The city’s name tells you something about its history. Located on the Ruhr River in the Ruhr Valley, Mülheim took part in the economic success of one of Europe’s great industrial centers, famed for steel manufacture and coal-mining. Its transformation began in 1964 during what the Germans called the coal and steel crisis – an abrupt loss of competitiveness as lower-cost suppliers of those commodities entered an increasingly global market. In that year, Mülheim reluctantly became the Ruhr Valley’s first city free of steel-making when major blast furnaces closed. Two years later, the city’s last coal mine was shuttered. The economic impact was severe.
From Industry to Trade
The city’s response was to return to its its traditional role as a trading center. Europe’s largest indoor shopping center opened there in 1973. Over succeeding decades, brownfield sites were reclaimed to serve as office and light industrial space. A 245,000-square-meter industrial wasteland was transformed in 2000 as the Siemens Technopark, and a start-up center opened in 2005 to support new entrepreneurship. Other major employers came to include the trading company Tengelmann and the technology firm Thyssen.
This progress has accelerated in the last ten years. A midsize city of 170,000, Mülheim is home to two Max Planck Institutes and a new technical college, Ruhr West, set up in 2009. A government-business-academic partnership is building an Innovation Triangle program on this foundation connecting all the links in the educational chain from secondary school through higher education and local employment. Mülheim is establishing a consumer Internet hub to promote e-business start-ups, which will make it one of five digital hubs in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. The hub will offer business accelerator programs, co-working and incubator space, access to seed funding and to educational programs in business administration, legal and taxation issues.
Mülheim is also working to expand opportunities for its less educated population, particularly youth. The U25 House program offers vocational counseling in secondary school and a case management service that helps young people with job search, skills development, access to support programs and entry into apprenticeships. So successful has this School to Work program been that the city’s youth unemployment rate, at 4.5%, is 40% lower than the regional average.
While helping individuals achieve their potential, Mülheim also focuses on small-to-midsize enterprises (SMEs). City government, the chamber of commerce and business associations have launched SME 4.0, a campaign to make SME owners and executives aware of the opportunities available from digital technologies. A project called Engage NRW modeled how gaming technologies could be applied to improve service and production processes. By the end of the project, SMEs had signed €1.5 million in contracts with technology consultants and providers.
To ensure that the city has the broadband infrastructure it needs, Mülheim completed in 2015 a complete inventory of the telecom conduit network owned by multiple organizations that underlies the city. Mapped with GIS, the conduit registry reduces the challenges for new broadband providers and has encouraged the city to consider construction of its own network to accelerate competitive pressure and boost average speeds while reducing prices.
As the city changes, it has been careful to engage organizations and citizens as partners in envisioning the future. One multi-partner initiative is coordinating a program to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, while another is forging a new urban development model that includes everything from business and social services to sustainability and health. Like the leaders of Intelligent Communities everywhere, Mülheim’s leaders know that its people, not technology, make a city great.
If Europe has an equivalent of Silicon Valley, it lies in a region with Frankfurt as its heart. About 5,000 software firms there – including SAP, Symantec, IHK Darmstadt Infosys and Software AG – employ 25,000 people and generate 1 billion Euros in annual turnover. Frankfurt is home to DE-CIX, Germany's highest capacity Internet hub, which handles 35% of all European Internet traffic. As the largest city in the Hessen region, Frankfurt is also a premier financial center with 300 banks, including Europe's Central Bank, and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, home of the DAX. It functions as Europe's leading air and rail center as well, and provides security clearance for all air cargo entering Europe. Yet the city is rated among the top five in the world for livability, thanks for a mix of developed and wooded land, two winegrowing areas, numerous spas and a national park. Maintaining this balance of livability and growth in an increasingly competitive global market is the challenge to which the leaders of Frankfurt must respond.
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. 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, lower local taxes 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 1984, the people of Issy elected André Santini as their Mayor. Over the next nearly 40 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. The Steering Committee’s founding led the city to adopt the Plan Local d’Information (Local Information Plan) with the goal of transforming Issy into a “digital city.”
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 challenges 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. 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. Today, the portal (www.issy.com) provides local news, online public procurement, online applications for certificates and permits, access to more than 15,000 documents, air quality and weather updates and a variety of other services.
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" as per the Local Information Plan.
