Do you know the mayors of Laatzen, Königswinter or Schwabach? Probably only if you live in these cities with a population of around 40,000. Monheim am Rhein is different. It has a mayor who makes headlines in Germany’s major media because he is different: Daniel Zimmermann is 34 years old and since 2009 has been mayor of the city of 43,000 inhabitants between Düsseldorf and Cologne. In 1998, he founded the Peto Party – Latin for “I demand” – which holds 26 of the 40 seats on the local council. “The dangerously successful magician of Monheim,” was how the German newspaper Die Welt called the mayor, who cycles to work and meetings and is known by everyone in the mid-sized city. “Monheim finances projects itself,” writes the newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung in amazement in view of the fact that municipalities have empty coffers, and Die Welt proclaims: “The young mayor came, saw and put the budget in order.”
Courage to think with vision
Why? Because he has shaken up Monheim am Rhein since taking office. The city has been debt-free since 2013, has abolished kindergarten fees and invests millions in urban infrastructure and numerous cutting-edge projects – despite the fact that the council slashed trade tax to what is now the lowest municipal factor in North Rhine-Westphalia. “You need the courage to think with vision and, as mayor, act as an opinion leader to a certain extent,” said Zimmermann to Die Welt.
Comprehensive broadband network
Zimmermann is not resting on his success. By the end of 2018, the city will build a comprehensive broadband network for high-speed Internet and connect all households and businesses to it free of charge. Thanks to full-coverage high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the city, citizens and visitors can surf the Internet free of charge from anywhere. The council has begun expanding Monheim am Rhein into a smart city on the basis of this digital infrastructure. Tablet lessons in local schools, the digital problem-reporting form, a council that now works completely paperless – the first intelligent solutions are well received by the citizens.
“The aim with our smart city activities was not to be the best, most beautiful or fastest when it comes to digitization,” says Mayor Zimmermann. “By becoming smarter, we mainly hope to improve the content of what we provide. What interests us is how we can offer citizens an even better service or become more efficient as a city.”
Connected LED street lamps
One example of that is smart street lighting. It was premiered and tested in the run-up to last Christmas. The new LED lamps are connected to each other via Wi-Fi, are easy to control, and reduce energy consumption by up to 70 percent compared with the old ones. They are clever: they even report if they break down. “Some citizens are taken aback when they hear that every street lamp will have its own Internet connection in the future,” admits Zimmermann. However, he adds, there was a great deal of acceptance for new technologies in Monheim am Rhein.
The issue the council is addressing now is parking. Basically, there are enough places to park in Monheim am Rhein and the city center. Yet car drivers do not know where there are free spaces and instead drive round and round in search of one. As Zimmermann notes: “Informing visitors to our city center precisely where they can find the nearest empty spot to park is an additional service we want to implement next.”
Development of new smart city solutions
T-Systems will also contribute its smart city expertise to this project. “When we decided to establish the fiber optic and Wi-Fi infrastructure, we also wanted to use it to offer greater service. We searched long and hard for a project partner,” states Daniel Zimmermann. He adds that T-Systems already has applications that are up and running, such as smart street lighting. “Now we want to develop new solutions, and I have great hopes that we’ll succeed in doing that together with T-Systems.”
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