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Data is the basis, but it’s necessary to know how to work with it; Czech cities are still learning

Recently, there has been much talk about the concept of so-called ‘smart’ cities and buildings. However, we see a significant difference between what is considered to be a smart city in the UK or Spain and what is considered to be one in the Czech Republic. Czech cities have a long way to catch up, according to speakers on the panel “Creating future-proof buildings – Smart ways of design and development” that took place at the annual Prague Property Forum. 

There is a false impression in the Czech Republic that the word “smart” means more or less anything connected to software or technologies. Yes, the right use of technologies is one of the key points, but that’s not the whole of it.

For example, Czech cities are currently experiencing various waste collection apps, smart benches and information board installations. Waste collection apps are designed to help the central dispatcher better plan collections, make better use of the workforce, vehicles and fuel, and reduce the environmental footprints of such vehicles. The smart rubbish bin can report itself when it's full, so the company knows when to empty it. Another popular topic is smart benches with solar panels that allow you to charge mobile phones or tablets and provide a free WiFi connection. Information boards at public transport stops are often taken for granted.

While these tools are a good step on the way to becoming a smart city, they are not conceptual and certainly not enough. In order to be a proud smart city, the authorities must be able to collect relevant and up-to-date data and then work with it to run the city. An integral and important part of the smart approach is the positive encouragement for citizens to participate in smart behaviour. Smart city deals with all aspects of effective, sustainable and enjoyable living, and uses technology as a basis, not as a goal. If the city and its residents are not interested in using smart instruments, any investment in technology will not make much sense.

The city of Brno, with which Liftago shared its passenger data, is a good example of data usage. In the app you enter, where you want to go, drivers will send you offers, you will choose and then pay after your trip. Obviously, Liftago did not share personal data, but it could tell Brno which routes are more desirable for this form of taxi service, which in turn could help in planning public transport lines.

However, consider how little Brno and other Czech cities are doing to encourage their residents to use less space-intensive ways of individual transport in order to tackle traffic jams. It is nothing more than setting up a system and the rules within which the business community can operate and positive marketing of individual transport vehicles can flourish. Electric scooters and bicycles are a beautiful example of unused potential. The business community offers an electric tool for rapid individual movement around the city and is willing to participate in infrastructure costs, but the city, besides the trails, does not create stands for the vehicles and does not support the expansion of this shared economy system outside the centre. The result is that electric vehicles are considered a tourist attraction or an alternative culture so far. Citizens of the city do not even consider them a convenience, they know little about it, and are even negative towards them due to the association with tourism or an alternative lifestyle, not with everyday use.

In buildings, the smart trend in the Czech Republic is much further. In particular, owners of office buildings are investing in smart technologies. For older buildings, more investment is often expected than when a building is built from the outset with smart technologies and systems. However, I would like to point out that even in the case of older properties, these are not amounts that should be above the carrying capacity. Today's modern systems can take an old building and turn it into a smart building for not that much money. Smart technologies applied in buildings include, for example, blinds that are adjusted for daylight intensity, smart ventilation and heating that adjusts to take advantage from usage of a particular space, adaptive lighting, or a communication platform to inform administrators and users about services on site, etc.

In any case, it always starts with a data collection and through their analysis decisions are made on how to make cities and buildings more efficient and make them more pleasant. The problem, however, is the compatibility and connectivity of individual systems, this is a challenge for the future.


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