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, Issy became the first city in France to offer businesses a choice of carriers. Over the next twenty years, 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 150 free WiFi access points, with speeds up to 20 Mbps, around the city. Today, 95% of Issy’s households have broadband connections, compared with the French average of 85%.
Growing Digital Services Based on Broadband Success
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. The city’s schools have had PCs for many years now as well as a system of “mobile classes” equipped with PCs and tablets to make learning easier and more accessible. In 2015 however, Issy began deployment of the Environnement National de Travail (Digital School Platform) for all classes in the city.
The Digital School Platform allows teachers to collaborate on teaching methods, share materials and gain access to a variety of useful data from their colleagues throughout the city while also allowing parents to follow their children’s work, activities and any other matters of interest digitally. During 2016, more than 150 teachers (over half of those in the city) attended training sessions on the Digital School Platform. Issy’s 250 classrooms now each have an interactive digital projector and laptop for the teacher, allowing easy access to the Digital School Platform and all online course materials. The city has also offered Microsoft Office 356 Pro licenses to each elementary-school-aged child and each teacher in their schools to guarantee access to digital technologies outside of school and for use in school assignments. As of September 2017, all Issy primary schools have fiber optic Internet access as well.
Outside of the school system, computer training courses are provided to all ages in the Issy Media Library and the Cube, a digital arts center. Courses are also provided purely online for those who cannot easily get to the facilities in person, such as the elderly and disabled. Senior citizens can learn how to use computers and access the Internet in the familiar and comforting environment of Cyber Tearooms as well. A campaign launched in 2006 refurbishes older computers donated by business and government and provides them at affordable prices to low-income families.
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.
A Living Lab
Issy’s 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. In 2008, the European Network of Living Labs granted Issy the official title of “Medialand Living Lab of Issy-les-Moulineaux.”
As a living lab, the city began testing new mobile and web applications as well as a local platform focused on mobility in 2015. Services currently being tested include an augmented reality history app and a participatory urbanism one as well. The local testers group includes 250 subscribers as of 2017 who regularly participate in pilot activities and provide feedback to the city on which services work for them and what changes can be made to further improve quality and accessibility for the populace.
One of the projects currently under testing in Issy’s Living Lab is So Mobility. The project aims to reduce traffic congestion, as Issy-les-Moulineaux lies next to Paris in the heart of a particularly dense urban metropolis. So Mobility’s priorities include installing traffic sensors to provide drivers with real-time traffic updates, developing new solutions for smart parking and testing new transport modes such as driverless shuttles and carpooling. As part of the project, Issy hosted an integrated mobility test in collaboration with the Colas, Cisco, Indigo and Transdev companies in 2017 to determine congestion and parking patterns produced by the Grand Paris Express autonomous metro project, which is currently in development. Three local startups also began offering efficient carpooling services in Issy in 2017, and the city has begun promoting such methods to many other companies in the area as a result of their success.
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 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, moved into new offices in the city in 2011.
For 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 named 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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Labor Force: 72,000
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The City of Besançon was founded 2,000 years ago near what is now the Swiss border. A university town and regional capital, it grew wealthy from the manufacture of clocks and watches, metallurgy, textiles and food-processing – until global competition for timepieces in the 1970s sent the economy into severe decline. The community fought back by leveraging its universities and grands écoles, where 24,000 students are enrolled, and finding new outlets for its people’s skills in precision manufacturing. Strong leadership from the city’s Mayor, and active support from citizen, business and academic groups, enabled Besançon to build a technology park devoted to microtechnology, and to become in 1994 the first French city with a fiber network connecting all government and quasi-government facilities. Every school student beginning in third grade receives a “digital schoolbag,” consisting of laptop and access to an online collaboration platform, free of charge. While broadband is widely available, Besançon has also established free digital centers in every neighborhood to ensure access. Universities and technical schools continue the focus on ICT in order to produce qualified workers for the city’s growing technology cluster. Besançon has also extended its focus outward with a “Seneclic” project, in which residents with disabilities refurbish computers for shipment to schools in Senegal.
The mobile communications business has been good to Oulu, and the mobile business has become a threat to its future.
This former industrial city located 200 km south of the Arctic Circle built a tech-based economy in the Eighties around the Nokia Research Center and numerous small-to-midsize enterprises (SMEs) specializing in mobile technologies, many located at the Oulu Technology Park.
