A closer approach to the Smart City Office of Valencia City Council
València, with a population of almost 800,000 inhabitants, and one of the first Spanish cities to plan and deploy a smart city platform in 2013, VLCi, has recently been selected to host one of the three applied Artificial Intelligence superhubs to smart cities of the CitCom project. The experience gained along the way has enabled the city to obtain the ISO 37120 (Sustainable development of communities – Indicators of urban services and quality of life) certification at Platinum level, the highest possible, and ITU – U4SSC (Key Performance Indicators related to smart and sustainable cities to assess the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals).
What other milestones would you highlight from the strategic plans put in place during this decade?
We have recently completed an update of the Smart City Strategy in order to adapt it to the new citizen’s demands and new developments in the field of Smart Cities. This work has led us to the digital transformation of Local-Municipal Services, a key task in our daily activity. As an example of this contribution, we can mention the obligation to include automated mechanisms for the reporting and the objective evaluation of a contract (always aligned with the managing service affected), required through the so-called “Smart Clauses” that are incorporated in public tenders.
Nowadays it is possible to identify many projects already implemented in València that are aligned with the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals such as the responsible use of water, the use of efficient lighting systems, the implementation of sustainable mobility services, recycling or the creation of job opportunities for young people.
Could you describe some of these projects for us?
The Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 11, aim to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Hereupon, València has developed different projects to promote economic growth, better governance, improved mobility, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. With an account of more than 20 projects, the City Council has been able to move forward in each of these areas. A detailed description of those projects can be found on our website (click here to access link) https://www.valencia.es/web/smartcity/val/smart-city-valencia
Amongst them, I would highlight the Conecta VLCi project that provides 194 municipal buildings with intelligence (Smart Buildings) and brings valuable solutions for citizens in museums, sport facilities, markets and schools. Furthermore, I would emphasize the fact that València will be the European Green Capital 2024, which will lead us to the development of new projects related to sustainability.
The purpose of a smart city is to improve the quality of life of citizens in a sustainable way, both for present and future generations, through Information and Communication Technologies. An immediate benefit for citizens is the digitization of services, inclusive in its implementation, and ensuring a high level of accessibility to overcome the inequalities, related to infrastructure and equipment as well as skills, of the digital divide.
What measures the València Smart City Office has adopted in this regard?
Technology continues to be, from our point of view, an essential tool to promote social inclusion and facilitate mobility in different groups. Promoting its usability is one of our main priorities. In this respect, I would highlight two projects, the Efficient Social Fund for the automated management of aid for people at risk of water exclusion and the sensorization of parking spaces to facilitate their use by people with reduced mobility.
The basis of a smart city relies on its IT platform and data infrastructure. València has opted for the use of open standards, such as FIWARE, the AS4 message exchange format promoted by the CEF (Connecting Europe Facility), and the UNE 178104 standard on interoperability of Smart City Platforms, which guarantee digital sovereignty and facilitate the exchange of information between public administrations proposed by the EIRA (European Interoperability Reference Architecture).
What role do these open technologies play in the cooperation between cities through forums such as the Spanish Network of Smart Cities and in the integration of services offered by external providers?
This strategic decision taken back in 2014 about betting on open standards, in many cases not sufficiently developed, was indeed a very risky decision that proved to be right for a market with such novel characteristics as Smart Cities. This firm intent has allowed us to collaborate and learn from different standardization bodies, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) where we are currently leading the U4SSC working group on City Platforms and have contributed to the definition of standards and related documentation.
For decision-makers to be able to adopt well-founded measures that really improve the quality of life of citizens, it is essential to measure what is happening in the city through Internet of Things technologies. València has implemented, among others, sensor networks for air and noise pollution, geolocation of buses, usage of cycle paths, fill level of recycling containers and occupation of parking spaces for users with reduced mobility and delivery services.
What communications systems do these services use and what are their main qualities?
Planning and deploying a communications network for IoT devices with heterogeneous requirements and arbitrary geographical location is a complex task, especially if we add security, reliability and cost to the equation. In addition, network administration and operation requires unified management of the underlying technologies, which is not always easy. In our case, we have our own fibre network that we complement with a fixed and mobile carrier VPN solution. We always avoid the use of wireless solutions in unlicensed bands due to the availability and security problems associated to these technologies.
What application can other advanced technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Big Data or Digital Twins, have in smart city projects?
Smart Cities are strong candidates for an intensive use of these technologies because of the significant improvements and savings they can bring in solving complex problems for municipal management and citizenship. For example, important urban investments in complex areas such as mobility can be evaluated beforehand to study their impact. Knowledge of citizens' habits can help improve public services and sustainability.
The City of Valencia's commitment to AI can be seen in the fact that hosts the headquarters of the southern AI supernode for Smart Cities in the Test and Experimentation Facilities (TEF) projects in Europe, through the CitCom.ai project.
As for the Digital Twins, Valencia is participating in the constitution of the European Digital Infrastructure Consortium (EDIC) for Digital Twins.
One of the challenges of smart cities is the protection of data privacy through the application of aggregation and anonymization techniques, or the implementation of cybersecurity measures.
What other challenges usually arise in the deployment of smart city projects?
Is the location of specialized talent one of these challenges?
Without hesitation that´s one of our major challenges.
It is essential to have a multidisciplinary team of professionals with enough experience and knowledge to undertake projects that successfully transform a city into a Smart City. These are not light words as the complexity and dimension of these projects is usually huge.
Data analysts, telecommunications or computer engineers are highly demanded profiles in the market, so attracting and retaining this talent is essential for the success of the projects. Saying that, we should not forget the key role of the legal and regulatory profiles as well as the communication and support roles necessary to deal with the rest of the organization and concerned citizens.
Just to end this interesting conversation, certainly València Smart City Office is involved in the study and implementation of new state of the art projects. Could you briefly talk about them?
We are currently at an advanced implementation phase for different projects, such as the municipal Electric Vehicle Recharging system, or the Connecta project. Likewise, in collaboration with the International Union of Communications and Segittur we have finalized the deliverable "Reference framework for integrated management of an SSC" that has been recently published. We would also like to highlight our participation in the European project Citcom.ai (Artificial Intelligence Testing and Experimentation Facilities for Smart Cities & Communities: Citcom.AI).
The National Reference Centre in Computer Development and Communication (Getafe) and The National Reference Centre in Administration, Insurance and Finance (Fuencarral) from the Community of Madrid and partners in the SMACITE Erasmus project, appreciate the assistance and resources provided by the Smart City Office in the Municipality of Valencia for the production of this interview.
Special thanks to the contribution of:
Jose Pinedo, Smart City Project Manager, Smart City Office. Municipality of Valencia, linkedin.com/in/jose-pinedo-4708382
Ernesto Faubel, Head of Smart City Office. Municipality of Valencia.
Ángel Gómez, Digital Transformation Projects and Smart Solutions Consultant.