Oslo: A small city with big ideas

As its population continues to grow, this Nordic city is in the fast lane of innovation, creating solutions for new urban challenges.

Surrounded by wild forests, and with less than 700,000 inhabitants, this small, northern city may seem like an unlikely world leader in infrastructure technologies. But as one of the of the fastest growing cities in Europe, it has become a hub for urban innovation. Urban Infrastructure Partner (UIP), a technology-driven operator of shared infrastructure, calls Oslo home, and for good reason. “Oslo is a city in rapid development,” says UIP’s Product Manager Geir Arne Brevik. “You see these global trends with an increasing number of people living in cities, and with that comes local environmental challenges of pollution and congestion in city centers, which is very apparent in Oslo.” CFO Kristoffer Henriksen agrees, saying, “We see that Oslo is sort of our laboratory. We can test things, and say, okay, if it works in Oslo, then we can try it other places as well.”

So why is this such an ideal city for developing shared, intelligent infrastructure? For one, Oslo’s new space-age skyline isn’t just for looks; Norway’s population is one of the most tech-savvy in the world. For years the country has been one of the largest markets for electric cars, especially for Tesla, and studies have shown that the population adapts to digitalization at a higher-than-average rate. Mobile networks are strong and widely available, and smart phones are, and have for years, been trusted for everything from paying for groceries to engaging with government services. “The population is very far advanced in terms of using technology, so it makes sense to test platforms here,” says Henriksen. “We adapt to trends quite quickly, so we can change quite quickly,” adds Trond Christensen, one of the company’s founders.

This is important to UIP, whose operations are driven by digital technology. UIP’s first sharing platform was Oslo City Bike, which launched in Spring 2016 to astonishing success. Along with a user-friendly app that locates and unlocks bikes, the system uses advanced software and data systems to manage the stations and movement of bikes. In its first season, the new bike share scheme counted over two million rides, up 115% in usage from that of the city’s former bike share scheme. Each bike averages almost ten trips per day, already making it one of the most efficient bike share systems in the world.

In addition to the tech-oriented population, the physical features of Oslo make it an optimal city for testing and fine-tuning new sharing systems, both for Oslo and other cities. The diverse landscape and topography of Oslo is ideal for developing mobility platforms like bike or car sharing.“It’s a nice challenge that Oslo is not flat, and we have the winter as well, says Brevik. “If Oslo were too easy, it wouldn’t be a good test space. And that’s an advantage.”

Urban sharing, like the bike share scheme, is part of Oslo’s larger trend toward developing new modes of urban mobility, and UIP plans to keep expanding its platforms to meet the city’s needs. As highlighted in this article from Curbed, and video by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Oslo has announced its goal to have a car-free city center by 2019, which means there’s an urgent demand for alternative mobility infrastructure. The city is already making more streets pedestrian-only, and is converting street parking space into bike lanes. In Eckerson’s video, Frode Hvattum, Head of Strategy for Ruter (Oslo’s public transit) says that using both public transportation and other options like bike sharing as “integrated mobility forms” will make people less likely to drive cars in the city. This means less pollution and congestion, a nicer city center, and a better quality of life for Oslo’s residents.

Norway was recently named the happiest country in the world, and in addition to other social and economic factors, many Norwegians claim that their love of the outdoors and their active lifestyle is an important key to their happiness. Jakob Schiøtt Madsen (The Bicycle Program, Oslo) says in Eckerson’s video that “Norwegians are used to using their body to get around.” And it’s true; in Norway, many people use their free time to go hiking, skiing, or biking in the forest and countryside. Therefore, it’s no great surprise that Oslo residents are embracing modes of urban mobility that are healthier for themselves, their city, and their environment. As UIP expands their sharing platforms beyond Oslo, they’re bringing this model of efficient, sustainable mobility with them, with the goal of making other cities healthier, and more livable. And that’s something everyone can be happy about.