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Local solutions for global challenges- BABLE
To better understand the way in which territories can address the same problems differently, BABLE Smart Cities and the Spanish Network of Smart Cities have partnered in a series of interviews in which representatives from two different territories always participate.
Perspectives of Istanbul and Madrid
In a world experiencing rapid urbanization, the development of more sustainable and intelligent territories has become a pressing global challenge. However, just as the historical, social and economic background of each city is unique, so is its capacity to innovate and improve. How can we address global challenges in the local context, when the proposed solutions may not fit all urban contexts?
To better understand the way in which territories can address the same problems differently, BABLE Smart Cities and the Spanish Network of Smart Cities have partnered in a series of interviews in which representatives from two different territories always participate. You can listen to the full interviews on Smart in the City - The BABLE Podcast .
This time, travel with us to Istanbul (Turkey ) and Madrid (Spain ) for the fourth and last of these interviews with Fernando de Pablo Martín, General Director of the Digital Office of the Madrid City Council, and Erol Özgüner, CIO of the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul.
Forging the future of Madrid: Digital inclusion in the spotlight
The recent organizational remodeling of Madrid, with the creation of its Digital Office, represented a fundamental change in the administrative landscape of the city. Fernando de Pablo Martín highlighted the importance of digital transformation and the Madrid Digital Capital Strategy as an organizational and cultural challenge rather than a technological one:
"It is a new office, and we already know what it means to create a new administrative unit in the public administration. It is a very hard process, you have to create a structure, provide it with the equipment, find the right people." - Fernando de Pablo Martín
Cities, like complex organisms, evolve over time, influenced by myriad factors. However, a strategic plan serves as a guide and provides a structured framework to guide the growth and development of the city. It involves a conscious effort to shape not only the physical infrastructure, but also the socio-economic and technological dimensions of the city.
Madrid's strategy, supported by more than 75 projects and an investment of around €1 billion from 2023 to 2027, strategically positions the city as a competitive and smart city. Aligned with the objectives of the European Union and national strategies, the Madrid approach is a flexible, adaptable and transparent roadmap for a digitally inclusive future.
"[Madrid's Digital Capital Strategy] is not a pretty PDF paper. Strategies must be flexible, adaptive, open to change and with transparency and people's participation." - Fernando de Pablo Martín
Fernando also emphasized the vital role that listening to citizens and businesses plays in shaping the future of the city:
" Listen to citizens and companies because they are really focusing on what they need, not on what you think they need." - Fernando de Pablo Martín
This approach goes beyond conventional strategies, as illustrated by Madrid's proactive response to the challenge of older people's loneliness, a concern exacerbated by the fact that the city has recently earned the distinction of having the longest life expectancy in Europe .
To address this problem, Madrid has come up with a multifaceted technological solution. The city aims to connect more than half a million residents over the age of 65, of whom approximately 20% face problems related to unwanted loneliness. Leveraging a network of 18,000 volunteers, Madrid aims to not only establish connections between these volunteers and the elderly, but also use technology not only as a means of social interaction, but also as a tool to empower the elderly.
The city's approach is to enhance the autonomy of older citizens by offering them support adapted to their needs and preferences, recognizing that not everyone is equally skilled, but guaranteeing support to those who are willing to accept it.
Istanbul technology initiatives for a connected tomorrow
Erol Özgüner unveiled Istanbul's approach to urban governance, highlighting the fundamental role of technology in shaping the city's future. Istanbul is not content to adopt existing technological solutions, but is forging its own path, generating tailored innovations to meet the challenges of the modern urban landscape.
Leveraging the power of a digital twin scenario, the city aims to consolidate myriad technical solutions into a unified platform. This includes various components such as GIS work, satellite imagery, LiDAR photos and environmental solutions, all converging into a three-dimensional digital representation of Istanbul.
" This Digital Twin scenario includes almost all our solutions on a single platform. For example, we have many technical solutions on the environment: this will be a module of the Digital Twin " - Erol Özgüner
Istanbul foresees a complete integration, incorporating data from IoT platforms, including information from energy, water and gas smart meters. This holistic digital representation enables real-time monitoring, management and the creation of alternative solutions when problems arise, all powered by artificial intelligence.
