Subway and bicycle lanes first, apps and sensors later – Smart cities develop new people-oriented technologies
Citizens, and not apps, sensors and devices, need to be in the focus of smart cities. The technology needs to serve people, in order to facilitate everyday life, and new solution and the digital transformation of businesses and cities is therefore the transformation of the culture in the community. That is one of the conclusions of this year's Smart City Festival.
The participants in this event, which is a project of the Smart City Education Initiative and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, were domestic and international experts in the fields of urban development, technology, politics, academy and business, and they had the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences, network and make new deals during the intensive three-day program.
Guests from Vienna, Prague, Ljubljana, Podgorica, Trikala, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Berlin, London, Tel Aviv and other cities presented their solutions and the implementation of smart technologies in a local environment.
The development of smart cities in Serbia was also announced by the minister for innovations and technological development of Serbia, Nenad Popovic, who said at the opening that the innovation budget for 2019 included a special budget for smart city projects.
Through cooperation to development of urban innovations
Experts agree that various interested parties need to cooperate in the development of smart cities. Successful urban innovations require cooperation between politicians, business people, innovators, enterprises and teachers, they believe.
– The biggest current projects in Vienna are EU projects, as they make us work together with other sectors and departments and those are big endeavors. There's the “Smarter Together” project, with the budget of EUR 50 million, which combines the retro design of old buildings with the implementation of new technologies, mobile services, e-cars, energy storage... This is one of the best examples of a smart city which takes into account all fields – Dominic Weiss, the director of the Smart City Agency of Vienna, told eKapija.
He adds that the capital of Austria has educational programs in the field of digitalization through which older citizens learn how to use new technologies, but also a project which involves 1,000 schools, through which students can learn about what a smart city means for them.
– We are investing EUR 2 billion in a new subway line, which is also a smart city project, because, if you want to transform your city and take it to the future, you need to ask yourself what the results of certain activities are. What is the result of an app or, in this case, a new subway line? Of course, those two things cannot be compared, but if you want to implement innovations and new technologies, a smart city definitely entails more than just the installation of street sensors or smartphone apps which help people find a parking spot – Weiss emphasizes.
Our interviewee says that the citizens of Vienna are satisfied with how the city operates, as the city administration provides them with a high quality of life.
– I believe that the smartest city is the one that functions properly, works on developing innovations and the IT infrastructure and constantly implements all those solutions, without people even noticing – they simply live in such a city!
Romania is also considering the importance of smart cities more and more, and the state budget for 2018 features, for the first time, funds meant for the development of smart city projects. Also, this year, the Romanian Ministry of Information and Communications, in cooperation with the Smart City & Mobility Association, published the National Smart City Strategy, which involves the country's institutions and is a plan for the development which should take place in the upcoming period.
– We want cities to become not just the providers of smart services, but their users as well. Our intention is to put the focus on the citizens and make them the head priority! Furthermore, we aim to carry out education programs in the public sphere and among citizens, as we first need to learn what smart cities are and then develop them even further – says Alexandra Dumitrascu, the director of development at the Smart City & Mobility Association.
In her interview with eKapija, she says that the association has been making plenty of effort in the past three years to connect municipalities and private companies, as well as the academic environment, and, of course, to expand the cooperation with other NGOs and citizens in order to accelerate the development of smart cities.
– In 2016, the ministry, together with the local self-government, started a pilot project called “Alba Iulia Smart City”. This project is very important, because it practically served as the test run for all the others, and other cities also started similar initiatives in their areas. The pilot project ends in late 2018 and we are looking forward to seeing what the effects will be from January 1, 2019 – eKapija's interviewee explains and adds that the Smart City & Mobility Association has established the Smart City Awards, which will be handed out this December.
Citizen digitalization quicker than administration digitalization
Sarolta Besenyei of the European Commission says for eKapija that the EC started working on the development of the smart city policy in 2007 and that it will make the development of this sector one of its main priorities in the next financial period. According to her, all the studies and results of the implementation of technologies in the development of smart cities show great economic and environmental benefits to the quality of life in urban environments.
– The relation between technology and the policy of regional development is important to the development of smart cities. In other words, it entails the use of technologies in the regional development. That is why the European Commission features special contests for smart city technologies within the Horizon 2020 program – in the fields of research and development, both local authorities and the public administration are able to use this financial platform.
Our interviewee says that, in the EU, citizen digitalization is currently quicker than public administration digitalization and that there's a gap there. The digitalization of the administration is its obligation and the citizens' demand, as they use modern technologies in everyday life – everything is on smartphones, we use different apps, and they facilitate life and make it efficient.
– In most European countries, the approach of governments is centralized in all activities. However, now there are new demands for all development, all the steps made by the public administration, to be centralized toward citizens! It's hard to change this approach, but is one of the priorities. Another priority is to create a cross-border platform on a European level, when it comes to technology and its implementation. This is well explained in the EC's Digital Single Market priorities – Sarolta Besenyei adds.
Infrastructure development a requirement of implementation of innovations
Our interviewees point out that they are not fully familiar with the situation in Belgrade and other cities in Serbia and that they therefore can't give concrete recommendations or advice as to where the development of Serbia's smart cities should go. Still, Dominic Weiss says that he has a feeling that cities like Belgrade focus more on individual technical solutions.
– For example, they work on transport systems which facilitate the use of transport, the so-called intermodal systems, which allow for an easy switch between various forms of transport: bicycles – public ones, which can be used my more than one person, cars – which can also be shared, subway lines, buses and trams. But, what happens here is that you first need a subway, bicycles, bicycle lanes and a car sharing system, and, as far as I can see, you don't have that!
You can also give people pedometers to count their steps and measure their vital functions, but if they use coal or oil for heating, it's all futile! Or, you can install sensors in containers, so that the workers know when to empty them, but if you litter, you have to ask yourself if that makes sense. That way, you won't get results, only good marketing, some nice apps and smartphones which won't transform your city and won't prepare it for the future.
You need to work on the real infrastructure, which would be a foundation for innovations and additional services, because it's useless to have all these digital tools and solutions without the real systems – Dominic Weiss warns.