The pursuit towards the smartest city in the world

By Heidi E. Larsen

The city of Bodø has a bold vision to become the smartest city in the world. With its 50.000 inhabitants, located just above the Arctic Circle in Norway, the city of Bodø may not strike you as the centre of the world. Seeking to become the smartest city in the world is thus a rather brave vision. To understand the vision, we must take a few steps back.

The United Nations has included Bodø in the world’s largest research project on the future of cities. Furthermore, Bodø has been launched as the national pilot city for the use of intelligent transport systems.

The city of Bodø

It all began with an airport. Bodø is a proud aviation city and has for decades been the location of Norway’s largest military air base. The city was therefore shocked when the government in 2012 decided to move the main air base away from Bodø. This was devastating, since it meant that several thousand jobs would disappear. Moreover, the identity of Bodø was lost. However, in the search for what should become the city’s new future, an extraordinary idea emerged, marking the beginning  of what may become a historical transition.

Freeing up space

The airport of Bodø, as well as the military air base, are currently located in the middle of the city, taking up a huge area of the city centre. The runway dating from the early 1950 ́s has a maximum of nine years left before it has to be replaced, meaning that there has to be built a new runway in Bodø within 2025 for the air traffic to continue. As the military air activity will be gone by then, it has given the city a unique opportunity to think future city development in a completely new perspective. Instead of building a new parallel runway where today’s runway is located, the city is now able to move the runway. By building a new airport in the area that today is occupied by the military activity, Bodø will gain around 350 hectare of city development. That is an area big enough to host 25.000 citizens, and will provide large new business areas in the middle of the city.

A smart city

Moving the airport will thus give Bodø a unique opportunity to build a whole new smart city for the future. The city has therefore developed a bold vision to build the smartest city in the world, where climate gas emission is minimized and where the citizens feel safe for nature related dangers. To make this possible, extensive cooperation between the public and the private sector has
been made, as well as significant collaboration between local, regional and national decision makers. Bodø has already been launched as the Norwegian national pilot city for the use of intelligent transport systems, enabling the city to test innovative solutions such as automated vehicles and infrastructure for the future. By creating such a smart city, Bodø could take a leading role in the transition to the low carbon society.

The UN and sustainable cities

In 2015 the United Nations established 17 new sustainable development goals to transform our world. One of them focuses on sustainable cities and communities, with a goal to «make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable». With ever increasing urbanisation to our planet, cities are considered to pertain many problems regarding some of our biggest climate issues. Still, this trajectory of centralisation may also present us with possible absolution. One of the
tools the UN are using to reach the goal is The Habitat Professionals Forum, which is a voluntary association consisting of 17 countries and six million experts. Through the activity «Urban Labs», the experts are set out to select innovative cities and outline urban issues the world should focus on to become sustainable. Bodø has now been included in this comprehensive UN-work, as the first city in the world north of Hamburg in Germany. This is unique, and illustrates that Bodø has chosen the right vision for the future. It also shows that all cities, big and small, are important if we want to manage to reach the sustainable development goals.


The national government in Norway has already stated that moving the airport in Bodø is a wise choice that will enable comprehensive smart city development, and the final decision towards this will be taken in June 2017. Bodø is thus facing a historical crossroad that will determine the city’s future. I dare to say, it is not only a decision about moving an airport; it is a decision about the world’s future. Building a smart city in Bodø with the goal of reducing climate changes will not only benefit the citizens of Bodø today. It will show that Norway wants to be in the lead of sustainable development, and contribute to transform our world towards into a more sustainable place for our future generations.