Imagine improving people’s quality of life through initiatives which make public services more integrated, open and efficient – working together with people to decide what is needed in their neighbourhoods.
That’s what Valencia has been doing since 2018 with Impulso VLCi, an initiative financed by the city, the Spanish government through the Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda, and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), comprising 12 sub-projects to improve quality of life through waste management, better mobility, easy access to public services, more efficient municipal services, and sharing solutions with other municipalities.
These sub-projects are mainly focused on efficiency, sustainability, open data, reuse of solutions and citizen wellbeing. Impulso VLCi was thought of by the city in 2015 to complement its 2014 digital platform. It was launched in September 2018 to deliver all initiatives for the summer of 2022.
And Valencia is on the right track. Of the 12 sub-projects, only four have not yet been completed and these are already advanced.
A long-term project
The idea, however, is that even after completion, the initiatives keep on delivering results for the people. “There are no pilots, the idea is that the projects remain. We are enlarging the project, adding more,” explains Ramón Ferri, Head of Services of the Valencia Smart City Office.
The improvements are tailored for changing and upgrading the city's infrastructure in order to make it more efficient.
The initiative deals with topics ranging from the creation of an app integrating city services to urban noise management, expanding parking spaces, offering services with geolocation technology and better dealing with urban waste. According to Ferri, even those projects that are still being implemented “are very mature. There are still some details to be finished, some tests to be done, some minor things to be done.” Soon the population will be able to enjoy them at their fullest.
Through AppValencia (available for iOS and Android), residents can communicate directly with the city and also receive notifications and information related to works, events, covid-related news, etc. The app can also be used to foster public participation and offers real-time information on public transportation.
Also important, residents can carry out bureaucratic formalities using the app, not needing to go to city offices or print documents and forms. It is also noteworthy that the app can be configured in both Spanish and Valencian, the two official languages of the region.
According to Ferri, at least 15% of the city’s population have downloaded the app so far.
Challenges to overcome
There is a challenge to coordinate services. It is problematic. Integration with our open data platform is not simple.
Although the app might be the most visible part of Impulso VLCi’s many tasks, Ferri notes that “as with almost all ‘mass city’ solutions, citizens do not perceive them quickly, because some of them are for managers to provide better services. In most cases, the improvements are tailored for changing and upgrading the city’s infrastructure in order to make it more efficient.”
But, reminds José Pinedo, Smart City Project Manager, “here there are citizen participation projects and the neighbours vote on which projects are developed. Somehow, things are getting there,” and people are becoming more aware of the changes promoted by the city.
“Citizens sometimes do not perceive this directly. But they do notice the new carparks, the improvement in the management of waste containers… Citizens, even if they do not realise it, see that the containers are not overflowing,” emphasises Ferri.
One of the biggest challenges for the city was to integrate different public services within a single smart-city platform with open data and open APIs – not to mention the challenge to overcome municipal and even national bureaucracies. Pinedo notes that “there is a challenge to coordinate services. It is problematic. Integration with our open data platform is not simple.”
There are citizen participation projects and the neighbours vote on which projects are developed.
Another challenge is that today, the city has environmental monitoring systems in place at fixed stations, but plans to use sensors on vehicles of the municipal public transportation company. Valencia’s proposal is so innovative that the city ended up creating a problem for itself: “In some cases, the market is green. For example with sensors that are not capable of measuring what should be measured and this creates difficulties for the project,” explained Ferri.
To address some of these challenges, Eurocities has developed the UserCentriCities project, putting people at the heart of digital public services.
The Tallinn Declaration on e-governance sets user-centricity principles but these remain quite generic and there is no specific guidance on what they mean in practice, even more so at the local level. Cities are at the forefront of delivering digital government in Europe, but they are not sufficiently involved in the policy debate and do not encounter sufficient support and comparison tools.
UserCentriCities is committed to extending the reach of the Tallinn declaration priorities to city-level and supporting local authorities in delivering digital and user-centric services. It does so by providing a benchmarking dashboard, supporting local authorities in delivering user-centricity through a tailored toolkit and mutual learning. It thus reinforces the local-EU collaboration by operationalising the Tallinn Declaration to fit the needs and challenges of local governments and citizens.