How Cities Like Helsinki And Chicago Are Using Open Platforms To Make Their Cities More Dynamic and Livable
By the Sente.Link Team, @Sente_Link
More and more of the international startups that go through Sente.Link’s accelerator program are in the “smart cities” domain - essentially, domains where technologies and solutions connect citizens, their local government, urban infrastructure and industry.
In the first post of this series titled "How Smart Cities Like Barcelona, Prague and Chicago are Enabling their Ecosystems," we unfolded that in order for a city to be “smart” it needs to connect its stakeholders. Furthermore, the city stakeholders should begin to nurture and adopt corporate partnerships, startup accelerators, and smart city technologies as the enablers to create stronger “cities of the future.” The next piece to the “smart city solutions” puzzle - platforms that can enable the limitless possibilities for solving problems in modern cities.
Platforms, in this case, are underlying technologies or capabilities with open interfaces and open standards upon which solutions can be built by startups, corporations, government agencies and even the citizens themselves. The idea is to take infrastructure or capabilities that already exist in a city, and make them “smarter” and more usable in the digital world.
Take, for example, the vital city service - street lights. SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimization Technique) is the world’s leading traffic control system. By using sensors to collect data, this system helps cities work more efficiently to not only manage traffic control but collects information to create more reusable solutions. The digital gift that keeps on giving.
Until, well, your privacy is in question.
Historically, governments have been bad at building open and reusable solutions. And let’s be frank. The idea of putting sensors and cameras up on all street corners is great to help traffic flow. But if this data is not available to the public, then we mine as well sit back, watch Oliver Stone’s Snowden and hope for the best.
But there’s good news: In an increasingly urbanized world, regardless of the national dynamics, cities can choose to be more nimble and responsive, for a more dynamic economy and a choice of destination for people to live and work. How? By pioneering the adoption of new technologies in an open manner.
The Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI) service is an open data project that makes government information available for free to everyone in Helsinki. The data collected is presented in a way that helps the city’s stakeholders, including universities and large corporations, have a “comprehensive and diverse outlook on different urban phenomena, such as living conditions, economics and well-being, employment and transport.” This open data has been available to the city of Helsinki since 2010 and since that time, has created real solutions, like MOOSE, a student-made mobile application that uses the data collected by HRI to help exchange students easily find housing, events on campus and more.
“I think that MaaS carries the potential of changing the paradigm from car ownership to usership and beyond that to experiences” says Hietanen. “But that can only happen if you can provide people with freedom of mobility, meaning insuring that they can go anywhere at anytime. We built MaaS as an open platform that can be used to connect all sorts of transportation systems and make our cities more livable.”
By putting the data in the hands of stakeholders, and entrepreneurs like Sampo in this case, Helsinki has enabled both its citizens and the city to keep progressing forward as a dynamic, sustainable city - an impact that the city’s future residents will be grateful for years from now.
Chicago is becoming a responsive city as well, but with a unique addition. It plans to use its open platforms to create solutions not only in the 606 but also to enable solutions for cities around the world.
If you call Chicago home, you’ve probably gobbled an Au Cheval burger (if not, highly encouraged). This burger haven is located right on the corner of Randolph and Halsted where one of Chicago’s Array of Things (AoT) sensors is attached on a street light. Small but mighty, this beacon along with over 60 scattered around the city, serves as an urban "fitbit" that tracks the city’s heartbeat. It basically collects data on everything from temperature, light vibration, sound intensity, pedestrian/vehicle traffic, flooding, wind.
We say basically because that is exactly what the city is trying to provide - a basic pool of data so that those who aren’t too keen on pie charts and excel docs (you know who you are) can easily access ready to read data provided to city officials, software developers and researchers.
During a Tech In Motion Chicago event earlier this year, CIO at Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology, Brenna Berman, brought up an important point neither the city of Chicago or cities around the world can avoid - change.
Change in aging infrastructure, the city’s environmental resources - e.g. Lake Michigan, and most of all, in population demographics.
“This one is sort of funny,” Brenna puts it. “We have an aging population as we live longer. Yet actually our population is getting younger and younger as more immigrants are coming here. It is more critical than ever to be an efficient city where space is more limited and the population continues to grow.”
[Watch the entire clip here].
What sets AoT apart from other open data platforms like HRI is its global reach. Using the AoT software and hardware design created in Chicago, similar sensors will also be installed in NYC, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Mexico City, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bristol, Amsterdam and New Delhi, India.
Building a “Smart City” from a green field is one thing, but many of the cities adopting these new urban technologies and platforms have been around centuries before Chicago and the Au Cheval burger were even a thought. And chances are if you’re a stakeholder that lives in an ecosystem like Amsterdam that took its first breath in the 13th century, a new “city pacemaker” like AoT is required to keep kickin’.
Cities around the world, therefore, need to prioritize open platforms as a requirement to remain as a choice of livability and sustainability for (at least) another 8 centuries to come.
And if stakeholders continue to support a transparent city with citizen solutions, the 21st century will be remembered for the resurrection of cities - and the social, economic and environmental progress they help to unlock.