David Bárta reports from the Brno, the Czech Republic’s second city and undoubted Smart Governance Leader. Things could well be about to change…
Brno’s smart city story started in 2014 after the election, as two new political parties, together with existing progressive parties, established a new government. After several talks with the Mayor Petr Vokrál and his team on national smart city methodology where Brno was a pilot, the government decided to undertake the first steps towards smartness.
A new smart city committee was taken into force and its chairman Jaroslav Kacer formulated the first vision and the “mind change principles”.
After becoming the Councillor for Smart City in 2016 (the first and only position in the Czech Republic) he focused on city administration and government, creation of a local partners ecosystem and civic engagements framing Brno’s 2050 vision. T
his article is a summary of results of that four-year period as the government lost this year’s elections and “the old guys” have returned. We will look back fondly on what was a progressive period in Brno’s history.
Brno is, as the natural centre of the South Moravian Region (1.2 million inhabitants), a location with huge potential. Many universities and the presence of more than 65,000 students give the city its young spirit, creativity and dynamics. The universities have a long and strong tradition in many fields of expertise and specialise in progressive research, particularly in biological and medical science, information technologies, life sciences, electron microscopy, computer security and software development. A current ranking by the well-regarded Numbeo.com, states that Brno is a city with the highest quality of life in the Czech Republic.
There are four technological incubators here. For example, South Moravian Innovation Center (JIC) has already supported more than 200 technological start-ups. The region’s high investments in research and development (CZK17 billion/€658m in science and science-research centres between 2011 and 2014) represents 20 per cent of the overall public research capacities of the Czech Republic. The presence of more than 400 technological companies with their own science and research facilities means 17,000 stable jobs with high added value.
Deputy Mayor of Brno for Smart City, strategy and ICT (unique municipal position within the Czech Republic), Jaroslav Kacer was born in 1977, graduated from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of Brno University of Technology. He has worked at many management positions in both commercial and public sector, e.g. he founded an advertising agency and worked as a freelancer in advisory and project activities. Since 2010, he has been a member of General Assembly of the City of Brno and in 2010–2014, he was a member of Brno-Bystrc District Council. On 21 June 21 2016 he became the fifth Deputy Mayor of Brno for Smart City, city strategies, data processing and computerization of the Council area.
“The most common mistaken belief about the Smart City is that there is a universal solution that can be easily bought or acquired from a grant. You spend up to 80 per cent of your time designing it and setting it right and only 20 per cent is left for tenders and the implementation”, says Kacer. “For me, smart city means smart people. Brno has made huge progress thanks to its people. Thanks to massive investments in high-quality scientists, managers and talents who, luckily, still keep coming here. I think that this would be a good time to transfer this positive effect into public administration. The whole story started in 2015, when the Smart City Board under Brno City Council was established. That is when this broad agenda started to be taken care of. As its chairman, I both lead and actively co-created the Brno Smart City Concept that the Council approved in October 2015, and this described what principles the city should follow and what it should stay away from.”
The main motto of the Brno Smart City Concept is “Change of the City’s Approach”. If we want to think about a smart city, we have to start with us, inside the Council itself, and change our approach to the world outside. A change is always seen as a threat and it is not easy and pleasant to manage it. You fight different forms of protests or disagreement almost every step of the way. From common “this can’t be done” to “we don’t have enough people for this”. Only time will tell if it was a change for the better and experience from abroad shows that those standing at the beginning of the change do not always get the glory.
In our experience, preparation of a smart solution takes up to 80 per cent of the time. It is not appropriate to skip this phase and reduce it to a mere contract award. Companies can’t compensate for a point of view of future users and their specific needs and they are also happy to work with a contracting authority that knows what it wants. That is why we, according to the national methodology, have devoted the first Smart City steps to set the internal and external city processes, i.e. smart governance.
Paper documents that the Brno City Council approves every week were presented to the members, including all the copies for city departments and archiving. Piles of papers emerged with every point. Today, we have a computerized system that takes care of the signing and distribution and the change is visible. We also use video transmission that enables us to “invite” heads of units to City Council meetings. They can stay in their office and answer the questions through their laptops with webcams and we can also invite other experts from other cities. Therefore, they don’t have to spend the whole Council meeting waiting in the vestibule, just in case they were needed.
CITY IDENTITY: BRNO ID
With this concept from a detached perspective, we approached the electronic passenger handling as a future platform of city communication with citizens. When we introduced the service in 2017, we already experienced one experiment from the 1990s when most passengers bought a card with a printed photograph. However, the system didn’t work so they started sticking traditional coupons on the cards.