Furthermore, Erol's emphasis on Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a disruptive force underlines Istanbul's commitment to staying at the forefront of technological evolution. He warned of the danger of neglecting the fundamental role of AI, considering it not as a mere support, but as a transformation factor:
"AI is a disruptive technology. So if someone doesn't take AI into account from now on, it means that plan is missing something. From now on, everyone should listen a little more to the guys at the technology than before, really. [...] Technology is no longer a support. Technology is a facilitator and drives all decision-making systems." - Erol Özgüner
Istanbul's digital transformation is more than a technological change: it is a strategic response to the changing dynamics of urban life. Erol's ideas reveal a city that not only listens to the needs of its citizens, but actively positions technology as a key piece in shaping the future.
Challenges and solutions: Cybersecurity, interoperability and crisis management
Madrid, like any dynamic metropolis, faces a series of challenges that cover mobility, waste management, energy transition, urban design and the reduction of carbon emissions. However, delving into the technical field, Fernando de Pablo Martín identified two fundamental challenges that transcend specific urban problems: cybersecurity and interoperability.
" Cybersecurity is a major issue for us. We maintain a lot of personal information and critical infrastructure. So we are talking about people's rights when we think about cybersecurity ." - Fernando de Pablo Martín
The omnipresence of cyber threats looms over modern cities. Madrid's proactive stance on cybersecurity reflects the commitment to safeguard not only the city's data but, fundamentally, the rights and privacy of its citizens. In a post-COVID era, where remote working, cloud services and the Internet of Things (IoT) are an integral part of urban functionality, the reach of cybersecurity extends far beyond traditional IT systems.
Interoperability is emerging as the second critical challenge, underscoring the importance of seamless collaboration between different information systems. The existence of data silos within organizations and between different sectors prevents effective communication and coordination.
Fernando highlighted the need to simplify interactions within the administration for the benefit of citizens. Madrid's commitment to interoperability extends beyond its borders, recognizing the need for standardized practices not only within the city, but also in collaboration with the European Union and other nations:
" Interoperability is key because when we talk about data, we talk about collaboration and coordination ." - Fernando de Pablo Martín
For Istanbul, emergency management, particularly earthquake preparedness, takes center stage as the most pressing challenge. Erol's detailed account outlines the multifaceted approach that Istanbul has taken, integrating technology, manpower, equipment and coordination among various stakeholders. The city's attention to disseminating information after an earthquake exemplifies how technological solutions, including an extensive network of cameras, fiber optic networks, satellite images and data centers, can mitigate the impact of a crisis and save lives .
"As soon as possible, if an earthquake occurs, we have to immediately communicate what happened, in which region, in which subregion, which districts have been the most affected, how many buildings have collapsed, etc. The estimate is very important. [ ...] Because when an earthquake occurs, everyone wants to go somewhere, everyone wants to call each other, and it is chaos. If we give the right information to citizens, this chaos is reduced 100 times, maybe 200 times " . - Erol Özgüner
Data-driven decision making: Cornerstone of urban governance
In the era of digital transformation, cities are harnessing the power of data to direct their future trajectories. Erol Özgüner emphasized the urgency of considering AI in strategic planning, especially post-COVID, where technology has quickly become an enabler of decision-making systems.
He stressed the political and strategic importance of basing decisions on data, making them immune to manipulation:
"From now on, not only mayors, but also all public authorities or managers, including prime ministers and presidents, must make their own decisions based on data. [...] If you can make a decision based on data , no one can say anything about it. So managing our city based on data is very important." - Erol Özgüner
Fernando de Pablo Martín echoed the sentiment of his Istanbul counterpart, underscoring Madrid's commitment to a data-driven organizational paradigm:
"We have to be a data-driven organization. We need to make decisions based on data and not intuition." - Fernando de Pablo Martín
As we conclude our journey through the digital landscapes of Istanbul and Madrid, the diverse approaches to shared global challenges become evident. Madrid, with its Digital Capital Strategy, places technology not as an isolated effort, but as an integral part of the organizational and cultural fabric of the city, emphasizing flexibility, adaptability, transparency and citizen participation. Istanbul positions technology not only as a support, but as a transformative element that drives all decision-making systems. The city's proactive stance on challenges such as earthquake preparedness reveals a holistic approach that interweaves technology, coordination and citizen well-being.
The challenges these cities face reflect universal urban concerns. However, the solutions are as diverse as the cities themselves, a testament to the richness that emerges when cities chart their own paths.