Poland’s first smart cities


In Poland, one of the test beds for new urban technologies is Kazimierz Dolny.  The city is mostly known for its historical sights and its renaissance architecture. But now it is going to get a major upgrade. This summer Kazimierz Dolny has joined forces with one of the leading telecommunication services providers in Poland in an effort to become the first ever smart city in Poland.

‘’We were looking for cities with a potential for the implementation of the smart city solutions and the government of Kazimierz Dolny showed the greatest commitment to the project,” says Corporate Communication Specialist at T-Mobile Katarzyna Sosnowska. The company decided to choose Kazimierz Dolny since it is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. The city with a population of about four thousand is flooded every year by one million visitors. Thereby, the project will focus on improving tourism-related services. Highlights also include increasing safety, reloading traffic, and decreasing budget spending, along with energy consumption.

New urban environment is highly likely to be hyper-connected. The city’s facilities, such as lamps, parking lots or even bus stops would turn into an army of sensors. Smart lighting system with lamps connected to the internet would adjust the intensity and color of the lights to road and weather conditions. Parking places could be reserved remotely. Bus stops would be equipped with touchpads which would screen notifications from the authorities, advertisements, and weather forecasts. Passengers would also be able to allow track their buses in real time. Traffic would be constantly monitored to inform drivers in case of any accidents or detours. New smart cameras would not only live-stream the videos to a human team but also automatically process it to detect threats and accidents. The system is programmed to detect a fight, wild animals roaming the streets, suspicious baggage, or poorly parked cars. According to T-Mobile, the system’s detection levels reach 95%.

Investments are said to begin later this year and the full scope of services will be tested and commercialized from 2019 on. If successful, the project would make both the city and T-Mobile the pioneers of innovation in the field, with Kazimierz Dolny becoming “a showroom of the company’s technological and organizational capacities,” says Sosnowska.

Another city another telecom giant

June 19, 2018, the city of Tychy and Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia (GZM), stroke a deal with another telecommunication giant, Orange Poland. GZM as a first metropolitan association in Poland brands itself as a natural “place to test and implement solutions which are considered a part of a widely-understood concept of a smart city,” says the Representative of the Chairman of the Board of GZM Ewelina Lorenc-Nowak.

The cities have already declared their willingness to put the idea of a smart city into practice. It was GZM’s officials who made the first move to start working on smart city with Orange. “Orange didn’t choose Tychy and GZM. It’s us who were chosen as a partner in view of our competences,” says Orange Poland Spokesman Wojtek Jabczyński.

Before any solutions are going to see the light of day however, authorities along with Orange Poland and a body of experts will take their time to work on a comprehensive plan. The project “is not just about solving immediate problems, but about developing a city with the use of new opportunities which are given by new technologies,” adds Jabczyński.

And the possibilities are considerable. Namely: creating an impressive, gigantic Internet of Things network ranging over 41 municipalities.

If previous services offered by Orange are any guide, the plan could involve smart city lightning, remote readout of water meters and water supply system supervision, along with remote parking places reservation, bike sharing, smart bins and bus shelters. IoT lamps could monitor traffic, pollution and noise level. Mathematical models would keep the streets more passable and perhaps eliminate delays in public transport. The city of Tychy and GZM could also introduce a Smart Sender System which would notify the citizens in case of a road accident or unforeseen breakdowns. Citizens could receive a text message reminding them about bills awaiting payment.

A way forward

Lorenc-Nowak says that eventually “every city will be smart. It’s just a matter of time”. And some things else. That is, a matter of competition within cities. And of integrating investment and infrastructure.

Every city wants to pose as the best one to live. They spend large sums of money to lure you, even for the weekend. They want to you to visit them, settle in them, work in them, and pay their taxes. Smart infrastructure would be yet another factor which would make the city more competitive and appealing to people. And that may make it harder for cities to share some insights and promote good practices. Data is best when it is Big. And it won’t be unless cities decide to cooperate. They could in fact lose more on not sharing their data with each other than on disclosing some of it.

And there is also an obstacle right within the city -– turning into a smart city costs. For a relatively modern city which has just made some large-scale investments it may be in fact harder to turn smart than for latecomers. If you have just spent billions on new buildings, or bridges, or roads, or anything, how would you convince people that what you build yesterday has to be revamped to match the definition of smartness? It is easier when you are building your city’s smartness from scratch. Still expensive but the city needed that investment anyway.

What could also pose a problem is integration. Everything can be made included in the IoT network. But if there is a lot of deals, like private parkings, public roads, EU-funded waste management system, and everything is done by a different company, with someone else’s money, there may be a problem of how to make it into one functioning whole.

Stories from around the world

All over the world smart cities are already being tested with a varying degree of success. One of the most well-known examples is Songdo, a South Korean city near the country’s capital, Seoul. The video-footage depicting city life is live-streamed to the city’s officials and automatically scanned for crime and accidents. The garbage trucks are no longer needed. Instead, waste management system “sucks up” garbage from every house and directs it to a remote sorting center, where it is recycled to generate electricity. But the city is half-empty. The adoption has been slow – high rent prices make Songdo more of an ultra-modern settlement for the affluent than a real city.

Saudi Arabia in turn is building its smart city, Neom (the name means “new future”), from scratch. Commuters will enjoy automated green transport systems. The city will also be self-sufficient in terms of food, which would be supplied by a vertical urban farms. Robots will provide services such as security, delivery and caretaking. Neom is supposed to mark Saudi Arabia’s turn to post-oil era, as the city is planned to be powered solely with solar and wind power.

Singapore has introduced an entire network of sensors to track people’s energy use and waste production. Barcelona, through IoT devices scattered across the city, tracks air quality, monitors parking space and the amount of trash in public bins. And in Toronto, Google Sidewalks Lab is building a smart neighborhood.

Data-friendly city

But “smart” is not just gadgets. Smart is “decreasing costs of public services while increasing their quality. For citizens [smart] city is just a city which is nice to live in,” explains Lorenc-Nowak. “Instead of responding to changing needs of its citizens, smart cities will predict those needs and will even be ahead of them. And they will adjust its functioning accordingly – that is, the organization of traffic, the program of community centers, or school timetable.” So, smart city is not just about real time but about future time. Those cities would have enough data to know you well enough to predict any of your needs. And to follow them everywhere you go. Even if you move to another city your profile would be already there. “Smart city has to be like a luxurious hotel – know the needs, preferences and expectations of any of its citizens and cater for them before they are even voiced.”

Both Polish and foreign smart cities initiatives have one thing in common. They all see Big Data and mathematical models as the answer to the ills of a modern city life. And in doing so, they are all borrowing Silicon Valley idea that data are gods. Smart cities are based on the assumption that everything that happens within the city can be quantified and measured. But is data, no matter how big, capable of grasping all the intricacies and spontaneities of a city life?

At GZM they seem to believe that it could be. “What creates intelligence in the city, is infrastructure and services which are aware of the needs and emotions of its citizens. To do this we are going to need not only artificial intelligence but also artificial intelligence capable of understanding emotions.”

Written by Dare Magazine

GovtechNestor Kaszycki