Not just Nice, but smart as well
As more people move to cities, the way authorities harness technology to serve a growing population has become increasingly important. Nice has been rated one of the best cities in the world for its innovation. Damien Black investigates
NICE has been ranked among the world’s most environmentally friendly and high-tech cities, ahead of Paris and Singapore in a survey published by the UK research firm Juniper.
Long regarded as a holiday or retirement destination, the city was ranked the fourth ‘smartest’ in the world, behind London, New York, and the winner Barcelona.
The ranking looks not just at technology in a city, but at the way it is harnessed to improve life for its residents.
Steffen Sorrell, a senior analyst at Juniper said: “If you look at Songdo [in South Korea] that’s probably the most technologically advanced city in the world, but it’s not necessarily the smartest. It has taken a technology-first approach rather than considering what factors overall make a city a place people want to live.
“We look at ‘smart’ in terms of group activity, street lighting, traffic management and parking. Those factors will be principle elements of how we rank [cities] but we were also looking at other factors like how advanced broadband services are, how environmentally friendly they are and how well the various cities are costed and able to show information.”
In recent years Nice has brought its infrastructure firmly into the 21st century, using digital sensors to optimise rubbish disposal by signaling when bins need emptying to save visits to ones which do not, providing tourists with useful information and cultural knowledge, and providing environmentally friendly transport around the city.
Using technology to improve services and the environment in cities is one of the most important issues facing the global population. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the urban population already outstrips the number of rural dwellers: in 2014 it accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and this trend is set to increase steadily over the next decade.
Mr Sorrell said: “Urban migration has happened very quickly and put a strain not only on the roads but on resources and availability of services. That really is the principle driver behind the smart city concept.”
First with contactless payments, street hire cars and CCTV cameras
IT WAS one of the first cities to trial contactless payment cards in France, and the first to introduce point-to-point transport hire in the style of the Velib’ bike hire scheme - but Nice has also been working on a number of other tech projects.
Sensor technology has allowed better management of the city’s electricity grid and water supply, with recent trials in the nearby town of Cagnes-sur-Mer indicating a 10-30% drop in the cost of public lighting and 20% less leakage.
About 200 homes in Nice have also been installed with smart “Linky” meters allowing consumers to monitor and moderate their consumption. Given that the Côte d’Azur produces less than a tenth of its electricity and is thus prone to blackouts, reducing wasteful energy expenditure is particularly beneficial.
Installing sensors to monitor the water supply means problems such as burst pipes or low pressure can be detected more quickly.
In 2009 Nice introduced the Vélo Bleu Bikes, a network of bicycles available for use under the public-share scheme that has become popular in other cities.
The Vélo Bleu scheme notched up more than 1.7million rentals in 2014 with nearly 70,000 users recorded for that year. The mairie claims the bikes mean 1,036 fewer tonnes of CO2 are emitted than if people had taken their cars.
In April 2011 the city pipped Paris to become the first to launch a fleet of electric vehicles that could be hired by the public across the city. The Auto Bleue now has 200 vehicles across 60 points in the city and the surrounding metropolitan area.
Since 2008 the city has been rolling out noise-reducing road surfaces.
The city has been experimenting with real-time parking information to help relieve congestion in the centre. Sensors let motorists know which bays are free to reduce the time they spend driving the streets to find them.
Sensors installed in 58,500 bins tell rubbish collectors which ones are full and which do not require emptying on a given day, making the collection process more efficient. The sensors help to save fuel and make it easier to keep the city clean.
Elderly patients or those with chronic health problems have been issued with patches that allow their condition to be remotely monitored by medical professionals. This allows them to continue their lives as normal while maintaining the same sort of monitoring they would receive in hospital.
Shops, buses and places of cultural interest including museums and monuments across Nice were some of the first in the country to accept contactless payment, more recently extending it to latest generation smartphones.
Culture and history
Informative written, audio and video guides can be accessed – again via a mobile phone app – all across the city.
The smartphone guide covers a dozen monuments in the Old Town, ten works of art at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and various displays in the botanical gardens and zoo in Phoenix Park.
Crime and surveillance
Nice is renowned for its 24-hour network of CCTV cameras, intended to make the city a safer place for visitors and inhabitants. It has the most number of cameras per inhabitant in France, a fact not without criticism from human rights groups or others who would prefer to see real police.
In another first for France: certain cameras have been set up to catch and fine people double parking in the town.
This is a central plank of the smart city premise: sensor technology allows the local authorities to monitor areas for air quality – and provide real time warning about pollution spikes. The city also monitors noise levels.
Service Bleu is another app-driven technology that allows citizens to immediately report problems – which vary widely from pot-holes in the road, to faulty sprinkler systems, to bent lampposts. The service receives up to 1,000 calls a month, with 90% of problems solved within 48 hours.
Complaints can also be lodged online or through apps, sending photos of the problem and its GPS coordinates.
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