by Christian Thomay and Markus Tauber (Research Studios Austria FG), Christoph Schmittner (Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH) and Beatriz Tadeo Fuica (IRCAV, Sorbonne-Nouvelle University)

Increasingly, digital cities are investing in digital tourism, which has benefited from advances in digital arts. Digitisation projects can widen both the scope and accessibility of cultural heritage content and allow for interactions in a more sustainable, environmentally respectful fashion. Recent advances in digitalisation have opened the door to a range of new research directions.

Digitisation is marching steadily onwards, enhancing our lives with opportunities for new experiences and ways to connect. As the devices in our pockets become smarter, so too do our cities, with an increasing range of technologies and applications that link and enrich the experiences of citizens, enabling us to become more active participants in our communities. With our growing understanding of human-induced climate change and the Earth's finite resources, smart cities must also address the increasingly significant challenge of sustainability. Clearly, the smart city of the future must be smart not only in the technologies and applications it enables, but also in its usage and respect for its resources, and in the environment it ultimately creates for its residents [1].

One increasingly high-profile aspect of smart cities is their ability to enrich, enhance, and distribute cultural heritage [2]. This could, for example, reduce mass tourism while still allowing cities to share their cultural bounty with the outside world. Digital tourism now allows people to explore new cultural experiences either entirely from the comfort of their own home or at the location, equipped with additional means and resources to enhance their experience (Figure 1). For example, portals such as Europeana [L1] offer access to the content of thousands of museums and archives, allowing anyone to peruse millions of books, artworks, and musical pieces. However, cities are doing – and can do – a lot more to allow tourists and their own citizens to interact with heritage sites that might otherwise be overlooked.

Figure 1: Smart cities allow digital visitors to experience cultural heritage in novel ways.
Figure 1: Smart cities allow digital visitors to experience cultural heritage in novel ways.

An example of a city exploring and expanding its digital-cultural toolbox can be found in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Historic home to composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg's city centre constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site [L2], and cultural institutions and universities are exploring new ways to share the city's cultural heritage. The Mozarteum University Salzburg expands upon the accessibility and immersion of cultural content in projects such as MozART VR [L3] and Mozart Contained! [L4] in the scope of the interdisciplinary Spot On MozART project, which aims to reframe the perception of Mozart’s music in both auditory and visual ways. VR MozART does this by allowing viewers to experience a performance recorded in 360°, putting the viewer at the centre in a VR environment. Mozart Contained! invites up to four participants into a container, in which interactive light sculptures represent the four strings in the 'Dissonance' quartet. The participants' interactions with the sculptures affect the intensity of the respective instrument, creating a new interpretation of the piece with every quartet of visitors. The container can be set up in various locations, reducing the distance between the music of Mozart and the everyday visitor. Projects such as these show how cultural content can be delivered to a wide audience, retaining a sense of immediacy in contrast to the sometimes exclusionary nature of classical music.

Similarly, the city of Paris allows visitors to explore urban heritage through a geo-localised application [L5], in the context of a SmartCity project developed in the Cité International Universitaire de Paris (CIUP).

Salzburg and Paris represent just two examples of many worthwhile projects in this area, but sometimes smart city projects have missed interesting opportunities by not targeting the promotion of cultural heritage as an end in itself, for example in projects undertaken in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and London [3].

On one hand, the smart city of the future requires a holistic vision – one that recognises its role in sustainability, and the benefits to its citizens that come from discovering, creating, and sharing their culture, within and outside of the bounds of the city. On the other hand, given the great potential of digitisation to promote cultural heritage, clear aims in this area should be specified when planning the development of smart cities.

Many requirements and challenges still need to be addressed for technology to live up to its promise to deliver content to those seeking to explore it, and to do so in a sustainable, ethical, and secure fashion. Some of the immediate open research questions centre around the challenge of how cultural heritage assets are digitalised and conserved. This includes issues such as how ambient light or noise affects users’ experience and perception of the asset, and how to quantify the impact of this; how people respond to an augmented reality environment versus a physical installation; and how to consider and emulate reality in a fully virtual experience. Another line of enquiry should explore to what degree preexisting digital infrastructures in smart cities can be exploited by digital arts and tourism in order to improve and extend the range of high quality content delivery.

Finally, a vitally important topic is privacy and safety, as individuals interact with digital tourism and digital arts not only in a digital but also a hybrid manner. We need smart city infrastructure to reflect the highest standards of ethics and privacy, in line with initiatives such as the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems [L6]. We plan to investigate these interesting research questions, and the emerging interdependencies between them, in future projects.


[1] A. Visvizi et al.: “Policy making for smart cities: innovation and social inclusive economic growth for sustainability”, Journal of Science and Technology Policy Management, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 126–133, Jan. 2018, doi: 10.1108/JSTPM-07-2018-079.
[2] A. Borda and J. P. Bowen: “Smart Cities and Cultural Heritage – A Review of Developments and Future Opportunities”, presented at the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (EVA 2017), Jul. 2017. doi: 10.14236/ewic/EVA2017.2.
[3] M. Angelidou et al.: “Cultural heritage in smart city environments”, Int. Arch. Photogramm. Remote Sens. Spatial Inf. Sci., vol. XLII-2/W5, pp. 27–32, Aug. 2017, doi: 10.5194/isprs-archives-XLII-2-W5-27-2017.

Please contact:
Christian Thomay
Research Studios Austria FG, Austria
+43 (1) 5850537-314
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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