The “Nokia risk” as Oulu’s leaders called it, materialized in the new century as the company failed to adapt to the rise of the smartphone and began to downsize its operations. Yet Oulu has created 18,000 new high-tech jobs since 2007, thanks to a decades-old culture of public-private collaboration and its many high-quality educational institutions, including the University of Oulu with its 16,000 students.
The city has built ICT assets such as the PanOULU free wireless network – created by merging Wi-Fi infrastructure from 17 organizations to serve 25,000 users per month – and an e-government Web portal for citizens.
In collaboration with the university and business, it has fostered multiple R&D institutes from the Center for Internet Excellence to Oulu Living Labs, where a broad range of technologies are researched and developed before being tested by residents who volunteer their time and expertise.
The city’s 2007-13 Innovation Strategy stresses the importance of human enthusiasm as a source of innovation. The strategy rests on several key assumptions: that the region has ambitious businesses, that opportunities will arise from connecting them with the potential of the global market, and that services will gain an increasing role in economic growth. But there is another assumption that distinguishes Oulu from many other places. It is that citizens of all ages should be involved in business and institutional innovation.
Whatever the fortunes of its biggest mobile technology employer, Oulu is determined to be a quiet leader in the technologies that will shape our century.
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Labor Force: 90,000
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Estonia saw a major boom from 2004 to 2007, as loan capital poured in from Scandinavian countries.
The country’s rise from Soviet occupation, beginning in 1991, had been miraculous, but the wave of investment was more than the market could usefully absorb. When the financial crisis came, it hit Estonia and its principal city of Tallinn very hard. Several thousand companies went bankrupt and layoffs, particularly of the low-skilled, rose into the tens of thousands.
Yet beneath the froth, Tallinn has put into place the foundations of ICT-based growth that is generating a strong comeback.
Tallinn’s first wave of IT industry growth was driven by national government spending on an amazing range of e-government applications. Its return to growth has a more sustainable basis in education and entrepreneurship. With 23 universities and technical schools, Tallinn has the resources for a knowledge workforce; it has focused now on expanding access and filling demand for ICT and digital content skills.
From 2007 to 2011, Tallinn Technical University doubled participation in lifelong learning programs. The city is expanding public access computer sites and training programs for the disconnected, while a public-private project called EstWin will extend 100 Mbps broadband throughout Estonia by 2015.
Beginning in 2018, Tallinn has hosted an annual festival of education: iduEDU. At the festival, schools, kindergartens and hobby schools in region share innovations and new study methods they have developed with each other and with their students' parents. Private companies often attend the festival, where they introduce new technologies that may be useful to schools and give advice on their success stories and startup challenges. These companies provide contacts in the private sector for future collaboration with the local school systems and sharing ideas on what skills will be most valuable to the future workforce. iduEDU also includes a showcase of new adult learning solutions.
Based on the success of iduEDU, Tallinn has introduced #EduInnoLab ICT Innovation Laboratories into area schools. These competence centers focus on particular areas of ICT innovation in education, seeking new ways for the government to support schools, encourage testing and implementation of innovative learning methods and share particularly innovative schools’ methods with others.
Fostering Innovation at Home
To support local startups and attract talent from beyond Estonia’s borders, Tallinn and its educational and business partners have launched multiple incubators targeting creative services, medical and biotech, mechatronics, and ICT. Europe’s first gaming accelerator opened in Tallinn this year, and its Ülemiste City industrial estate is expanding 50% to house 250 companies, making it the Baltics’ biggest knowledge-based development.
Established in 2012, Tallinn's Prototron competition aims to help new startups grow and thrive through prototype financing. Competition applicants include individuals and businesses with projects from all fields, including green tech, digitalization of industry, new materials, health-tech and fintech. Each year's winner receives 35,000€ funding for their prototype in addition to the valuable training, advice and useful contacts they make at the event. Since its founding, Prototron has hosted a total of 64 teams with over 700,000€ awarded for prototypes.
When the crisis struck, Tallinn moved fast to launch aid packages to get residents and companies through the bad times with their skills and ambitions intact. The value of the city’s short-term response and its long-term strategy will be proven in coming years.
