Open source solutions for 21st Century city challenges

by Sebastiaan van Herk, Claus Mullie, Juliette Tenart & Nienke Swankhuisen

Across Europe, cities are facing complex, 21st Century challenges brought about by changes in technology and the way we work, live, play and move around our cities. They are fast becoming hubs of technology and business, but trends in mobility, such as autonomous vehicles; and sustainability, such as micro grids and decentralised energy generation; will have a profound impact on these artificial ecosystems that we have created, nurtured and developed.

While policy makers and city planners attempt to adapt cities to this new way of living, developers and programmers are already playing with the large amounts of data, captured throughout the day, to create innovative, high-tech solutions. As citizens, we are placing new demands on our cities to improve public service delivery and to guide them into the future.

Novel technologies bring us new and unfamiliar opportunities. Sensors can give us a wealth of information about citizens’ daily activities, routines and frustrations. This data can be extrapolated to provide us with potential solutions for these problems and hackers, programmers and developers can help us shape these solutions into real, digital services.

Typically, private entities might develop such advanced solutions but will often try to monetise them or keep them for themselves. What the cities of Aarhus, Ghent, Aberdeen, Bradford, Bergen, Hamburg, Dordrecht, Gothenburg and Amsterdam are proposing, however, is to create open-source solutions that are shared and re-usable. This way, other developers and cities can improve on, tailor or remix the software solutions to their needs.

Open-source solutions are a way that we can work with our cities, to guide them into the future.

Open-source solutions are a way that we can work with our cities, to guide them into the future.

These cities are uniting in the Interreg NSR project, SCORE* (Smart Cities and Open data REuse), to increase the efficiency and quality of public service delivery of cities, by developing innovative open-source solutions that use urban data. For example, optimising the routing of garbage trucks based on waste location data, or guiding vehicles to available parking spots using sensor data and GPS.

SCORE is unique in starting from joint challenges, like cities’ needs, rather than a push from technology or products. Solutions are co-developed in transnational teams in an agile and open way and are re-usable. The partnership creates an ecosystem with research institutions and businesses, that will expand the market for SMEs that develop, customise, implement and maintain open-source, data-driven solutions for public service delivery.

By bringing together technology developers and software programmers with policymakers, solutions can be driven by the challenges that the cities face and the data can be incorporated in a meaningful way. They will particularly focus on traffic and parking, sustainable mobility and water and waste management, aiming to reduce traffic jams, improve parking availability and minimise flood risk.

Policymakers and operators can ensure an agile implementation, allowing for fast uptake. The open-source nature of the solutions can enable collaborative but tailored solutions, that have a real impact on their cities and their citizens. Solutions will actually be customised and implemented in cities not involved in their development, proving their replicability. Partners will share experiences in agile software development, transitioning towards being more data-driven, and co-developing solutions in transnational teams.

This implementation of meaningful, data-driven innovations can provide real time information on mobility, for example, providing citizens with insights into how to best move around the city. It can provide decision makers with a holistic view on what infrastructure is in high demand and when (and why). It can improve the efficiency and quality of public services and improve citizens’ life.

The power of collaboration and open-source has brought us Wikipedia, Mozilla Firefox, Linux, Android and WordPress (to name but a few). Bringing together great ideas, data and collaboration, could really aid in finding tailored and powerful applications for data in cities to improve efficiency and quality of public services, as well as bettering the livelihoods of its citizens.


*Partners: Aarhus Kommune, Aarhus University, Aberdeen City Council, City of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Data Science, Bax & Company, City of Bergen, Bradford Council, University of Bradford, City of Dordrecht, City of Ghent, Digipolis Ghent, City of Gothenburg, City of Hamburg and Johanneberg Science Park.

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