Press release: Should there be an app for that?
Inhibiting and contributing factors to the development of a mobile smart city strategy for Brussels

Currently, there are more things than people connected to the Internet. There are more mobile than fixed broadband subscriptions. Smartphones and other mobile terminals have become the main interface, and have led to new practices and services, in a ‘smart’ city approach. In terms of optimisation, itinerary planning and real-time timetables come to mind: the STIB mobile application is, for example, one of the most popular in Brussels.

The public authorities are very much involved in the development of mobile Internet, first of all as part of their regulatory mission. This of course brings to mind the case regarding the environmental standards with respect to exposure to electromagnetic waves resulting from the implementation of 4G technology by mobile telephone operators. But beyond aspects related to the environment and infrastructure, whereby pre-existing frameworks may be brought up to date, the applications themselves may change the situation. The Uber car service which has angered the taxi sector is an example. In this case, totally new regulatory methods must be implemented.

Mobile applications may also be tools for a more collaborative management of the city, in particular through simplified communication between administrators and citizens. For example, FixMyStreet is an application which allows a citizen to report defects in the public space to the relevant municipal or regional administration.

The new challenges related to mobile applications faced by the public authorities are discussed in the 88th issue of Brussels Studies, which, needless to say, may be read on tablets and smartphones... Nils Walravens presents the results of his work at the iMinds-SMIT research centre (Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication) at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He is specialised in the study of mobile services and smart cities, and on the role of public bodies in these matters.

His article is focused on the favourable and unfavourable factors which constitute an initial identification of the areas in which cities – and Brussels in particular – should concentrate their efforts in view of becoming ‘smarter’, with mobile technology as a starting point.

The cases he has studied indicate that it is not easy for the public authorities to play the role of local innovation platform in the area of application development. In Brussels, FixMyStreet is the only example which comes close. It is based on a strategy of empowerment which illustrates how it is possible to (begin to) make a city more intelligent thanks to a high quality application which is well designed and above all allows the participation of citizens.

There is also the observation that Brussels is progressing (perhaps too) cautiously in terms of mobile applications, which is mainly explained by the institutional complexity of the Region and the absence of a coordinated strategy (in the current circumstances). In order to become a ‘smarter’ city, a well-defined contact person or institution should put forward an integrated approach involving all stakeholders in the city.

Finally, the article underlines the fact that the development of mobile applications in a cooperative approach may quickly give rise to internal organisation problems in areas which go beyond a strictly technical framework: What follow up is given to the information provided via an application? How is it possible to arbitrate the intervention requests? Which data should be public? How can there be collaboration with the companies which develop the applications? How can the costs and benefits be shared?

To get the paper Nils wrote, click here.
Want to learn more? Contact Nils directly.

Created by Elias Van Dingenen on 15/06/2015