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Labor Force: 230,000
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With the collapse of Soviet rule over eastern Europe in the late 1990s, this capital city of one of the continent’s poorest countries set off on a perilous journey to the 21st Century. Tirana is the commercial and manufacturing center of the country, with about half of all Albania companies and three-quarters of foreign-owned enterprises. It is home to growing industries for footwear and clothing, agricultural products, mining, oil and gas, and tourism. With low Internet penetration compared to the European Union, the country’s Internet market offers high growth potential. In Tirana, broadband take-up is rising rapidly in response to increased availability and sharply lower prices. The nation’s goal is to become a “cyber-hub” for the region, with broadband penetration equal to that of the EU and ICT becoming a leading sector of the economy. Tirana is home to Albania’s only business incubator and has seen a corresponding increase in startups in sectors including advertising, design, computer services, media and publishing. The national development strategy focuses on expanding the small-to-midsize business base, including micro-enterprises, and fostering an entrepreneurial culture. The Albanian government has invested substantially in e-government applications and has encouraged the private sector to offer digital services to customers, such as online banking. And both Tirana and the nation are making strides: the World Bank Doing Business Indicators showed Albania advancing from 136th in 2007 to 82nd in 2010. In 2009, it achieved the second-highest rank among the top 10 reformers worldwide. Continued success will depend on implementing the right policies, successfully navigating the process of joining the European Union and making the most effective use of the resulting relationship.
This municipal county of 4 million has been identified by A.T. Kearny as one of two sub-Saharan cities likely to achieve developed status within 20 years. If the prediction proves true, it will mark a sharp positive turn at the end of a very long road. After its independence in 1964, Kenya gradually declined into a kleptocracy committed to embezzling public funds for personal gain. Nairobi stood out as one of most corrupt cities in East Africa. In 2007, it represented 60% of Kenyan GDP and grew its economy 6%, while nearly two-thirds of its population lived in slums. A national movement for multi-party democracy began in the late 1980s and accelerated through two tumultuous decades to culminate in approval of a new constitution in 2012. By creating the foundation of civil society, it became one of several trends building a better future for Nairobi.
Opening Up Communications
One trend was the liberalization of communications. In 1999, the country had only 300,000 landline phones and an infant mobile phone industry because the state-owned monopoly had served as a slush fund for government. The break-up of the monopoly early in the 21st Century opened the way for new entrants, among them a mobile phone operator called Safaricom.
The company introduced in 2007 a service called M-Pesa, which allows users to load money onto their phones – as they would prepaid airtime – and transfer it to another phone through a simple text message. It was introduced as a defensive measure to reduce subscriber churn. Today, it handles US$320 million in payments each month, equivalent to one-fourth of Kenya’s GDP, and is responsible for driving mobile phone penetration to nearly 70%. In the process, it has unleashed economic activity by introducing banking services to low-income citizens and spawned a host of start-ups in Nairobi. In 2012, Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa introduced M-Shwari, a savings and lending program operating by phone. Within 2 years, it built a customer base of 7 million and facilitated $14 million in loans. Next on Safaricom’s agenda is construction of an inland fiber network linking to new submarine fiber landing in Mombasa.
Private and Public-Sector Progress
The beginning of a modern market economy has permitted private-sector and public-sector progress to take hold. Kenya’s leading industrialist, Manilal Chandaria, has founded a business school and incubation center at Nairobi universities, which builds on the success of the iHub tech facility established in 2010. Microsoft has partnered with Intel and a school association to bundle devices, educational applications, affordable data plans and financing in Nairobi’s 4Afrika Youth Device Program. The national government’s Vision 2030 development plan has put major emphasis on introducing ICT into education. If present trends continue and gain greater momentum, Nairobi may achieve the coveted goal of developed status sooner than anyone expects.
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The Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) metro area includes Port Elizabeth and surrounding coastal cities. The automotive sector is its top employer, but NMB aims to develop an ICT-based sector in call centers, IT outsourcing and related businesses, and to use ICT to reduce huge disparities in education and income. NMB has a detailed plan for deploying wireless and FTTP broadband, introducing e-government and bridging the digital divide. As of November 2007, the community had completed a 100 Mb wireless network connecting government facilities, which is generating immediate savings. Next on the list is using the network to improve control of traffic, a first for South Africa, as a public demonstration of ICT. NMB's approach is worthy of imitation, because it creates a bold strategy and high-quality plan but sets realistic expectations for achieving it within the community's means.
The first South African entry to ICF’s list of 21 has thriving ICT, media and call center industries supporting a community of 3.2 million where the digital divide is great. In 2002, only 14% of the population had Internet access. A new fiber network is anticipated to create and establish 250,000 jobs.