World Intelligent Cities Summit 2012

Istanbul,13-14 September 2012

By Pantelis Koutroumpis

The first of its kind World Intelligent Cities Summit took place in Istanbul on the 13-14 September. The agenda included prominent figures from the Turkish government and local authorities together with international experts presenting best practices for the development of connected and sustainable cities. While primarily a business and policy summit it was a rather interesting meeting in terms of the common direction towards a more sustainable future where ICT plays a critical role.

Idris Gulluce, Deputy & Chair Committee on Public Works, Reconstruction, Transportation and Tourism of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) talked extensively about the importance of local culture and social understanding for the success of smart policies in cities. He underlined the increasing impact of behavioral sciences in designing, implementing and benchmarking policies and took some distance from ‘all-purpose’ EU guidelines and regulations that often oversee social cohesion and wellbeing in favor of preset targets. Gulluce outlined the list of major transport projects planned or underway in Istanbul like the Marmaray rail tunnel under the Istanbul Strait, the Istanbul Strait Road Channel Crossing, the Gebze-Orhangazi-Izmir Highway and the North Marmara Highway including the third Bosphorous Bridge in the city. In response to the decision to go on with these projects, Gulluce was criticized by the press in the room for a lack of planning and communication in the design and launch phases. From the lively discussions it became evident that Istanbul has changed dramatically during the last fifteen years. As he noted, Hurriyet – a newspaper with national circulation – offered coupons for gas masks back in 1994 to address the problem of air quality in the city. Today the most significant problems come from excessive traffic primarily due to the size of the city (~13m residents) and a historic lack of urban building plans. Besides the economic performance of the area continues to lure more young people to the city from the other regions of the country further affecting the local traffic.

Egemen Bagis, Minister of EU Affairs, went on to explain the increasing impact of cities’ social capital in the development of sustainable-living strategies. Transport, energy, water management, manufacturing and financial services all need to change their practices to address the evolving techno-economic ecosystem. He also highlighted the major improvements in Istanbul describing his experiences when access to drinking water was a major issue for the citizens and ‘hair dressers used soda water to work with’. Moving beyond the darker past he mentioned that people are now already beyond the hostilities of the past and that ‘asking for more tulips’ to decorate green areas is evidence for this improvement. In terms of actions by the government Bagis said that 16m tablets have been distributed to students and identified this policy as a critical broadband demand stimulation measure. The gradual shift from military expenditures towards education is another clear sign of the set of policies that Bagis continues to support.

Pierro Fassino, Mayor of Torino, discussed the transformation of a former industrial city into a modern sustainable landscape. His policies include a successful cycle hire scheme and a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2020, in line with the 20-20-20 EU agenda. As explained policy-makers have to find the right mix of tools to ‘marry’ digital applications with social cohesion. Direct communications to the officials through social media or simple apps are a global trend that redefines active participation and democratic representation. His policies include a system of systems approach in managing the city linking all information feeds from energy, water, transport, telecommunications and manufacturing to a central location. Fassino described himself as a proponent of the digitization of public data as the only way to efficiently manage modern metropolises.

Hakki Tok, Chief Information Officer of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, pointed to the progress of the city in the digitization domain and announced that a domain name TSD extension has been granted to Istanbul; from 2013 local servers will have the option to be host under the .ist extension, slightly departing from the country’s .tr TSD. Along with mayors and municipal authorities he showed iPhone and Android apps already in operation that notify the IT centers of local municipalities for urgent or everyday citizens’ needs.

Other presentations included pilots for real life Living labs in cities (Hungary, Switzerland and Turkey), water and wastewater applications as financially viable solutions with significant reuse of resources, smart grid applications and local generation of electricity, applications for buildings and retrofits for households to meet the new model of ‘Plus Homes’ by the Fraunhofer Institute and many more.

In a nutshell, this summit showed that Istanbul is turning into a city-model for Turkey and the world both in terms of its size and the digital applications coupled with policy initiatives already in progress. It is also a great place with nice views to Bosphorous early in the morning and exquisite dietary combinations in Taksim Square a little bit later.

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