The people of Burgas may have some insight into Hamlet’s famous claim that he “could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.” After all, from landmarks to roadworks, from concerts to rainstorms, they can fit their entire city into the palms of their hands. “It’s gotten to the point that now at expert meetings, you see people feel in their pockets and say, ‘let me check Smart Burgas,” Daniela Aleeksieva, Sharing Cities Project Coordinator laughs.
What is Smart Burgas? As Aleeksieva explains, the answer to that question is changing all the time. It’s a mobile app, but to say just that would be selling it short. Basically, it’s a platform where you can get all type of information about the Bulgarian city – but it’s one of the most sophisticated in Europe when it comes to data and interaction.
The sky’s the limit
Today, you can use Smart Burgas for live updates on traffic, bike rentals and roadworks. “You can check if the weather is suitable for sunbathing in the summer or strolling along the beach in the winter,” Aleeksieva. Smart Burgas will also tell you about the water level in the city’s reservoir and air quality. If you want to know where to recycle your batteries or your bottles, find the best places to visit or attend cultural events, you’ll find an answer on Smart Burgas.
Sometimes giving is even better than receiving. App users can share their location, offer personalised recommendations, and rate amenities. They can also provide feedback to the city about the app and other services.
A resource for experts
The app isn’t just for locals. “The main goal was to make the new platform easily accessible and useful to all residents and guests of the city, and helpful for the city experts,” Aleeksieva explains. Employees of the Bulgarian city can use the app to monitor public works via real-time video without visiting the sites, which helps them to save time and be more efficient. Local inspectors can also rely on the platform to monitor potential environmental violations.
There’s even specialist information for businesses and investors. They can use Smart Burgas to access data on properties for sale in the city and industrial areas, as well as statistics about the location, number of employees and types of businesses nearby.
To help process all this information, the app can be customised to match different needs. Users can choose the options that they prefer to see on their home screens or how and when they wish to receive notifications. The app available for both iPhone and Android systems.
Behind the scenes
One of the most exciting features of Smart Burgas is what goes on behind the scenes, that is how data streams make their way onto the platform. The process is completely decentralised. On the one hand, information is gathered automatically from linked sites like GotoBurgas.com and invest.burgas.bg.
On the other hand, city experts can access the modules relevant to their directorate through their accounts to add, change or modify the information. Specialised teams control real-time data from CCTV, sensors and communication systems.
Bumps in the road
The platform and its modules are under constant development, with new features being added all the time. “People from the development and supporting teams are optimistic,” Aleeksieva says. “They are convinced that with lots of effort and feedback and constructive criticism from users, Smart Burgas will deepen the key role it plays in the city, improving citizens’ quality of life and provoking their involvement in urban planning,” she adds.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, as innovation inevitably comes with challenges. First, the city was aware that the project’s success depended on the involvement of many different stakeholders, and that “a strong political support was needed,” insists Aleeksieva. Once all stakeholders came on board, experts had to be flexible, as organisational changes were made in their work to improve the platform’s data flow.
Already a national pioneer in introducing innovative projects in several areas such as urban transport management, waste management, environment monitoring, and risk management, Burgas is taking “its next major step towards the smart city concept following the good practices of a number of successful European cities,” Aleeksieva says. For example, Smart Burgas was possible partly thanks to exchanges with the partner cities in the Sharing Cities project.
As the platform continues to grow and improve, so will Burgas’ smart city approach.