– Europe can benefit from becoming smarter, developing better connectivity and improving its infrastructure. Smart cities are key both for citizens and businesses within Europe. Do you think local governments are ready to incorporate smart technologies in the cities around Europe?
– Some are, others are still not. What I consider as important as the deployment of technology in cities is engaging local digital leaders and digital transition ambassadors. Local people with leadership potential can be the agents of digital change for the communities. Local governments need opinion-leaders as partners who contribute to transforming firstly people’s attitudes towards the digital and then the smart city infrastructure. It is also significant that local governments make efforts to benefit more from EU funds. Money and funding are available for European communities and just wait to be attracted and put in action.
– What are the main challenges in order to turn a city into a smart city?
– Cybersecurity is a critical issue that needs to be taken seriously. With all these connected devices and connected traffic controls, we have to step up the efforts to make them secure from hacker attacks in order to prevent accidents or unexpected intrusions into the system. Digital skills are also an essential part of the smart urban context. Today 44% of Europeans still do not have basic digital skills. We need to ensure that users possess the skills needed to manage apps or online services. It is also important that people understand the transition to a smart city, how it will affect their life and how they benefit from it most effectively.
When it comes to automated cars, vehicles should be tested cross-borderly and we need the right legal framework for their testing. Actually, within Digital Day 2017, Member States are expected to sign a declaration to concrete progress in connected and automated mobility. 5G deployment and connectivity is also vital for constructing a smart city. As we saw in the latest The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) the number of high-speed connections went up by 74% in two years. So we need to keep up the good work.
– How prepared are cities in Europe for the transformation? Which are the best examples for European Smart Cities so far?
– Within the past decade, we have already made the individual transition to smartphone and smart devices – so many people have already adopted these new technologies. So in terms of perception and attitude, we are surely ready to embrace the community transition to a smart city. What we need is to improve people’s understanding that smart technologies can help ease and better manage day-to-day problems, such as congestion, high energy bills, air pollution, living comfort, even problems with integration.
Smart systems can even help local governments to offer their citizens better conditions for civic participation by collecting, analysing and using data in order to address people’s concerns.
Today Lisbon is one of the leaders in integrating smart technologies into the city infrastructure. Lisbon’s integrated management system for energy efficiency developed under the FP7- funded BESOS project was awarded for its ‘European added-value’. Implemented in Lisbon and Barcelona, the project is a perfect example of how digital technologies can help in the global fight against climate change.
– Where does Bulgaria stand in the process of digitalization of cities and public services? Which cities are the forerunners?
– For the last decade Bulgaria has become a model for urban infrastructure transformation due to direct EU funds and national funds. The available European and other funds, are a catalyzer for smart cities to thrive. In addition to the funding opportunities, these developments, nevertheless, are also very much due to public-private initiatives that make smart cities happen. However, some other crucial elements, which are sometimes overlooked, are the willingness of the citizens to embrace the new developments in their city, and the local leadership. Forward-looking mayors and city councils are essential for the digitization of the urban infrastructure. I am happy that in Bulgaria I see this combination of factors and the high results they achieve.
The capital Sofia is great smart city example. Sofia adopts Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation on city level, such kind of strategy is not only the first for Bulgaria but also for Europe. It determines the economic priorities within the framework of research and innovation activities, aiming to create a competitive advantage by strengthening the link between their scientific accomplishments and the needs of industry and market niches. New traffic infrastructures, with real time updates are also indicative of the “smart” direction the city has taken.
The Smart City of Burgas has adopted a “growing smarter” approach that aims to improve the urban environment in the field of mobility, waste management, water management and energy efficiency in a holistic way trying to involve citizens. In addition, a new Traffic Control Centre has been established – Integrated Ticketing System, Urban Transport Management System of traffic lights and CCTV system in buses and at bus stops. All this contributes to the safety and the wellbeing of citizens while at the same time returns the investment. City bikes equipped with GPS systems are also an essential part of the smart city environment. Smart street lighting helps reduction of energy consumption and is a good example of the city’s main strategic objective – to secure and maintain efficient, effective and appropriate public lighting system by integrating new technologies and smart service infrastructure.