Issy-les-Moulineaux, a city just across the Seine from Paris, has an employment rate close to 96%. More than 75% of its companies are in information and communications technologies, and they created 3,500 new jobs over the past three years. Issy’s employers today field a workforce that is slightly larger than the city’s population, because so many companies have moved out of central Paris to take advantage of its infrastructure, business-friendly climate and innovative services.
It was not ever thus.
Prior to World War II, Issy-les-Moulineaux (which translates into English as Issy of the Windmills) was the factory zone of the Paris metro area. It was also home to an army base that, in 1908, saw the historic first 1-kilometer circuit flight of aviator Henri Farman. After the War, Issy resumed its role as the industrial engine of the region – but then watched its economy erode in the de-industrialization of the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the world’s great cities have industrial sub-cities like Issy, and many remain decimated by the collapse of manufacturing employment.
But the fate of Issy-les-Moulineaux was to be different, and to a greater extent than in most places, the difference was made by a single individual. In 1980, the people of Issy elected Andre Santini as their Mayor. Over the next 30 years, his administration provided leadership that was by turns visionary, daring and enormously persistent.
Envisioning the Future
First came the vision. With its proximity to the French capital and a major Army base, Issy was already home to a small cluster of IT, telecommunications and R&D organizations. Mayor Santini came to believe that they represented the city’s future, and made it his top priority to create a business environment that would attract many more.
What would such a business environment look like? It would include the things that traditional economic development stresses: reasonable tax rates and good infrastructure, transparency and efficiency in government, access to labor and transportation. But long before it became accepted wisdom, Mayor Santini saw that would include an innovative culture comfortable with technology and adept at using it to solve problems.
As the Eighties gave way to the Nineties, the Mayor’s government made a series of investments that signaled its technology priorities. Issy became the first French city to install outdoor electronic information displays and the first to deploy a cable TV network. In 1993, schools introduced a smart card allowing pupils to pay for lunch electronically. The following year, the City Council rebuilt its meeting room for multimedia and began broadcasting Council meetings over the cable system.
In 1994, the Mayor also challenged city departments to create a comprehensive Information Plan based on study of the evolution of the Internet in the United States. The Internet was then in its infancy: 1994 was the year when Netscape, creator of the first commercial Web browser, was founded in California. Under the plan, completed in 1996, a Steering Committee representing municipal departments and elected officials was created to oversee investment in projects and maintain focus on objectives.
But policymaking was never a substitute for action. By 1995, Issy had free Internet access – with the fledgling Netscape browser and the new Internet Explorer – in its Media Library. Issy’s first version of an e-government portal was already online in 1996. By 1997, the Council added interactivity to its cable and Internet broadcast of meetings, inviting citizens to ask questions by telephone or email and get an immediate response. Public participation began to climb. Whereas few residents bothered to attend Council meetings in the past, nearly half regularly participate remotely today. In 2002, Issy created a Participative Budget-Making Platform that enables citizens to help in setting local investment priorities. (Its latest generation includes an online game for children 7 to 14 that chalenges them to test their knowledge of local finances.)
Service was expanded in 2005 with the IRIS "citizen relationship management" system, through which citizens could make inquiries or lodge complaints online, via telephone, email or mail. Today, the portal (www.issy.com) was providing local news, online public procurement, online applications for certificates and permits, access to more than 15,000 documents, and was receiving over 1 million visits per year. By 2010, Issy had extended e-government to the mobile user, with mobile phone payment of parking fees and an array of mobile remote support services for the elderly.
As a result of this rich array of offerings, nine out of ten Issy citizens are daily users of the Internet, and 98% told a pollster that it has fundamentally changed their lives.
Betting on Broadband
The Santini administration also dared to place big bets on the future. In 1998, the city made headlines by deciding to outsource its entire IT infrastructure to Euriware, a 10-year-old Paris company. The goal was to create an efficient service organization that could quickly turn ideas from municipal departments into reality. Mayor Santini promoted it as the first essential step in transforming Issy into a "digital city."