Our philosophy was different and arose from an unexpected direction. In the framework of the MUNISS student competition (muniss.cz), an idea of Brno citizen’s card emerged, with data not saved on a user data carrier but in a central database. So, a single standard for the following services was defined, costs were significantly reduced and every user can choose their data carrier, e.g. a bank card. After one year of operation, there are over 66,000 users (15 per cent of Brno’s inhabitants). Currently, the Brno iD portal can be used to pay the waste fee, the identity also serves as a tourist card and registered inhabitants of the city can vote in Dáme na vás participatory budget. From one account, users can start and manage dependent accounts for their children or share their account with other adults. Currently, a new module is being launched – a library card for a network of over 30 Brno city libraries. Therefore, we created a city identity that will improve the life of inhabitants and users of the city.
In March 2018, a data portal was launched for the purpose of development and data-based management of the city and raised awareness of the public about the place where they live, work or study. Even though we tried to publish as many open datasets as possible, we followed the advice of our colleagues from Leeds, UK, a city that cares a lot about the quality and sustainability of datasets. On data.brno. cz, there are not only datasets (over 120) and their applications (76 applications altogether) but also interesting interpretations and statistics on the integrated dashboard. For example, thanks to the mobile data, the city found out that there are actually 425,000 people living in Brno, which is 50,000 more than according to the official statistics. Soon after its launch, the portal became one of the most visited parts of the Brno website.
In order to involve the professional sector, the city has created a unique organization model; it extended the well-known “quadruple helix” with the non-profit sector and the transregional level. This created a special city department with six workers who take care of the ecosystem development in every one of the areas. Apart from the city workers, every area has its ambassador, i.e. a respected representer of the sector, and guarantors of the individual city values.
- Science Brno – Brno Science Partners – BSP (Students, universities, research and development centres and Czech Academy of Sciences)
- Business Brno – Brno Business Alliance – BBA (Freelancers, SMEs, large corporations, investors and business chambers)
- Non-Governmental Brno – Non-Governmental Organizations – BNO (Nongovernmental and non-profit organizations, associations, foundations, endowment funds)
- Active Brno – Brno Smart City Community – BSCC (Active citizens, experts and expats)
- Brno Self-Government – Brno Managing Members – BMM (City municipality, city districts, politi- cal clubs, city companies and organizations)
- Multi-Level Brno – National and European Governmental Levels – NEGL (Brno metropolitan area, South Moravian Region, regional, state and European institutions and companies, government and ministries)
Since spring 2017, the city of Brno has been working on a new development strategy called #brno2050. It is based on VISION 2050 that contains 25 strategic values. Eleven special events have been held so far with between 80 and 150 participants at every one of them. The central topics are #brno2050 Vision, digital city and the involvement of citizens. The city now works on a communication web platform for more effective management of operation of the city’s ecosystem.
SUPPORT OF SMALL BUSINESSES
"A strong point of the project is the emphasis on the neighbourly, community approach to project creation supported by a series of public meetings"
Brno supports the ideas of companies with potential to change the market. It has allocated CZK26 million (€1m) for the SME Instrument Brno programme that has supported eight innovative companies with breakthrough technologies since 2016. These companies asked for support within the frame of the SME Instrument European funding programme and got a great ranking from European Commission but they didn’t get the funding. The City of Brno has therefore decided to support these companies in the first phase, i.e. in concept validation and creation of the feasibility study, because it considers the ranking of the European funding programme to be a relevant quality recommendation. For example, Optik Instruments (Nanovision) has been financially supported because it came up with a method of combining two previously incompatible types of microscope imaging. Furthermore, there is a project focused on the development of products for promoting the healing of chronic wounds or the development of a vertical axial wind turbine with folding blades that represents an alternative low-carbon energy solution for effective work in very bad and extreme weather conditions. SUPPORT OF CREATIVE WORKERS In 2010, a platform for networking and co-operation of companies and creative workers was created as a part of the Creative Brno project. The platform offers incentives such as Creative Vouchers that have been implemented through JIC since 2015. The Creative Centre Brno project, which is supposed to represent the main infrastructure support for the development of creative fields and has become an official strategic city project provides specialist support of creative industries, was established in the municipality in 2016.
