Ulm smart city


Smart Cities Pilot Projects

The “Smart Cities Pilot Projects” programme supports selected cities and municipalities with grants totalling 750 million euros to foster digitalisation. Around 100 municipalities from all over Germany had applied in the first round. 13 were selected and now invest in future-oriented urban and municipal development.


The Verschwörhaus in Ulm shall be a place for "experimenting for the world of tomorrow". There are, for example, workshops for young people where games have already been programmed. 3D printers are also available.

Ulm already bears the titles “Zukunftsstadt 2030” (City of the Future 2030) and “Digitale Zukunftskommune@bw” (Digital Municipality of the Future). Now it has been declared a “smart city” by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior along with other municipalities. This award is associated with a grant of eight million euros for the city in the German region of Swabia. The funds are part of the “Smart Cities Pilot Projects” programme. The German Federal Ministry of the Interior, together with KfW, plans to make a total of 750 million euros in grants available to towns, villages and municipal organisations to promote digitalisation. The funding will run for ten years and is divided into four tranches. This year, an amount of 170 million euros is available from the German federal budget.

Two years of strategic development, five years of implementation of specific projects. This rough timetable, on which the pilot project is based, is also used as a guideline in Ulm. But “we are not starting from scratch,” emphasises Sabine Meigel, head of the Digital City Ulm Office. For example, the Verschwörhaus, a place where people can conduct digital experiments, has been in existence since 2016 and the Zukunftsstadt (City of the Future) project since 2015. According to Meigel, this is why Ulm will be able to draw on practical experience to develop a strategy. The 8 million euros the federal programme will be used to implement a number of specific measures consistent with the Ulm motto of digital change “open – to all – sustainable”; these measures will be developed together with local residents in a participatory process. The focus will be on the requirements of a growing city in terms of sustainability and climate change mitigation.

Office KL.digital

KL.digital GmbH in Kaiserslautern is in charge of the city's digitalisation projects. Citizens' direct participation is of crucial importance here. All those interested are welcome at the GmbH's office.

13 pilot projects selected from around 100 applications

Around 100 municipalities from all over Germany had applied for funding in the first round. Experts evaluated the applications and a jury awarded grants in four categories in July. Solingen (North Rhine-Westphalia), Ulm (Baden-Württemberg) and Wolfsburg (Lower Saxony) won in the category of big cities, Cottbus (Brandenburg), Gera (Thuringia) and Kaiserslautern (Rhineland-Palatinate) in medium-sized cities, Grevesmühlen (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) and Hassfurt (Bavaria), Süderbrarup (Schleswig-Holstein) and Zwönitz (Saxony) in the category of small towns and rural communities, and in the category of intermunicipal partnerships and administrative districts the Arnsberg, Olpe, Menden, Soest, Bad Berleburg (North Rhine-Westphalia) partnership, the Brandis, Naunhof, Borsdorf, Großpösa, Belgershain, Parthenstein und Machern (Saxony) partnership as well as the Wunsiedel administrative district (Bavaria). The funding is tied to a contribution made by each municipality, which is between 10 and 35 per cent, depending on the financial capacity of the municipality.

Digitalisation requires “sustainable concepts also in the area of urban development,” is how Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer described the aim of the funding programme. The overwhelming response to the invitation to tender is evidence that “exchange beyond the scope of the 13 pilot projects is important”. This is why “knowledge transfer will be even further intensified”.

KfW supports

The Federal Ministry of the Interior awards grants via KfW totalling EUR 750 million, distributed over four phases. Applications for the second phase may be submitted until 20 May 2020.

Kaiserslautern will invest the funds from Berlin – 15 million euros are earmarked for the city in Germany's Palatinate region – plus its own contribution of 1.6 million euros in existing structures, in increasing staffing levels and in new and existing digital projects. To improve the city's digital literacy, jobs will be created both in the city administration and in the company fully owned by the city of Kaiserslautern run by Martin Verlage, which is called KL.digital. By the end of the year, the existing digital model “will be combined with the 100% climate change mitigation master plan, the economic development strategy, the development of residential surfaces in line with demand, the issue of integration, and urban development policy with a focus on the further development of the city as a technology hub to form an integrated digitalisation strategy” (Verlage) so that we can start work on this basis in the new year.

Kay Pöhler
Ensuring data sovereignty

At KfW, Kay Pöhler is responsible for the “Smart Cities” pilot projects. His aim is to enable municipalities to use digitalisation as an opportunity.

Digital transformation as a municipal task

Digital processes generate and process data. This is simultaneously an opportunity and a risk. Because sensitive information, such as geo data, can stimulate interest outside the municipalities and be used above and beyond the original intention. “Cities and municipalities must view digital transformation as their own responsibility,” says Kay Pöhler, authorised signatory of KfW in the area of infrastructure and responsible for the “Smart Cities” pilot projects at the promotional bank, and should not leave it solely to the large IT companies. “We want to help municipalities safeguard their data sovereignty,” is how he explains the approach of the federal programme. KfW also highlights participation. A lot of ideas for urban design and development “come from local residents”, says Pöhler. Their involvement in these processes “is a crucial requirement for a smart city”.

Solingen, with its more than 160,000 inhabitants, is currently the largest city to receive funding under the Smart Cities programme of the German Federal Government and KfW. Digitalisation has been “vigorously pursued for many years,” says the mayor of Solingen, Tim Kurzbach. Companies and commercial operators have fibre-optic connections available almost everywhere as a result. By the end of 2020, all 55 school locations and their 20,000 pupils will be connected to the city network and equipped with end devices. Kurzbach is excited about the decision reached by the Smart Cities jury: “The 9 million euros give us the opportunity to continue investing in smart street lighting as well as in improving air quality in the city centre with the help of sensor technology for systematic traffic management.” This completes the city's digitalisation programme and is a further step towards assuring the city's future.


All United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015. At its heart is a list of 17 goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should become a place where people are able to live in peace with each other in ways that are ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective.

Published on KfW Stories: 13 August 2019.