The following year, the state-owned France Telecom lost its monopoly on telecommunications. The history of liberalization in telecom has been mixed at best. It has succeeded in lowering prices, particularly for long-distance service, but has failed in local markets around the world to loosen the grip of incumbents. Not so in Issy – because, well before the deadline, Mayor Santini's team launched negotiations with alternative carriers, which agreed to enter public-private partnerships with Issy to deploy networks. As a result, on the same day that the monopoly ended, Issue became the first city in France to offer businesses a choice of carriers. Over the next decade, as it continued to welcome competitors, Issy gained a total of six alternative broadband networks, passing 100% of businesses, government agencies, institutions and households. Issy also operates a network of 100 WiFi access points, with speeds up to 20 Mbps, around the city. Today, 85% of Issy’s 35,000 households have broadband connections, compared with the French average of 70%.
With a robust broadband infrastructure in place, Issy’s government has concentrated on encouraging citizens and businesses to make it an essential part of their life and work. Cyber Kindergartens provide parents with access to in-class Webcams that let them check on their children whenever they want. Issy TV, which garnered 400,000 hits in the year of its launch in 2009, has a successful series called Issy 2.0, which shows the daily life of citizens in the digital era. Computer training courses are provided to all ages in the Issy Media Library and the Cube, a digital arts center.
An annual Cube Festival involves the public in showcasing the many facets of digital creation through digital arts exhibitions. In 2010, the Festival introduced a multimedia urban adventure game, in which players use new technologies to solve puzzles, moving back and forth between the real and the virtual worlds.
Issy’s latest program is the Urban Planning and Sustainable Development Center, which is a public area for consultation and communication about the city’s urban development projects. The Center offers innovative digital applications for politicians, professionals and citizens to exchange information and ideas on urban design. Issy 3D is one example. It allows users to move within a digital 3D model of the city that shows urban projects, construction sites and building permits, with access to statistics, media presentations and more. In the 2D world, users walking the streets can take mobile-phone pictures of bar codes affixed to buildings and monuments, and receive information on each through their Internet connection.
Staying the Course
The transformation of Issy from declining industrial district to booming tech corridor has hardly been an overnight success. Over three decades, the community has worked persistently and consistently to promote both digital business and a prosperous digital lifestyle for all of its citizens.
Issy’e strategy envisions an “innovation triangle,” with businesses as technology facilitators, citizens as the users and the government as the initiator and coordinator of projects. Through partnership agreements with companies like Microsoft and European Union programs like Living Labs, Issy has become a test bed for new technologies.
Senior citizens can learn how to use computers and access the Internet in the familiar and comforting environment of Cyber Tearooms. A campaign launched in 2006 refurbishes older computers donated by business and government and provides them at affordable prices to low-income families.
Issy is not a university town and has no higher education in the formal sense. But with encouragement from government, France Telecom R&D conducts training for students in the telecom sector and the community’s many IT companies are active recruiters of students for internships. Studec TV, a Grande Ecole offering continuing education for broadcasting professionals, welcomed its first students to Issy in 2009, and the Paris Bar School, which has trained more than 23,000 lawyers since 1988, is moving into new offices in the city.
More decades, Mayor Santini has insisted that no segment of the population be left behind when it comes to technology. In June 2010, he joined the French Minister of Health to officially open the first rest home in France to combine leading-edge technologies and health services with architectural comfort. With its own video production studio and video-on-demand network, the Lassere Rest Home uses video to help seniors stay in touch with the world and each other. A regular “Laserre Infos” TV program, produced by a senior resident and a youngster from one of the city’s youth associations, keeps residents updated on events in the Rest Home. A series of interviews called “Petals of Life” allow 100-year-old residents to share their experiences and memories with Issy’s inhabitants.
ICF recognized Issy’s vision, daring and persistence in 2009 when it names Mayor Andre Santini its Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year. His vision has guided the city for longer than most of us have lived in the places we currently reside, and it has left Issy of the Windmills well prepared to continue prospering in the decades to come.
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