by Charlie Osborne, Contributor, TechXLR8 & London Tech Week
The Italian city of Milan supports an estimated population of 4.8 million and caters for around 8.17 million tourists per year.
The city is associated with high fashion, the arts and leisure, but city officials now hope the area will become a leader in intelligent urban solutions in Europe.
Milan was rated Italy’s smartest city for the fifth year running in 2018, according to ICity Rate. The report bases its choices on indicators including inclusivity, schemes to improve resident wellbeing, and the use of intelligent solutions for city service improvements.
The Municipality of Milan says that the quest to become smart is not just about keeping wealth generation at high levels, but also should be used to “exploit innovation with a view to developing new methods of tackling socially relevant problems,” including inequality, economic imbalance, unrest and issues surrounding social care.
The journey began with the introduction of the Towards Milan as a Smart City initiative in 2014. The case study was presented on stage at Smart to Future Cities in London in April; similar case studies will be on display at TechXLR8 and during London Tech Week this June. Over the past five years, city officials have experimented with a number of intelligent solutions, social innovations and community-driven initiatives designed to improve the lives of residents.
Officials say the scheme is geared towards making urban planners active participants in transforming the urban landscape, as well as collaborating with city developers from other countries.
Milan is a pilot area included in the Sharing Cities 2016-2020 EU initiative. Alongside Lisbon and London, Milan is a “lighthouse” city, able to access an investment pot of €24 million to create a common approach as well as commercial and financially viable solutions for smart city development.
Milan set out a number of smart city goals: to make the area a living European innovations lab, to launch sustainable urban mobility solutions, to create intelligent environmental and energy policies, the promotion of social inclusion and diversity, and to encourage a thriving start-up scene.
The foundation of many smart city projects is powerful connectivity. In order to achieve this, Milan first launched Open WiFi Milano, an initiative designed to give the city full fibreoptic coverage. While the project is still underway, free Wi-Fi can be accessed as far as 20km from the town centre.
A 5G trial has also been launched, and Milan now has 80 per cent coverage in preparation for the arrival of the next-generation mobile network. Vodafone says that all of Milan will be covered by the end of 2019.
“Unfortunately, there are no solutions that can be successfully applied to every context. It is therefore important that cities share success stories with a view to making the urban environment a field of action where healthy competition among different actors – both public and private – leads to the identification of solutions that increasingly improve citizens’ lives.”
Vodafone, Huawei, and Milan’s Politecnico University have also launched Action for 5G, an initiative which is supporting start-ups involved in 5G mobility and apps, Industry 4.0 technologies, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and smart city projects over the next four years.
This emerging connectivity has given rise to a partnership with Microsens to install emergency call pillars in city parks and over 800 surveillance cameras in critical areas which required additional security, according to officials.
With connectivity and networks also comes data, which may be useful to both residents and urban planners. To capitalise on this information, Milan launched the Open Data scheme to “create an open public administration that gives strength to innovation towards citizens and businesses.”
The platform allows anyone to access information online relating to the community, such as environmental information, economic reports, healthcare data and more.
Transport has not been ignored in Milan’s plans to become a smart city. The Electric City Mover project, launched in partnership with Telecom Italia, involves the creation of a “digital island” system in which locals and tourists alike can rent electric vehicles as well as access transport information from mobility “totems” established in city hotspots.
Congestion is an area on which city officials have focused their energies. The implementation of a ban on older, polluting vehicles has been followed by a smart ticketing and payment system.
In a trial area, city officials implemented parking charges which could be paid via text, the web, and mobile applications. The scheme generated €20.3 million in 2012 upon launch. By 2017, Milan had generated €28 million.
The funds are being invested in clean fuel infrastructure and technologies, including the purchase and installation of 60 electric vehicle charging points, 125 smart parking bays, 150 e-bikes, and 14 sharing stations.
Alongside the revenue, city officials say the overhaul has resulted in a decrease of up to 30 per cent in traffic in some areas, as well as a 28-52 per cent reduction in BC concentrations. Scooter and car sharing ideas projects are now in development.
Milan has also retrofitted a number of public and private buildings to improve energy efficiency, in the hope of reducing energy consumption by up to 60 per cent. The retrofits have included the installation of energy management systems which give residents access to data concerning their usage, improved insulation, and solar panels.
“The city, in fact, is trying to promote social innovation as one of the fundamental aspects of the concept of the smart city, striving to go beyond the technological dimension and to turn it into a tool capable of contributing to the development of new methods to tackle socially relevant problems. In doing so, it involves a large number of stakeholders and uses digital technologies to support collaborative processes.”
To expand energy efficiency systems, Milan has also integrated and installed over 300 smart, Wi-Fi and sensor-enabled street lights in public areas.
The city’s Open Care initiative is also of note. This smart city project focuses on the design of new tools and technologies to promote individual care through digital services which will assist in areas including nursing and community care.
Milan has also attempted to secure resident opinions on the issues that most need attending to, through the launch of the civic crowdfunding platform.
The original online platform was in operation for 18 months with a €30,000 investment from the city. Start-ups were able to pitch their ideas for community-driven projects and request funding.
If members of the community decided a proposal was of value, they could contribute to its funding. If a project reached 50 per cent of its funding target, Milan contributed the remainder.
Projects including the design and development of technological means to unobtrusively assist elderly citizens living on their own have been funded through the programme. In total, roughly €330,000 has been raised through the platform.
However, Milan found that purchasing a platform to continue the service was not cost-effective, and in order to save public resources, transferred the programme to Anteprima after the trial’s closure.
Looking ahead, Milan continues to work on smart projects to reduce waste, reduce the environmental impact of city living, and continue to improve the lives of residents. The city was recently made a finalist of the Wellbeing Award from the NewCities Foundation, and as a key European hotspot for both tourists and Italian nationals, it is likely that Milan will continue in its drive to become a blueprint for a modern, smart city.