How technology and innovation are changing cities

Jul 30, 2020

Mobility, City Councils and GovTech: how innovation is changing cities.

My job is to identify business opportunities and help them gain momentum within corporations to co-create them together.

At Byld we have been studying since October last year what is happening in cities and how to solve congestion, first from a logistics point of view (Last Mile) and more recently from the urban space and how new mobility services affect our coexistence in the streets (Curbside Management).

I think we are at a key moment and I wanted to share a reflection on a sector that is called to be a great focus of innovation and that I have met in these months, the GovTech. It is nothing more than the transformation of public services with technological solutions created by startups and larger companies.

This health, economic and environmental crisis we are living is going to leave us many learnings, for sure. From the citizen’s point of view, I myself have had a hard time being stuck in 4 walls week after week. As much as an apartment in the center of Madrid is worth, I almost went crazy. That said, of course I am lucky.

From the side of the City Councils, which are the ones with the knowledge and autonomy to make local decisions, I am seeing that they are very active, and I do not mean that they have pedestrianized streets or handed out masks, but because I am investigating what they think about it and how they work, because there are many webinars organized by forums and companies with councilors announcing their initiatives and because they know that the citizen is much more willing than ever to take drastic measures that have a common benefit and a long-term impact.

The EU obliges us to comply with emissions targets that we cannot afford to violate because we would end up paying the penalties out of our own pockets, in addition to the unconsciousness that would mean ignoring the fact that pollution kills and can kill the planet, as simple as that (400 people a year die prematurely from pollution in Barcelona, for example).

Because of this, some of the things we are going to see sooner rather than later from the hand of the City Council and in relation to the issues we have been investigating are:

1. Urban distribution of regulated goods

This is about consolidation centers closer to the city center and neighborhood collection points, as well as spaced delivery time slots and a ban on polluting vehicles. The days of using the price of home delivery as a marketing tool are numbered.

Home delivery is expensive and inefficient and creates a lot of congestion. Between 20-25% approximately of all urban traffic in a city like Madrid or Barcelona. Some delivery companies are even asking to use public transport at night to bring goods into the city. Brilliant idea, used more than a century ago in London to carry ordinary mail.

2. Promotion of sharing (EVs, motorcycles, bicycles and scooters) 

There are incentives for both users and companies (purchase subsidies and designated spaces).

3. Return sidewalk space to pedestrians

Bring all personal mobility vehicles to the parking strip. This means taking space away from the car. The less car, the less congestion. The sidewalk belongs to everyone, and there are many people who need good sidewalk accessibility and safety, more than we might think.

4. More and better control of scooter companies 

The DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico from Spain) is looking at how to register each scooter in order to impose sanctions. The unified platform model already exists, but is not very accurate due to geolocation. 

5. Urban development and redesign of streets in the form of “superblocks”

His theory is not new, far from it. What has happened is that it has gained momentum again and has been used for some years in Barcelona and Vitoria, for example.

Madrid has just said that it is also going to start applying it in the Salamanca neighborhood at the end of the year (you have to start somewhere).

Superblocks are neighborhood structures that comprise several blocks and use external main roads for heavy traffic, avoiding streets that cross them from north to south or from east to west.

Whenever you enter a superblock you end up exiting further back. This serves to reduce traffic and return public space for green areas and squares, for example, and also to make a better redistribution of services and local commerce.

Superblocks are one of the measures that will allow us to have everything closer at hand, a concept that in Paris and other cities is known as the 15-minute city. Can you imagine Madrid or Barcelona as 5-minute cities?

6. Extending low-emission zones and introducing a toxicity toll

Establish zones similar to the one that has been applied in London for decades.

7. Tactical urban planning measures

To modify and extend bike and bus lanes, for example. These are “cones and paint” measures that are easy to implement, flexible and useful to test their adaptability and are here to stay.

 

Principal changes in cities and urban mobility

Platforms for on-street parking reservation management. I find the parking sector exciting, although there are some leading companies in Spain. What will happen with autonomous cars? What will they do when they have to look for parking? A good problem to solve.

City platforms to manage the uses and prices of parking strips. Interesting topic as it requires digitization of the current curbside infrastructure and obtaining demand data from operators.

Imagine the Bloomberg of the parking meter only giving information on the uses of the sidewalks instead of shares.

Each of these points “are a good melon“, as we usually say at Byld, but I want to point out that I think that Spanish municipalities, regardless of political color, are doing quite well on this issue, but they need to provide technological solutions to streamline its implementation and improve communication, reduce paperwork and avoid excessive bureaucracy.

All these measures are just the tip of the iceberg of GovTech as they only touch three of its fields of action: Transport and Mobility, Commerce and Logistics and Smart Cities and Infrastructures and only with regard to City Councils.

Think of all the different levels of public administrations. I list all the possible verticals of GovTech to give you an idea of the potential of the sector. Surely you know more than one startup whose client or prescriber is the public administration.

  • Health and social services
  • Education
    Access to employment
  • Public safety
  • Culture and tourism
  • Justice
  • Energy and environment
     Taxation
  • Citizen participation
  • Transportation and mobility
  • Trade and logistics
  • Infrastructure
  • Cybersecurity
  • Social benefits
  • Agriculture, fisheries and livestock
  • International development and diplomacy
  • Aeronautics

Do not think of these areas as if they were ministries, as I do not intend to analyze how the State is structured, but as areas of action for possible solutions.

Before Covid, I was already sure that we were going to experience a modernization of the public administration at all levels in the coming years, but now probably its appetite for creating public-private partnerships is greater than ever and resources are scarce, and from my side, I am transmitting this to the corporations with which we work.

As you can see, there are many initiatives and entities involved that can make a change in the way we move. We would love to hear back from you to bring more ideas and actually work towards the mobility of the future.

Stay tuned, we'll tell you everything in a Blynk!