We live in a time where any gadget that can perform multiple tasks is labelled as smart, from our smartphones to smartwatches.
Yet the concept of smart cities isn’t something that’s talked about widely, despite several countries, particularly in Asia, having plans to construct these ultra-connected urban centers.
Croatia is one of them. Keen not to be left out of this new wave of development, one of its chief tourist hubs, Dubrovnik, recently announced its intention to join a list of European tech hotspots leading the way to an ultra-digitized future.
Here’s how they plan to do it.
What is a smart city?
According to the European Commission, a smart city is a place where the traditional infrastructure is powered by digital solutions for the benefit of its populations.
This includes smarter transport networks, more efficient heating and lighting systems, and better water and waste disposal facilities. Day-to-day interactions would be tech-based, with technology helping to make public spaces safer and communication between residents easier.
Although achieving these aims is possible, in theory, it’s difficult to say whether a true ‘smart city’ exists today.
Singapore is perhaps the closest thing we have to one. Since launching its Smart Nation initiative in 2014, it has introduced a digital healthcare system which puts video consultations and a wearable ‘Internet of Things’ device for patient monitoring at the heart of its strategy.
In 2021, the city government announced plans for a vehicle-free eco-smart city in Tengah, Western Singapore. Reconstructed as a forest city, it will house 42,000 citizens and have safe zones for pedestrians and cyclists.
A reported success, it could be that many cities around the world try to follow Singapore’s lead, with Dubrovnik potentially being one of them.
Dubrovnik’s tech potential
In an interview with EURACTIV Croatia, Dubrovnik’s mayor Mato Franković outlined the city’s aims to push the city up to the ranks of global tech hubs.
Already a hugely popular tourist spot, he said the COVID crisis has prompted Dubrovnik to ‘rethink and rearrange’ in order to stabilize economic recovery.
He mentioned three central planks for this plan, which the city aims to carry out over the next few years.
Digital arts centre
Game development has accelerated over the last few years, to the point where an avid player has thousands of internet video games and online casino games to choose from.
Dubrovnik seeks to capitalize on this through the construction of a brand-new digital arts centre called DUBROVNIK. Focusing on the audio-visual and IT industries, it will aim to be a hub for the country’s leading digital creatives to meet and work, with the hope of forming a kind of ‘entrepreneurial incubator’, to use the mayor’s words.
“This will contribute to strengthening the competitiveness of this sector of the economy and increase employment. The complex would allow for the rental of space, audio-visual equipment and teams,” he said.
You’ve probably seen pictures of so-called digital nomads on social media: the people who like to share the fact that they’re working from the beach, or a rooftop terrace.
Yet, the nomad movement is a very real thing, and many cities are rushing to embrace digital workers from abroad. Franković cited a conference the city organized two years ago as a great way of showcasing what it has to offer for such people, who he hopes would come over and pay taxes into the national system.
Not only that, but advertising Dubrovnik as a trendy tech hub for aspiring entrepreneurs is a great way to bolster its international reputation.
Dubrovnik’s beautiful natural scenery has already made it an ideal destination for film and TV makers.
Dubbed ‘film tourism’, this phenomenon occurs when multiple foreign crews visit within a short period of time. In September and October 2020 alone, three production companies were shooting content in the city. In 2021, over 25 camera crews visited the city, according to the mayor, to record various shows, including CNN Travel’s ‘Quest’s World of Wonder’ TV show.
On top of these three themes, the city has also introduced several new digital measures aimed at improving the quality of life for residents. One of these is a web platform that predicts how many visitors are expected to visit the city’s historic old town at any one time, allowing them to manage crowds and give residents due warning.
There’s also a smart parking app, covering every parking space, that directs drivers to the nearest spot, cutting down on congestion, as well as road webcams that pick out traffic hotspots.
Finally, a 100% electric car-sharing system, in place since late 2019, is another eco-friendly tool designed to cut emissions and improve convenience for car-less residents.
If Dubrovnik’s mayor can deliver the bold plans he has set out, then it could put the city among the likes of Zurich, Barcelona, and Copenhagen as Europe’s leading smart-friendly urban areas, and a place where polluted and congested zones are things of the past.