Mayor Yordanka Fandakova: Technological advances are key to the development of smart cities

Again, Sofia is hosting the WEBIT Digital Festival with over 6000 people from 110 countries

For the city governance, advances in technology are reflected in the idea of "smart cities". They are key to its development, said the Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova at the opening of the Webit Digital Festival in the presence of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Minister Lilyana Pavlova and the founder of WEBIT, Plamen Russev.

In her speech, Mayor Fandakova said: "Technological development is of increasing interest to us. It sounds amazing that just a few decades ago, the computer was an inaccessible object, owned only by some of the largest companies and institutions. At that time, the powerful computers occupied whole rooms, and today devices thinner than pencil have dozen times larger capacity.

We know that precisely electronics and information technology are the basis of the third industrial revolution. They helped to automate a number of industries and facilitated communication worldwide. Now we are in the initial stage of a follow-up process that merges and connects a variety of technologies, infrastructures and objects. As a result, the opportunities for all of us are really endless. “

Major multinational companies such as Alphabet, SAP and IBM develop a variety of products and services to bring the "smart city" from theory to practice.

"Cities are really getting smarter, but we still have a lot of work to do. Among the guests of WEBIT, there are representatives of some of the cities implementing the most prominent smart projects, such as Amsterdam and Barcelona”, said Fandakova. According to her, Sofia is in excellent position to learn from the experience of our partners. If we want to develop a strong and competitive digital infrastructure, it is important to work closely with our European partners.

At the end of 2016, Sofia was chosen to be one of the leaders of the Digital Transition Partnership within the EC's "Urban Agenda for the EU" initiative. This partnership develops initiatives along lines where digitization can have the most valuable effect - transforming urban governance, citizens' quality of life in our cities and the most beneficial opportunities for business development. Along with this project, Sofia is an active participant in initiatives developing smart infrastructure in urban mobility, administrative services and the environment. If we want these efforts to be successful in the long run and not just for the duration of a single project, we need to pay special attention to digital skills. They need to be developed not only for adolescents but also for each of us. This is how we ensure that instead of being mere observers, we will take an active part in the digital reality we are discussing at this forum, pointed the Mayor of Sofia.

We develop the "smart city" concept in several key directions, said Fandakova and pointed out "Sofia Municipality also invests in innovation and relies on information technology in the projects it funds and supports. Examples are the construction of new infrastructure, the subway, the modernization of transport, waste management, river monitoring, security, the electronic toll system in public transport.

Together with the Municipal Investment Agency and the Municipal Guarantee Fund, the municipality supports entrepreneurial projects related to innovation and green, sustainable policies. A month ago, we launched a Funding Programme for Innovative Start-ups. We initiated this guarantee scheme to support entrepreneurship in Sofia and stimulate innovation and start-ups", said Fandakova.

Another important part is Open Data. Sofia Municipality starts the process of opening data. At present, 27 datasets for Sofia Municipality have been published and maintained up-to-date. By the end of 2018, 23 additional datasets are scheduled to be published on the Open Data Portal.

We need to work for equal access to digital technologies for all. Education is a key factor in developing and implementing the “smart city” concept. In 36 metropolitan schools, there are 267 classes with IT profiles, and in 73 schools the pupils study information technologies from the first grade.

Sofia Municipality supports technological applications developed by local start-up companies. Last year, a hackathon was organized on the 10th anniversary of Bulgaria's accession to the EU. Over 350 young people divided into 34 teams attended it. Their ideas were very diverse. From forest fire prevention applications, Internet-based public procurement data, through a training and job-finding platform for people with disabilities to popular robotics. In recent months, the winners of this competition were able to transform their concepts into working prototypes.

Prizma has developed an application with features for direct translation of sign language into spoken languages and vice versa. Brainhub Lab have been focusing on the development of a sign language learning platform. GuideAR has developed a mobile app using the benefits of enriched reality to revive the cultural and historical landmarks of the city. One Tree has built a web platform that makes possible the joint digital mapping of the trees in an urban environment. The site provides information about their condition, species, characteristics, and even their lack.

Work with the team of Citizens is a very good example of long-term and fruitful collaboration between a start-up company and the administration. Through the platform, we can get informed about temporary inconveniences regarding closed streets, or water supply cuts in the area we live in.

Sofia Municipality will continue to support the development of these projects. After one day is about to start the first Balkan hackathon that will make way for more new ideas. Sofia will host coders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia and Turkey.

According to Fandakova: "Together we make Sofia one of the most rapidly developing capitals, attracting more and more people from all over the world. I strongly believe in the potential of the city, its citizens, and the hard work that is needed to make it a better place to live. Your ideas and initiatives transform Sofia into a competitive and modern European city. Talking about how to move forward begins here and now."

Within the framework of the festival is organized a pavilion, featuring technological applications supported by Sofia Municipality. Mayor Fandakova talks with the authors of the developed digital applications.

Photographer: Geo Kalev