After peeking into the thriving data-driven initiatives of the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, we have come up with another small yet smart city that has made tremendous progress in a span of 4 years – but this time from Greece.
The traditional city of Trikala, situated in the heart of the agricultural landscape of Greece has become the first ever smart city of the European country. Initially, when the smart city concept gained momentum, Trikala with a population of 82,000 did not appear as the prime candidate for a smart city. But today, with dozens of smart city projects being successfully piloted, the city has set to inspire not just Greece but the entire world.
The innovative character of Trikala came to light in the year 2004 when Greece’s Ministry of Economics described it as the nation’s ‘first digital city’. Moving from there, a strong zeal to transform the city into a smart urban community came about in 2014, when Dimitris Papastergiou became the mayor. During the time, the local government had a zero budget to implement the tech-savvy plans and the city was in a critical financial situation with a €45 million debt.
Nevertheless, the city was able to deploy a number of smart solutions through international collaboration with the European Commission and private companies like Cisco, VivaWallet, Sieben, and Parkguru. After participating in the EU funded projects and offering up a test site for local tech companies, the city had reduced its debt by €20 million. Later on, the city was shortlisted as one the ‘top 21 smart cities’ in the world.
The journey from a traditional city of Greece to the first smart city of Greece has been an inspiring one for the citizens of Trikala. Although there are dozens of smart city initiatives in the air, we have picked some of the most impactful ones to highlight the city’s most dynamic efforts.
E-Complaint System – Making Life Easy For Residents
Amongst all the smart city projects being initiated in Trikala, the e-complaint system has had the greatest positive impact on the lives of the residents. Before the project was introduced, the residents had to reach the vice mayor even for addressing issues like a broken street lamp.
But now with the e-complaint system, people are able to send requests and get issues resolved quickly. Now, the issues get resolved in a matter of eight days as opposed to a month previously with a much greater transparency.
The control room of Trikala has nine screens attached to the wall, that show a range of colourful maps and graphs monitoring things like the availability of parking space, traffic lights status, the location of rubbish trucks, town hall’s monthly budget, water pipes, and much more.
Since the beginning of 2018, the municipality has received more than 4,000 comments and requests from the residents. A 10% of these have come from a mobile app that was launched one year back. People are able to complain about any kind of public-related issue from uncollected rubbish to collapsed tree branches.
The Most Popular Driverless Bus Pilot
One of the first and the most popular smart city project that came to Trikala was a driverless bus pilot funded by the European Commission. The pilot operated for six months and gathered widespread coverage locally and internationally. This project made Trikala the first city to implement a self-driving bus.
After the successful completion of the project, Dimitris Papastergiou, the mayor of Trikala launched two new electric vehicles for the public on 19 September 2018. The project is the result of a partnership with the innovative transit company Elviten. This project is not just confined to Trikala but rather extended to five more cities in Greece.
The electric vehicles are equipped with an intelligent recording and tracking device that registers the location, speed, delay, and the vehicles way of moving across the city. In addition to the new electric vehicles, Gorgolis SA has donated a light-duty electric vehicle to the city which will be deployed for the cleaning of the city. The new vehicles came to roads for the maiden rides from the 1st of October.
The city of Trikala has been rolling out several innovative projects for sustainable mobility and yet focuses on exploring new ways of making transportation more sustainable in the urban environment.
Trikala As The First Greece City To Welcome 5G Technology
Trikala has been officially announced by Greece as the first city to welcome a 5G wireless technology. In March 2018, Trikala, e-Trikala and Greece’s General Secretariat of Telecommunications and Post signed an agreement for the construction of a free 5G pilot network to test the new technology in the city. The city of Trikala was seen as the most suitable candidate for the project as it had already piloted new technologies like self-driving bus before other Greek cities.
As a part of the new project, the city will test 5G-enabled smart parking, smart lighting, data collection and analysis, public wireless internet access and other conventional commercial solutions.
As per e-Trikala “The aim of the municipality of Trikala is that this program will be an effective implementation that will bring together local government and the private sector, with benefits for the everyday life of citizens. Smart cities have an obligation to provide a comprehensive framework of services for citizens.”
Other Smart City Initiatives In Trikala
There are several other projects to name that have achieved impressive results. One of them is sensor-equipped streetlights that helped in curbing electricity usage by 70%. The streetlights have been integrated with a wireless control system which detects malfunctions in the early stages, adjusts lights intuitively and schedules inspections when needed. So these streetlights are a comprehensive solution to achieving maximum energy savings while enhancing visibility and ultimate safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.
Another impressive initiative is e-Kep that offers a special ATM-like machine to the citizens to request and print out any municipality related documents like clearance certificates, civil register certificates etc. The machine allows for 24/7 easy and quick access via a Resident Card making way for dynamic e-services for the citizens.
Going ahead, the city is now showing its desire to join the EU Activage programme which tests smart houses, especially for elderly healthcare. The aim is to have smart houses that can monitor elderly resident’s health by keeping a track on their movements and food consumption.
Trikala is also aiming at developing a farm project that deploys technology to grow ancient medicinal plants for the pharmaceutical industry. The main idea towards introducing this project is to open doors of new employment opportunities, particularly for youngsters and therefore conquer the biggest problem of Trikala and Greece – emigration of highly-skilled people to other countries. Greece has already witnessed about 420,000 citizens (mostly young generation) moving to other countries due to financial crisis since 2008. The youth unemployment rate in 2013 reached 50% which has currently moved down to 44% – yet the highest in Europe.
Hopefully, with Trikala making commendable strides in the form smart city initiatives, it is most likely that the city will not just come over the financial crisis and the brain drain, but also offer citizens an improved standard of living.