European cities are facing a new imperative – to remain competitive and achieve sustainable growth while providing a good quality of life to an increasing number of citizens. But although these challenges are faced by cities worldwide, local authorities tend to think just that – local.
Rather than look at best practices from other regions, and even other countries, the wheel is reinvented each time, as each authority responds to the problems it faces.
Two new projects are trying to change that, by getting Europe’s public authorities to embrace open innovation. , coordinated by ESADE Business School and part-funded by the EU, aims to encourage local authorities to engage with young, promising software developers and to cooperate with their public counterparts.
ESADE will work with participating public authorities to identify the needs of public administrations and citizens, promote the creation of new applications and share the results openly among multiple European cities.
The Open Cities project supports the creation of open data applications and urban projects across seven European cities: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna, Helsinki, Paris and Rome. As well as improving government transparency, it is hoped that novel web and mobile civic applications can improve the quality of life in these cities.
Actions supported by the project include an Open Data Platform, developed by Franhofer FOKUS - the Institute of Open Communication Systems of the German research organisation. This open source platform supports the entire Open Data lifecycle of identifying, publishing, discovering, enriching, and consuming data. It can be easily customised to match an organisation’s specific requirements and has already been used to develop the Open Data Portal in Germany, a central online portal offering environmental, geographical and statistical data free of charge.
The portal opened this year, and is running on a pilot basis, but there are plans to include data from other sectors at a later stage. The model has been already been successfully replicated and implemented in Amsterdam and in the province of Flevoland in the Netherlands.
Another initiative, the Open Cities data catalogue, provides a consolidated view on all of the open data available from the city portals of Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Helsinki and Paris. This federated repository makes it easy for developers and consumers to search, find, and browse data from their European counterparts. The catalogue also directs app developers and users to cities' local open data portals.
An example of the kind of applications that can be developed on the back of access to such data repositories is BlindSquare, by Finnish developer Ilkka Pirttimaa, which was the winner of the 2012 Open Cities App Challenge. This is an augmented-reality mobile application for blind people, uses audio technology to help people get around town by informing them of their whereabouts and nearby public services, businesses and places of interest.
The Open Cities App Challenge 2012 also gave special mention to Nice City Pass, an app that improves mobility in cities by providing real-time travel information, including available parking spaces, public transport, bike rentals and traffic status.
A new challenge, the Open Data Tourism Hack at Home competition, has recently been launched, inviting developers from all over the world to submit ideas focusing on using mobile apps to help cities manage the challenges and benefits of tourism.
Developers will have the opportunity to turn their ideas into working apps through the Hack at Home platform, which allows participants to present their ideas, form teams with like-minded designers, developers and coders and get advice from expert mentors to build apps for the participating cities.
The second programme, Commons for Europe, has similar ambitions. “We will try to replicate the experience of Code of America in Europe,” said Esteve Almirall, Coordinator at ESADE, referring to the US organisation founded in 2009 to bring web-industry professionals together with local governments. The Code for Europe project aims to give volunteers a chance, “To change the way local governments operate, making apps that allow citizens to connect in a more effective way,” said Almirall.
Promising young developers, who are backed by renowned mentors and receive training at institutions such as ESADE, Frauenhofer Fokus, and Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts in London) will work together within their cities but also collectively across Europe for a period of nine months.
Jonathan Wareham, ESADE’s Vice-Dean for Research, is very enthusiastic about the project, saying, “A lot of EU projects generate a lot of paper and little else. This one is doing real work.”
The second major aim of Commons for Europe is to promote knowledge and deployment of user-driven broadband networks, both in metropolitan and rural environments.