norwegian history, with a frame of 400 million Norwegian kroner (nearly 50 million USD). NTNU, Sintef Byggforsk and Sintef Energi are the leading research institutions on the projects, where the whole value chain is involved; industrial corporations, architects, construction companies, entrepreneurs and energy corporations.
The project runs over a period of eight years and is to develop products for realization of zero-emission city areas. No less. The Norwegian Research Council is involved with 200 million Norwegian kroner, and the goal is to research solutions that can later be exported to Norway and the world.
A project meant to end up with the aforementioned pilots; a full-scale city district based on zero-emissions technology, which is to be the leader and driver of the market. That is the vision, and the project is off to a good start.
The city district in question is to accommodate around 2,500 homes, and also businesses, kindergartens, schools and all features of a modern district – except this one will have zero emissions of climate gases.
The planning and research processes are well underway already, and construction will start some time after 2025.
There is a hope that local businesses will take on a small part of this development, and a small share of the production of the many new products. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that international partners will have to account for the larger volumes.
The car is climate protection in Bodø
Opportunities lie in the networks that come into existence now, in the many sub-projects popping up in the wake of the New City line of thinking. And as the showcase, the case itself, is actually here, there are parts to play for local actors one way or the other.
While the New City project is developing, there are also other projects underway, such as seamless door-to-door transportation of people, with assistance a.o. of driver-free cars.
Or, as Mayor Pinnerød puts it: - In Bodø, the car is not just a means of transportation. It is also a climate protection tool!
That is why the city has grabbed hold of the term “the last mile”, which in reality consists of the part of e.g. your journey to work that lies between the distance from your own door and to the nearest available public transportation. With southwestern gales howling, that may be quite a long distance to conquer, whatever the means.
Underestimated: Rough weather as business idea
That is when the talk about autonomous solutions for transportation across short distances comes up, perhaps from the train station to work, or to the airport. It is not far, but there is a bit of a distance.
Or from home to the bus stop in order to get to work without your own car. Take out your mobile, open the app that controls the driver-free car and it will come and pick you up. The threshold for using the car will be higher, and you will not have to bring a spare set of clothes for work.
That is, in fact, another point that makes Bodø interesting as it is the northernmost end station for the national railways. At the same time, it has one of the largest airports in the country, and it is a hub for countless boat routes in the region. Bodø is a commuter city too.
The point is effectively connecting these transportation carriers, experimenting and developing them so that all short-distance transportation needs in the city can be solved without using private cars.
A company called “2getthere” has donated two driver-free cars to Bodø for testing. If they work here, with this climate, they will work more or less everywhere.
Rough weather is definitely an underestimated business area.
Bodø picking cherries with the big ones
This project is also to be tested in today’s city, though it would never have happened if it were not for the New City – New Airport project. That is what has made Bodø all the more attractive. So attractive that the other cooperating cities in this project are Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and the Greenwich district in London.
The dot on the map of the northern hemisphere gets to play with the bigger actors – and Bodø loves it!
An overall fleet control system for implementation in other cities shall be developed, and the world is full of ‘other cities’. That is where we live, in the cities. This project has a cost frame of 150 million Norwegian kroner (more than 17 million USD). The number of potential development projects for seamless transport in a zero-emissions city appears infinite, and much of this can and will be developed in Bodø. At least in part. That opens up some interesting perspectives.
Bodø, a city with 50,000 inhabitants living somewhere up north where most of the world’s people expect to find polar bears, reindeer and the random trapper dressed in fell clothes already appears as a workshop and a showcase for the developing of the next generation’s city technology for the world – the smart little city with the ultramodern airport.
Soon to be reality.
Space touring with Buzz Aldrin
An airport, and a city, which have also attracted the more peculiar yet also likely business ideas so far.
A man from the Netherlands appeared in Bodø and requested a meeting with the people behind the New City – New Airport project. His request was, of course, granted. We northerners take pride in our hospitality.
He represented the Space Expedition Corporation (SXC), which competes with Richard Branson and Virgin about being the first to run commercial space tourism. The next step shall be commercial traffic flights above the atmosphere, as the regular airspace is ram packed.
The SXC has allegedly sold 500 tickets at 100,000 USD a piece to space tourists; an hour flying straight up to 100,000 km height, where you are weightless for about seven minutes before coming in for landing again.
The space shuttle itself is allegedly set for test flying in the USA this fall, and the company will be based in California, Curacao – and Bodø. The marketing office lies in Amsterdam, and at that time Buzz Aldrin – the second man to walk on the moon on 20 July 1969 – was a Board Member.
These guys have flown high before. Now they want to do it again, from Bodø.
- That is the kind of attention we are receiving these days, and it does something to us. By the way, I should probably make sure this has been followed up properly, this thing about space tourism, Ida Marie Pinnerød says. She picks up her phone to call the City Manager.
A project reaching far and wide – with Bodø at the center
In the research and development flagship, the zero-emissions city, ZEN, the following international research partners are involved:
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (USA)
- Danish Technical University (DK)
- Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE (DE)
- Aalborg University (DK)
- Catholic University of Leuven (BE)
- Flemish Research Institute VITO (BE)
- TNO (NL)
- VTT (FI)
- Shanghai Jiao Tong University (CN).
Furthermore, the following national and international industrial partners, as well as public national partners, are involved in the project:
NORGES TEKNISK-NATURVITENSKAPELIGE UNIVERSITET – host institution and research participant
STIFTELSEN SINTEF, research participant
SINTEF ENERGI AS, research participant
ELVERUM TOMTESELSKAP AS
OSLO KOMMUNE KLIMA OG ENERGIPROGRAMMET
ASPLAN VIAK AS
ÅF REINERTSEN AS
FUTUREBUILT (legally through Oslo Municipality, Planning and Construction Unit)
SWECO NORGE AS
ENERGI NORGE AS
DIREKTORATET FOR BYGGKVALITET (DiBK)
NORGES VASSDRAGS- OG ENERGIDIREKTORAT (NVE)
HUNTON FIBER AS
MOELVEN INDUSTRIER ASA
GK NORGE AS
NTE MARKED AS
SMART GRID SERVICES CLUSTER