There is a lot happening in the world of smart cities right now. In this article, we explore smart city examples from around the world to see how leaders in Athens, Greece, Chennai, India, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Canterbury-Bankstown, Australia, and Prague, Czech Republic are solving city problems with technology and innovation.
Smart City Examples #1: Athens, Greece
Solving Real-Life Citizen Problems and Building Trust
In 2010-2011, Athens, Greece was facing some major financial problems. The city had huge debt—280 million euros—and a huge deficit as well—45 million euros per year. The local government couldn’t hire new staff, and it also had the typical problem of people working in silos instead of collaborating. To add to that, the city was experiencing social problems too. Citizens of Athens did not trust the government, and in 2015-2016, things got even trickier when a flood of 300,000 Syrian refugees came to the city. As Chief Digital Officer of Athens, Konstantinos Champidis, puts it, ‘We had the perfect storm.’
Flash forward a few years, and Athens received the award for the 2018 European Capital of Innovation. How did the city manage this huge transformation ‘overnight’? Here are some highlights:
- Athens went into their smart city endeavors with the mindset that, “A smart city is more than a sum of platforms and investments and tools. It’s about how we’re going to transform our cities and change our cities. It’s about change.”
- They started out with a solid structure, which included creating a tool kit and a digital roadmap and setting a position for a Chief Digital Officer.
- Athens city leaders realized that they couldn’t solve all the city problems alone. They formed partnerships with the private sector and universities and enlisted their help in finding and implementing solutions.
- They created a living strategy document for 2018. “It was not ambitious or revolutionary, but we did it,” says Konstantinos. The strategy focused on solving real problems that real citizens face, including investing in infrastructure and the government, boosting digital skills of the elderly and unemployed, delivering and coordinating support for refugees, and boosting engagement with citizens by creating online platforms.
- The city used its private sector and university partnerships to boost trust in the government. Citizens wouldn’t have trusted digital skills courses run by the city, so they invited big tech companies and universities to deliver these courses for free. As people saw that the city could create partnerships and solve their problems, trust grew.
“This is a brief story about Athens that started from a debt crisis and ended up as the European Innovation Capital of 2018,” says Konstantinos. The city earned that title because it invested not in technology, tools, and platforms, but because it formed partnerships with universities and businesses, and focused on solving real problems of the citizens.
Smart City Examples #2: Chennai, India
Innovations in Traffic, Classrooms, and the Environment
The city of Chennai, India is experiencing many challenges, but it is tackling these problems one by one using smart city solutions. The list of challenges likely sounds familiar to any city leader: a large population of 8 million, congestion from private cars, poor infrastructure, pollution. Raj Cherubal, Director at Chennai City Connect, gives several examples of the smart city projects underway in Chennai that are aimed at solving these problems:
- Improving the livability of the city by adding public spaces, despite opposition that adding public space may destroy business and be the end of the city. Chennai is looking to create its own version of Times Square.
- Promoting the use of German GPS-enabled bikes to cut down on private cars on the roads. Although people in a developing country may see bicycles as a step backward (when wealth is growing, and one may finally be able to afford a personal car), the city has helped adoption rates by glamorizing these fancy bikes that can be tracked and booked in advance.
- Adding infrastructure underground throughout the city. This is difficult because there is not much data on where water pipes are, so Chennai is working on GIS mapping and advanced tunneling technology.
- Creating the largest parking management system in the country, if not the world. This camera-based system will be able to recognize empty parking spots on the road; then citizens can use an app to reserve their parking spot in advance.
- Setting up smart classrooms. The city has partnered with Samsung to put smart technology in the classrooms. As Raj puts it, this is “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of all the things they may be able to do to make classrooms smarter.
- Restoring 3,000 bodies of water, some simple and some complex. This project includes the use of drones that can land on the water’s surface, take a sample, analyze it, and send real-time information on pollution levels.
This is just a shortlist of the many projects happening or in the planning stage in Chennai, which also includes solar energy, 3D mapping, digital signs, a data center, and a disaster management center. While the projects will help increase revenue for the city, they are also helping to break down silos within government and increase the quality of life for residents.
Smart City Examples #3: Buenos Aires, Argentina
A Citizen-Focused Transformation
Buenos Aires is the economic and political capital of Argentina, a large city that is being transformed through the smart application of technology. The modernization and innovation strategy was set out in 2007 when the current president of Argentina was elected mayor of Buenos Aires City. “Our innovation strategy has one main focus, and that is to keep improving our citizen’s quality of life,” explains Matias Williams, Assistant Secretary of Smart City from the Buenos Aires government. The two major focuses of the strategy are to transform public administration and to take a citizen-centered focus in all projects. Here are some examples of the things they have accomplished or are working on in those areas.
- The city of Buenos Aires used to have entire offices filled with paper files. In the last two years, they have managed to digitize these files and create two data centers. Going forward, they are trying to keep everything digital whenever possible, including signing executive orders digitally.
