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Helsingborg aims to become one of the most innovative cities in Europe

“Helsingborg is one of the absolute top locations in Sweden for logistics business.”
  • April 24, 2019 14:30
  • Author Olya Georgieva
Medium peter danielsson
Source: Helsingborg Municipality

An interview with Peter Danielsson, Mayor of Helsingborg

For the third year in a row, Helsingborg was ranked Sweden’s most environmentally friendly municipality. Please, tell us more about the work done in promoting sustainable community development.

Together with new technological opportunities and innovation, sustainability in all parts of urban development, is what creates a smarter city of the future. Also, improving the quality of life for all our inhabitants is very important. This is why we in Helsingborg have a politically decided quality of life program that makes sure that we always have this perspective in everything we do.  

Let me give you three examples of smart and sustainable innovations from our city. Firstly, we have developed our landfill with an innovative industrial park where academia, public sector and environmental tech companies together transform waste into new innovative, recyclable products. Secondly, we are building a circular sewer system for 2000 inhabitants that separates black water, gray water and food waste into three different pipes out of every apartment. From the grey water we can reuse both water and heat, and from the black water and food waste we are able to extract both biogas and sustainable fertilizer products. Thirdly, we are testing waste disposal on demand for 500 households, which has halved the transports and created more satisfied residents. These are some of the initiatives we have towards our goal to be a zero waste-city in 2030.

Helsingborg is first in many other ranks as well. Nominations in recent years include the following honors - New Entrepreneurial Municipality of the Year 2017; Sweden’s quality municipality 2017; Best Municipality 2016; Growth Municipality of the year 2016; Swedish IT municipality 2015. What’s next?

The awards you mention are of course pleasing evidence that we are doing the right things. But this is just the beginning - we are in the middle of our journey towards becoming one of Europe's most innovative cities by the year 2022. Innovation is the key for us as a city, in order to develop towards a smarter city and in line with our citizens' expectations. Therefore, we aim towards H22 – a smarter city, the international city expo in 2022 when we let the world experience not only what a smart, but what a smarter city, truly is. We will focus on innovative urban and welfare planning, improving quality of life and reinventing city governance. But we are not doing it on our own, we are going to achieve this together with other cities, companies, NGOs, academia and of course, our inhabitants.

Helsingborg City’s objective is to have zero fossil fuels in the supply of electricity, district heating and district cooling by 2035 and the city has already come far in reducing carbon emissions. The city’s heat supply is already 100% fossil free with 96% of supply coming from recovered heat and 4% from renewables. How did you plan to achieve these indicators and results?

The goal for Helsingborg is to become energy neutral by the year 2035. That is in line with the Paris Agreement. To achieve this, we have to work with our own use of fossil fuel in cars, heavy duty machines and other means of transport. And already by 2024 our procured contractors must be 100 % fossil free. We are also aiming for rapid devolvement of solar power. We use roofs on sport arenas and schools as platforms for solar panels.

The territory of Helsingborgs Kommun has to offer one of the oldest cities in Scandinavia and a lot of interesting sights and travel destinations. How do you manage to preserve the history and the traditions in your city in particular and at the same time modernize it?

Yes, you’re right. Helsingborg is one of Sweden's oldest cities, and as a coastal city the sea has always been very important, both for the olden day’s fishermen and for bathing. The sea is of course very central for us still and we make sure to offer, together with the local business community, experiences both connected to the history and to the future, for example, Swedish cold baths, sauna, fishing, and our very local "tura"- experience (when we go back and forth multiple times on the electric ferry between Helsingborg in Sweden and Elsinore in Denmark).   Other major visitor destinations are Sofiero, Fredriksdal and Kärnan which all have a rich history that the city has opened to the public. In 2010 Sofiero was named Europe's most beautiful park, which was the first time a Swedish park received the award. At Fredriksdal museums and gardens, nature and culture are united. The open-air museum is one of the largest of its kind in Sweden. The tower Kärnan is part of Helsingborg's history, a symbol of the city and the exhibition in the tower tells of the same. I wouldn’t say that history and modernization is a contradiction. While Helsingborg cares about its history, we take advantage of the possibilities of digitization, both in marketing and in the service to visitors on site. We can quite clearly see a shift in the way visitors search for information. Therefore, Helsingborg now works actively with our presence in digital channels. Visitors who prefer digital information on site can search via touch screens in the city center, use the app Guide Helsingborg or log on to Tripadvisor. Guide Helsingborg increases the accessibility and inclusion of all visitors, regardless of the individual's needs and will soon be updated with AR-technology.

Helsingborg is a digital pioneer - First and only e-commerce incubator; First digital accelerator; First and only education in mobile commerce. Why is digitalization important to cities? How does Helsingborg benefit from such digitalization?

Digitalization is a force that is transforming our cities and our lives, driven by consumer expectation as well as the power of information eco-systems. If we manage to harness this power, it will help us to deliver better service and attractiveness of the city, which will attract businesses and talents and overall quality of life. It will also make us more efficient in the use of already limited resources. Digitalization is redefining what is possible, and what we used to see as limitations.

In 2035, Helsingborg will be the creative, united, global and balanced city — pulsing with life — for both people and businesses.” Could you tell us more about Vision Helsingborg 2035 and the chosen action points, also more about the city strategy?

As I think we all recognize, too many cities today are struggling to adapt to the 21st century with outdated, silo-based management systems. To make matters worse, several political structures contributes to a short-term focus. To overcome these barriers, in Helsingborg, we have developed a unifying vision for our city, supported by all the political parties and the city’s management organization. Ten thousand employees are working together to implement that vision, striving towards a creative, vibrant, united and global city, in collaboration with citizens and organizations. This is very powerful!

The vision Helsingborg 2035 is our theme for the future and a key to our long-term development. Along with goals in the shorter term, like the international city expo H22 – A smarter city, the vision becomes the common thread that holds together and stimulates the leadership and development of the city. The vision is deliberately broad to be relevant to all the functions that the city has, but also pinpoints the things that are common for all of us. Creative means to stimulate ideas that make us better and ensure that we have the right conditions for ideas to grow. Pulsing with life is a promise to make the urban space attractive for the many people. United, for an equal, joint and safe city. Global, for an open mindset towards people, ideas and the development of the world around us. And last but not least, balanced, so that development is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.  

Helsingborg is a real transport hub. For example, 90% of all fruit and vegetables consumed in Sweden pass through the Port of Helsingborg. Is the important logistics spot of the city the key to foster business and attract new investments?

Yes, for sure it is a very important factor. Helsingborg is one of the absolute top locations in Sweden for logistics business, not only the port but also the good railway connections and proximity of the two main highways (E6 & E4) make the city the perfect spot to establish new businesses. Good logistics is key element for attracting new business and growing existing businesses especially the booming e-commerce companies require the excellent logistics location Helsingborg can provide. Furthermore, Helsingborg is just one hour away from Copenhagen airport, from where you can travel to most parts of the world!

How do you find the idea of a unified platform for all European cities where European citizens can get information about everything happening in the Union? How could this platform be useful for your projects?

Such an initiative is definitely positive. The challenges of the future are the same for many of us, and we must be better at facing them together. A platform for collaboration would be beneficial in terms of both cooperation and to share solutions.

Find out more about Helsingborg here