Heraklion is one of the fastest-growing cities in Greece, having seen its population swell 10% in the last decade. It has grown geographically as well by absorbing four surrounding communities in 2011 into a new Municipality of Heraklion. But that growth has taken place against a backdrop of severe economic distress. The economic crisis that began in 2008 has forced layoffs of employees and business closings. Heraklion’s economy is dominated by tourism, which has seen declines from economic ills across Europe and social unrest by austerity-battered Greeks. As a result, Crete’s unemployment rate in 2012 was the lowest in Greece – but still topped 20%.
To battle this scourge, Heraklion’s government and Chamber of Commerce have stepped up Intelligent Community developments efforts launched in past years to a new level. Heraklion is home to the University of Crete’s School of Sciences and School of Health, as well as the Technological Educational Institute of Crete. Entrepreneurial graduates from these institutions can find a home in the Science and Technology Park of Crete, which provides incubating facilities and services to high-tech companies and institutions. In 2013, the city, Chamber of Commerce and educational institutions formed a Smart Cities Committee to intensify their collaboration and develop new programs to leverage these assets for growth.
Greece has trailed much of the EU in Internet deployment and adoption. But the Heraklion campus of the University of Crete has driven an aggressive education program to spur adoption, while the city has granted four competitive carriers the right to build networks. As a result, broadband is available to almost 100% of residents, and Internet penetration has risen to +50% for households and +74% for businesses. Two free-use Internet cafes serve the digitally excluded population, while six training centers offer free seminars on digital skills and the city’s network of free Wi-Fi hotspots has expanded to nearly 140.
To further drive adoption and support business growth, the city has also focused on applications. Its city portal offers a wide range of e-services to citizens and businesses, from fee payments to a database of all administrative decisions. Heraklion is also driving projects to improve the prospects of Crete’s tourism industry, from vendor education to the development of online applications. Results include a CiTY app that lets users find and rate local accommodation, food, sightseeing, products and points of interest. A Super Taxi application links mobile phones to tablets carried by taxi drivers to give riders an interactive map of all available taxis, the ability to digitally flag a ride and estimate its cost in advance. As the European economy outlook slowly improves, Heraklion has positioned itself to benefit from future opportunity.
Smart21 2012 | 2013 | 2014