In the next thirty years, approximately 68% of the world population will be living in cities, according to the UN. To accommodate the rapidly-expanding urban population, cities need to act quickly to anticipate and overcome considerable challenges in many areas, including health and safety, environment, energy, water, electric utility, waste management, transportation and mobility, and service delivery.
To meet the ever-growing needs of citizens, many have turned to the concept of a “smart city” as the ultimate solution to this immense question. But what exactly is a smart city? Some might link it to IoT (Internet of Things) and connected devices, while others might imagine intelligent infrastructure on the city streets. Regardless of the nature of the projects, a smart city is first and foremost a connected city, powered by data sharing among various stakeholders, city service providers, government administrators, and citizens.
Whether the goal is to enable an intelligent product or service, to achieve transparency with governance and performance, or to enhance territorial attractiveness, it is imperative to have a secure platform to collect reliable data and share them among stakeholders and the community.
What can open data do for the future of smart cities? In this third piece of the series: Smart cities powered by data, Opendatasoft breaks down the question for smart communities and illustrates the role of data with tangible, real-life examples.
Citizen engagement and community building
Data is not just about publishing information, but much more about connecting to the community it is serving and making the most of the collective intelligence. An interesting anecdote comes from Grand Paris Sud, an intercommunal community in the southern suburbs of Paris. After making its open data portal available, the team was confronted with the reality on the ground - a beekeeper asked the team more info about the dataset that lists all the trees in the area, but the team did not have the answer. “This resident made us realise that beyond public data, we have to rely on citizen contribution and engagement,” said Frederic on the data team.
Since then, the Grand Paris Sud team has been focusing on encouraging citizens to contribute their observations for the community. The most popular dataset is about local businesses: local info is more important than ever. The Grand Paris Sud Project Manager Hacène commented that, “the people who know the city the best are the ones who live there.” In order to make better public policies, cities have to engage the locals first.
Similar community engagement objectives are seen across the world. City of Bristol is home to the Luftdaten Air Quality data, a dataset generated by individuals, who operate a low cost sensor at their homes and gardens that monitors and transmits air quality data every hour.
In addition to community-generated data, open portals can facilitate other types of community building. Chattanooga, Tennessee’s open data portal is facilitating collaborations with local universities. Bristol’s open portal funded data projects from universities and local communities. The Belgian railway operator Infrabel opened its open data portal and held hackathons focusing on punctuality data. Portuguese utilities company EDP (Energias de Portugal) used their data portal to open an ongoing exchange with the community.
In addition to engagement, it is necessary to also measure the impact of these engagements. Mexico City open data staff monitored Twitter to see exchanges with community members. The result is very positive. The Swiss city Basel-Stadt confirms the same outcome: many residents are interested in data and communicate regularly with the city’s data portal staff on Twitter. In the ever-increasingly intelligent cities, citizens want to be engaged, connected, and heard - the most direct channel of communication is through data sharing.
“We rely on citizen communities to share and enhance our data analysis methods." - Sofia Ganhila, Technology Analyst, EDP
Environment, ecology, and agriculture
In terms of environment and ecology, many city-level administrations are using data as their weapon against climate change. From Australia and the UK, to Canada and the US, cities are taking initiatives to monitor their environment with air quality and emission data. Bristol publishes real-time air quality data via a dashboard on Open Data Bristol.
Vancouver dedicates one of its 6 central data categories to climate change, striving to protect the city’s ecology and natural resources. The visual dashboard clearly communicates which area is meeting the target and which area needs improving. The Australian city council Eurobodalla’s wildlife monitoring recorded and exposed the impact of the historic Australia bushfire on its bat population. In the US, cities like Chicago and New York are using open data to reduce building greenhouse gas emissions.
In the realm of agriculture, data sharing has been used to monitor, inform, and market agricultural products. The Australian Southern Grampians Shire city council shares real-time weather data with local farmers to help them make relevant decisions. The Ministry of Agriculture in France displays all companies that sell chemical agricultural products to farmers in a simple, visual dashboard.
“I know one thing for sure: the ecological transition will come through data.” - Arthur Beauchesne, SRD Energies
From Copenhagen to Boston, data sharing has led to environment-friendly policies. With micromobility projects like electric bikes and scooters to using satellite images to detect logging encroachment and illegal mining, the use of data can be the one-stop solution to our urban environmental challenges.
Tourism, culture, and territorial marketing
From the world’s most popular destinations like Paris and New York, to smaller communities like the Town of Cary, NC, open data has been used as a tool for tourism and territory attractiveness. Not only can data help visitors better plan their travels, but open data also plays a crucial role for the regions’ online presence. The latter case has been particularly relevant during the pandemic lockdown.
France’s Chambery region uses its open data portal to promote eco-tourism activities. The region’s 90km of bicycle paths can be easily mapped out for travelers. Australia’s Randwick city council displays real-time data on their beach display screens, optimising the visitor experience at Coogee Beach by providing data on weather, aquatic safety, parking management, and amenity servicing. In the US, Town of Cary and Jersey City use their open data portals to showcase various attractions, including bike routes, art and cultural venues, and park and recreation areas. With open data, cities can market themselves to attract residents, students, tourists, and talented professionals.
Open data has also been used to preserve culture and heritage virtually, an especially useful way to promote tourism during the pandemic lockdown. The French government kickstarted the #CultureAtHome⁵ (#CultureChezNous in French) project that included 880 virtual exhibitions, concerts, documentaries from archeology to art. Paris’ regional government Île-de-France has launched a website to showcase what you can do during the summer in the region, frequently updated to reflect the current Covid-19 situation. Lastly, a special shout out to Albert-Kahn Museum that used open data to create “Archives of the Planet” that records 72,000 autochrome plates and hundreds of hours of films taken around the world at the beginning of the 1900s.
About the author
Opendatasoft was designed to give people access to business-ready data when they need it. Organisations of every size — from new startups to public companies — use the Opendatasoft data sharing solution to access, reuse, and share data that grows business. By making innovative and intuitive data sharing solutions, Opendatasoft empowers people to collaborate around data.
This article was originally published by Opendatasoft. Access the original here.