- Another improvement was a change in the way people contact the government. With 50 offices, if a citizen has a problem, they might be confused as to which office to call. To solve this, the city created a simpler system with a short phone number (147). Now, no matter the question or problem, citizens can call that number. This makes it simpler and also helps improve the perception of the government because it is now presented in a unified way instead of dozens of individual departments.
- Knowing the popularity of smartphones and messaging apps, the city also created a program called Digital Citizen that allows individuals to access city services, get notifications and get digital documents. They are also working on creating a ChatBot to deliver this information within the What’s App app, considering that 90 percent of Argentinians already have that app on their phone.
- To improve public administration, the city of Buenos Aires is also moving from being an intuition-based government to an evidence-based government. For example, they have created a model that will allow them to predict where, when, and how large a school should be in each neighborhood in the city.
The initiatives in Buenos Aires are aimed at improving how the government runs and how citizens experience the city.
“Innovation is only useful if it has the means to improve people’s lives.”
Smart City Examples #4: Canterbury-Bankstown, Australia
Forming a Smart City Plan
Canterbury-Bankstown is a local government located in south-western Sydney, inside the state of New South Wales in Australia. Like other local Australian councils, funding is really limited, and the local government has been disrupted by the shaky federal government for the past few years. Canterbury-Bankstown is also unique in that it is one of the leanest councils in Australia, with fewer staff members as compared to the population served—a population of 373,000 that includes 44 percent of residents who were born overseas, and 60 percent who speak a language other than English.
Here, Patrhyce Donovan, a Canterbury-Bankstown Council board member, discusses the pillars of the council’s smart city plan, which they will be moving forward within the months and years to come.
- Canterbury-Bankstown is fortunate to have a mayor who supports smart city projects. He has been championing it, which Patrhyce says helps to prioritize the work and drive change.
- Patrhyce and her team have put out a smart city roadmap to guide their way. This comprehensive document spells out all the things the local government is promising to do, along with setting priorities and keeping an eye on emerging trends.
- To explain the roadmap, Patrhyce says, “At the end of the day, it comes down to three simple things: the people, places, and processes.” In its final version, the roadmap will include a fourth element too—policy.
- In terms of people, the roadmap is focused on creating an informed and engaged community. This includes building a culture of innovation within the local government. To achieve that, the roadmap decentralizes the organization, making everyone in it empowered to take on change themselves. Thus, the ‘people’ aspect of the roadmap includes the citizens and the local government, and it is also about bringing in other partnerships and stakeholders.
- The roadmap seeks to create smart places too. This includes thinking about how the city uses places and infrastructure, and how places are maintained.
- Finally, the roadmap includes the element of smart processes, which means setting up the platforms, plans, policies, and procedures that will allow the city to solve problems and function efficiently. In terms of processes, data is a vital ingredient that will promote continuous improvement within Canterbury-Bankstown.
“My role is empowering people across the organization and leading them through purpose, passion, possibility,” says Patrhyce, “Getting them to understand that they can do different things and think a little bit differently, and make real improvements for the customer.”
Smart City Examples #5: Prague, Czech Republic
Creating a State-Owned Smart Cities Company
The Czech Republic is a country with 10 million people located in central Europe. The capital, Prague, is the largest city in the country and contributes about 30 percent of the economy of the state. Prague faces many of the same challenges experienced by other cities. The city is growing, and those who want to live in the city expect a comfortable life, placing high expectations on everything from housing and transportation to waste management and energy. In Prague, smart city projects are tackled by a separate company that is owned by the state. Here, Pavel Tesar, a representative from that company, discusses how the arrangement works and some of the projects they have worked on.
- The state-owned company was established to fulfill the IT and smart city needs of Prague. The advantage is that the company is able to quickly and efficiently work on city requests and doesn’t experience budget problems. On the other hand, Pavel says that getting approvals can be difficult because sometimes city organizations don’t cooperate well, and the company itself doesn’t have a direct decision-making role.
- The company has created a policy that internally they call Pipeline. This process management policy helps because it guides ideas to fruition.
- The city is currently running 60 projects, some of which have finished and others which are brand new. The work is handled by a group of 120 employees.
- The company brings in stakeholders to assist with projects. This includes the economic sphere and also academia. They don’t consider themselves to be the ‘best brains,’ but know that through working with stakeholders, they can have access to the brightest minds in and outside of the country.
- The strategy for smart city projects is divided into five areas—mobility, smart buildings, waste-free city, people in the urban environment, and tourism. A sixth area is the data platform, which is the flagship project.
- Projects include the previously mentioned data platform, as well as sensor projects to analyze traffic and the environment, a regional transportation ticketing system, and energy monitoring/savings.
Pavel says that any IT or smart city idea that successfully goes through the council is tackled by his team. While they have made progress in many areas, they are still working to find good solutions to other issues, including the need for more charging stations to make electronic mobility work in the city.
These smart city examples paint a picture of what is happening on the ground in smart city initiatives around the globe, where technology and innovation are being used to solve city problems and improve quality of life for citizens.