September 30, 2023
“This Riga Digital Forum is about connecting – connecting with each other, but also tackling climate change through digital transformation. It’s about bringing the old and the new together, coming together to meet the challenges of the future. »
Jochem Cooiman, Head of Digital Innovation in Rotterdamand technical president of the Digital Forum, opened this year’s edition by emphasizing the importance of collaboration.
For three days, September 27-29, 2023, city leaders and technology experts met Riga to discuss how to make the most of digital transformation to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Cities, at the forefront
A number of European initiatives recognize the potential of digitalization, providing frameworks for innovation, collaboration, coordination and implementation of digital solutions. This is the case of Data law, the European digital decade or the proposal for an act for an interoperable Europe. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act should facilitate the safe experimentation and application of AI, while funding instruments such as Horizon Europe, the Digital Europe Program and the Connecting Facility in Europe reinforce these objectives.
Many European digital and green policies and regulations are implemented at the local level. “You, cities, are at the forefront of digital and green transformation,” said Viestus Cielmins, general director of VEFRESH Riga and master of ceremonies of the Forum. This is also recognized by the European Commission, which launched the Mission for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities as a means of providing concrete solutions to major challenges.
European cities are generally facing the same challenges: climate change, soaring energy prices, improving mobility and transport. There is no doubt that digital technologies can be a valuable ally for cities to achieve a more sustainable future.
More and more cities have introduced low-emission zones and traffic sensors, while others have dedicated their efforts to creating energy-efficient neighborhoods and implementing air quality improvement plans. the air.
“Cities must be catalysts, stimulants and playgrounds for innovations,” says Inese Andersone, chairwoman of the development committee of the Riga City Council. “However, in the real world of technology, cities are still lagging behind,” she added.
Try, test (and fail)
Cities, especially capitals and those with more resources, play an essential role in the implementation of new technologies, but also in the co-development of solutions that can be replicated by other municipalities.
Acting as test beds or playgrounds for innovation, cities are becoming frontrunners in the creation, prototyping and implementation of new technologies. Urban living labs, for example, provide inclusive ways to shape and test new technologies in a collaborative effort that brings developers and users together. Regulatory sandboxes and testing sites for digital solutions are essential to validate innovations and engage citizens at an early stage.
For innovation and digital transformation to succeed, a holistic approach involving the entire city ecosystem is necessary, as well as adequate governance and regulatory policies. “We must bridge the gap between innovation and governance,” stressed Linda Ozola, Vice Mayor of Riga.
“It’s not always about developing or buying the best software or the newest technology,” said Viesturs Zeps, Chairman of the Environment and Housing Commission of the Riga City Council“but about how we come together and agree on the best tool that works for everyone.”
Scaling (with funding)
“It’s great that we are running pilot projects in certain areas, like new cycle paths or a positive energy district,” explained Felix Sproll, municipal councilor of Munich, “But this will not be enough to make our cities climate neutral.”
Long-term funding is needed to support and develop digital projects, as is access to infrastructure. In this sense, DTIS, a legal framework for multi-country projects, can provide support. “EDICS will allow cities to purchase common infrastructure, so costs will be shared,” explained Martin Bailey, Head of the Smart Communities Technologies Unit at DG CNECT, European Commission. “Each city will then be able to adapt the solutions to its own needs and realities. »
Citizens, at the heart of transformation
Citizens must remain at the center of the digital revolution. “Digital projects must be useful, actionable and used,” said Delphine Jamet, advisor in charge of digital at Bordeaux Métropole, and vice-president of the Eurocities Digital Forum. “We need to go digital for people and choose the type of digital projects we want to put our efforts into. »
With around 25% of the urban population still lacking access to basic infrastructure or lacking digital skills, there is a need for digital policies that address the digital divide and promote digital inclusion .
“We need to ensure that digital rights are protected and that digital rights are integrated into the governance of cities,” said Federica Bordelot, head of digital transformation at Eurocitieswhile presenting the call on cities to launch EU on digital transformation.
Data: a valuable asset
“Citizens do not understand that data is a common good,” recognizes Jamet.
Data sharing emerged as a crucial topic during the event. On the one hand, B2G data sharing is necessary to enable cities to improve their decision-making. On the other hand, open data can promote transparency and build trust in public policies. In this sense, the Data Spaces for Smart, Sustainable Communities will play a key role in achieving the objectives of the EU Green Deal and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ethical use of data and ensuring protection and privacy during data collection are also crucial elements in building trust and ensuring responsible implementation of digital solutions.
Data for informed decision-making
Digital transformation has driven a significant change in decision-making processes, providing policymakers with actionable insights to support data-driven decision-making.
At the same time, it also allows citizens to participate in the decision-making process. “Now they no longer have to be just voters, but they can be co-creators of the cities we live in,” Sproll shared.
Local digital twins
AI-based tools will make it easier to experiment with urban planning, in complete safety. The development of local digital twins (LDTs) can help cities develop a holistic view of the city, understanding how different systems interact with each other. “Instead of talking about a digital twin, a family of digital twins” Andersone said, “and we need to make sure they talk to each other.»
These technologies not only help safely experiment with urban planning, but also enable cities to be more responsive to crises, optimizing infrastructure based on real, evidence-backed needs.
The European Commission’s Local Digital Twins toolkit will provide cities with support to advance their smart transformation. Thanks to a market worth 25 million, the Commission will be “building technology that can be shared with cities and citizens,” Bailey explained. “AI-based technologies will have multiple uses that will help us achieve the Green Deal goals.
“Digital transformation is a team sport”
These words of Viesturs Celmiņš, general director of VEFRESHinnovation district in Riga, and moderator of the event, summarizes one of the key messages emerging from the Forum.
Ultimately, it all comes down to collaboration – between city departments (innovation, urban planning, social affairs), with the city ecosystem (startups and technology developers, private sector and industry, civil society and citizens ) and with other European cities. .
“We all face common challenges and we are all developing solutions. Let’s work together and not duplicate work,” said Wim De Kinderen, Director of the European Affairs Program, Brainport Eindhovenand president of Eurocities Digital Lab, a
“To anticipate innovations, we must help and support each other,” said Inese Andersone.
A better Europe
Ultimately, it all comes down to using digital tools and innovations to empower cities.
According to Linda Ozola, Vice Mayor of Riga: “Let’s use digital transformation to make Europe brighter, smarter, safer and overall a better place. »