In the Dáme na vás (‘We Make Your Proposals Happen’) project, the citizens of Brno make decisions about a part of the city’s budget, namely the distribution of CZK30 million. The project is supposed to enable the citizens to design their own projects for city revitalization in a simple and comfortable way and decide directly about what ideas the city will implement. A strong point of the project is the emphasis on the neighbourly, community approach to project creation supported by a series of public meetings.
In the beginning of 2017, the city launched the first year of the project with CZK20 million. Citizens submitted 216 projects and 162 of them were supported, with 83 projects advancing to the final voting. Based on the citizens’ voting, 16 of them will be implemented. Every winning project is discussed with the submitter and the relevant city district so that all sides agree on the final form of the project. Most projects are now in the phase of contractor tendering. In the second year, 133 projects were submitted and 109 of them received support. These projects include: building a playground, an outdoor exercise area, adjustments of sports grounds, classes for seniors, revitalization of gardens, etc. The money can be also provided to an event organization - for example a half-marathon or a concert, but the public needs to be interested in it and support it. This could be done either online where a project needs to get at least 150 likes, or on a paper where at least 15 citizens’ signatures are required have to show their support.
SMART CITY VOUCHERS
Currently, many new companies are focused on technological trends; however, to implement them, the city needs to create appropriate conditions. These are usually created by city companies focused on operation, not innovations. For such companies, it is relatively difficult to prepare a project in a Smart City area and define public tender demands in sufficient quality. That is why the city prepares the aforementioned Smart City Vouchers connecting innovations and city companies through cooperation of city institutions and the academic sector. The current cooperation is not yet very intense, so the programme is focused on the breakdown of the barrier. Currently, this project is piloted on the “Wireless Brno” project (inspired by Bordeaux), where trams are equipped with batteries enabling them to run over the broader centre without a power supply.
FluxCollective is a platform for the support of open innovations, minimizing barriers for potential users of the results. There is a complex system of support for established entities, however, searching and support of individuals in its early stages is fairly limited. Founding members are community non-profit organizations that actively participate on the creation of alternative innovation and start-up environment in Brno on a long-term basis.
- Base48: community hackerspace focused on electronics, information technologies and safety, open-source, industrial automation and robotics;
- Social Reactor: non-profit formation dealing with reactivation of unused buildings and their implementation into city-creating processes;
- Koplac: open, informal coworking space holding business support events specializing in the usage of satellite signals and cosmic technologies for industry and society; and
- Vaizard: operator of INDUSTRA, a creative and cultural centre in Brno with a mission to implement a city creative/innovation ecosystem, specializing in the interconnection between fields and pivoting.
URBIS AND SMART CITY SUMMIT
V4+ Brno is one of the leading lights of the smart city concept in post-communist Europe. One hundred years ago, it was the centre of the machine and textile industry with many groundbreaking patents and the 29th biggest exhibition area in the world. The city now plays host to the annual Smart City URBIS exhibition, with the ambition of becoming an important Central European event. In 2018, almost 1000 professional visitors and more than 50 cities from across Europe attended the event, while more than 60 speakers spoke on four separate stages.
The first year of the Smart City Summit V4+ was also a part of the event where representatives of ministries from five countries discussed the potential of sharing and closer cooperation between the cities and countries of Central Europe. “Our aim is to build the C2C European platform, that is City to City, to share experiences, both good and bad that we can learn from, and interconnect the academic and business sectors,” said Kacer. Next year’s event will take place on 5-6 June with the theme of digital planning and smart public services.
Intesmog (Intelligent technologies for smog events) is a planned two-year demonstrator (2019-2020) of a smart service called Innovative Smog Event Service. It is a deployment of a traffic burden management system (TBMS) within a broader zone around the centre of the city. TBMS consists of a vast traffic flow detection based on IoT (up to 250 detection points), a series of standard ITS Air quality stations (CEN reference measurement methods) and a series of variable message signs (VMS). The aim is to offer the citizens and the city the information and open data on traffic burden and the quality of life per street and to start a public debate on the quality of life at the street level. Each street will have its own web profile to enable citizens as well as investors to compare. This is also the beginning of a more complex “Street DataBank” with much more information in the future. The data will also serve for specific city measures taken and decision making when alarming the approaching of a smog event. The Intesmog demonstrator has been designed based on the work of Interreg project SOLEZ and the CityOne team’s expertise and has been promoted as an Action within the Brno Air Quality Action Plan, thanks to the support of the Green Party. However, as the Green Party lost in the election well the next steps along the path are as yet unknown. The same can also be said for the future of Smart Brno.