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Q&A: Saša Solujić on integrating Swedish smart city solutions in Serbia

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Q&A: Saša Solujić on integrating Swedish smart city solutions in Serbia

During the conference Journey to a Smarter Future: Building Smarter and More Sustainable Communities in Serbia, SEI Project Manager Saša Solujić presented insights on Sweden’s approach to smart cities, exploring how they could be adapted to meet the unique needs of urban areas in Serbia.

In this Q&A, she addresses the critical issues and summarizes key takeaways from a discussion with a panel of Nordic experts.

Published on 29 April 2024

What is a smart city?

A smart city is centred around people and their well-being. Smart cities enhance traditional networks and services using digital solutions to benefit residents and businesses. The approach extends beyond digitalization and technology, encompassing transport and resource efficiency, reduced emissions and a focus on safety. Smart cities cover the needs of all inhabitants, including children and older people, featuring well-developed public spaces and responsive administration.

Nordic cities are renowned for innovation. Can you give examples of smart solutions in Sweden?

Sweden is known for its strategic focus on environmental protection, climate change and innovations. In a Swedish context, a smart city is a sustainable city; these two are not separated. Smart city solutions can be grouped into six areas: energy, climate and environment, mobility, digitalization, urban planning and social sustainability.

For example, Sweden recycles water so effectively it can be used to make beer. Stockholm uses innovative heating and cooling systems that utilize excess heat and wastewater. Vallastaden in Linköping is an innovative urban development that challenges traditional city-building practices. It features a diverse range of 40 developers contributing to a mix of architecture and design that supports fossil-free energy and transport. The district also tested a new smart solution for dense urban areas, an “Infraculvert” system for managing infrastructure, facilitating easier operation and maintenance. These examples and more are showcased on the national Smart City Sweden platform.

How is SEI working with cities on different initiatives?

SEI has a longstanding collaboration with cities, supporting them in assessing their needs, identifying opportunities and fostering collaboration toward sustainability.

We are involved in several significant initiatives, such as the Swedish strategic innovation programme Viable Cities, which targets transformative systemic changes based on the mission of Climate Neutral Cities 2030 and Net Zero Cities, designed to help cities overcome current structural, institutional and cultural barriers to achieving climate neutrality.

We are also active in financing and investment planning for climate neutrality, including an active project in Bosnia and Herzegovina that assists coal municipalities with sustainable transitions.

How would you describe the role of science and research in smart cities?

SEI’s mission is to bridge science, policy and practice, providing actionable information for decision-makers. Science offers analytical frameworks and data, facilitates knowledge creation and transfer, and aids in problem-solving and policy implementation. It reveals the drivers behind trends and shows how different factors affect certain situations or issues.

For instance, the Viable Cities Finance Dashboard is an open-source tool designed to assist Swedish cities with climate investment planning by integrating emissions data, climate action simulations and economic analysis. This tool is also adaptable for use in other regions.

Research organizations also provide a neutral platform for stakeholder involvement and engagement, fostering collaboration and dialogue among diverse actors to drive innovation and address complex societal challenges.

How can smart city concepts be applied in rural areas?

Rural services need to be revitalized through digital and social innovation. The concept of “smart villages” is gaining momentum, and we need to look more carefully at how rural services – such as health, social services, education and energy – can be improved and made more sustainable.

Rural areas could have different needs, from the sustainability of agriculture and forestry practices to nature protection, culture and tourism. These needs can vary significantly among different areas. Capacities, both human and financial, are often smaller in rural areas, and we need to take this into account when planning activities.

You were part of the recent conference in Serbia. How is this topic important for Serbia?

The conference spotlighted Serbia’s well-defined needs for smart solutions in infrastructure, public utility services, and the environment. This is no surprise; these needs directly affect citizens’ quality of life and ultimately, their health. It also revealed Serbia’s ambition for more investment in digitalization, IT solutions and innovations, supported by an active and engaged private sector ready to accelerate Serbia’s smart cities agenda.

 How do we plan for this journey?

Cities should adopt smart city frameworks and develop collaborative strategies that support the change in how we govern and evolve our cities and municipalities.

It is vital to define specific problems that smart city solutions aim to address. For example, some issues identified at the conference were parking, waste management, water treatment and efficiency of public services. We had a productive workshop discussion with colleagues from the Smart City Innovation Cluster about the three-level model for smart city solutions, where the third level is a cognitive stage integrating AI and machine learning to not just collect but also learn from data. My identified problems are still at the first level, struggling with collecting, measuring and reporting on data; much work needs to be done!

It is also essential to consider inclusivity and who may be excluded from this transformation. The high level of digitalization impacts the ageing population, which requires support for accessing new services and adequate technology. Will smart city solutions be cheaper or more expensive, and for whom? These questions need continuous evaluation to understand “who are the winners and who are the losers?” of the new solutions.

What are the success factors of this journey?

I believe the success factors are rooted in common Nordic values: trust, commitment to the common good, sustainable living, equality, collaboration, openness and inclusion. These values are the strongest building blocks, laying the foundation for everything else.

Governance plays a key role as both a driver and facilitator, and all other stakeholders should support the planning and implementation of smart city initiatives. Digital infrastructure and the implementation of advanced technology are fundamental, but it is vital to remember that citizens are the centre of this concept.

Communication is a powerful tool to facilitate public awareness, engagement and participation. Cities will need effective communication strategies, and transparent and accessible communication channels are essential to support processes and enhance trust.

Speakers and panelists of the event “Journey to Smarter Future: Building Smarter and More Sustainable Communities in Serbia”. SEI´s Project Manager Saša Solujic standing as the second from right.

The event, titled “Journey to a Smarter Future: Building Smarter and More Sustainable Communities in Serbia” took place on the 10th of April in the City of Kragujevac, Serbia. It was organized jointly by the Nordic Business Alliance and the four Nordic Embassies in Serbia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden). This event served as a natural follow-up to previous projects undertaken over the past three years. Its primary goal is to initiate the Smart Cities Roadmap for Serbia, leveraging the knowledge and experience from the Nordics, along with the progress already made in local cities and municipalities in Serbia.


Saša Solujić
Saša Solujić

Project Manager

SEI Headquarters

Design and development by Soapbox.