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Five brilliant ways to use social media and apps for urban growth

Edited on

10 May 2017
Read time: 3 minutes

The use of social media to foster a better interaction between local governments and citizens is a sensitive topic in many urban contexts around Europe, due also to the technical nature of many aspects related to the topic which are often complicated to be translated in a coherent, forward-looking political action.
In order to ease the involvement of the political levels around the priorities emerged along the Interactive Cities network, the political representatives of the partners of the project were involved in a thematic roundtable during the latest Transnational Meeting of network, held in Lisbon last February.

The different political visions emerged in the roundtable testify the different attitudes of the cities towards social media and ICT, commonly seen as possible drivers for local growth and enabler factors of a wider participation of residents. The political representatives presented ambitious ideas for their local plans as well as practices already implemented by their cities, providing a picture of the state of the art of innovation on social media and apps in urban contexts of different types. 
Here are some of the most interesting insights emerged in the dialogue which represented a unique moment of dialogue among representatives of local government on the role of social media for the sustainable urban development.

1) Lisbon - An app to foster the use of local services for citizens and local stakeholders
Lisbon is planning to launch a free application to be used by the residents as identification and payment system for public transport, car sharing or bike sharing, as well as a way to be informed on the opportunities offered by the local government to citizens and associations. Privacy, quality and safety are the three main characteristics of the app ruled by a system of rules aimed at avoiding any monetization of the data.
“We see that there are huge risks in the way data are used and captured and monetized – says the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Local Development Rui Franco - The citizens can and should push progress of technology for a model of development where everyone can get a better standard of living”.
“We cannot change industry, we don’t own it but we can make it differently. There are good strategies all over Europe. We have in Lisbon in official policy of open data. How we can push the industry to progress and employment and wellbeing and quality of life in cities based on new forms of exploitation of data where citizens take profit of it. We believe that open data is a very key issue, the main communication company have almost the monopoly and it is not happening only in Portugal but also in the rest of Europe.

2) Genoa – A collaborative social media strategy for tourism promotion
Genoa is involving local stakeholders in the analysis of big data and social media indicators in order to define a collaborative plan of promotion of the city as top destination for tourists on different international markets.
The creation of a social media team, coordinated by the City Hall and composed by social media managers of different public and private organizations involved in tourism promotion, is a decisive tool for coordinating strategies and defining common initiatives of city promotion.
“The trust we give to stakeholders and social media can make the difference – says the Deputy Mayor for Culture and Tourism Carla Sibilla -  If the municipality is able to make a digital urban plan and govern it discussing with the citizens, the result can be achieved totally, having effect in all the different segment of the administration”. “We strong believe that we have to negotiate with the global platforms, as we did on tourism with Airbnb in order to design actions of co-marketing together. This negotiation can help us and our citizens to accelerate this growth, as well as to grow and include young people in the process and develop new services”.

3) Tartu – A Masterplan based on social media and big data analysis
Tartu is willing to redesign the city through the analysis of data flows in social media and apps used by residents. Geotagging and other information automatically transmitted by our smartphones can help the city in planning better urban mobility systems, as well as to enable residents to take part to a spontaneous, participatory planning process, where they don’t need to answer to specific questions or take part to community meetings but they can automatically transfer information on their everyday habits in the urban context.
Making this voluntary kind of involvement a bidirectional process will be extremely important also for the local authority, which will use these tools to interact with residents and involve them in the different phases of urban change.
“The digital era changed our society and made it more compact – says the Deputy Mayor for Urban development and Planning Jarno Laur – Cities are actually not able to use data as much as commercial institutions do and it is something we need to improve through a better management of the information collected”.
“Social media make the communication much more easier than in the past and people can be informed and have their say on what is happening in their city. This is the most important impact of new media and technology on all the local players, including startups and civil society”.

4) Alba Iulia – Enhancing local democracy and city attractiveness through social media
Alba Iulia is basing its social media strategy on a wider use of digital and social media tools. The communication with the residents and the tourism promotion of the city are fundamental aspects of this action which is involving local stakeholders and private companies.
Making the local administration more transparent to citizens is what Alba Iulia is fostering enhancing the use of online platforms, pages and accounts on Facebook and Twitter to receive comments and complaints but also transferring them to the offices in charge of solving the most urgent issues for residents.
The use of visual communication tools has been considerably enhanced and this is going to have a considerable impact also in terms of tourism promotion.
“We want to make citizens our partners in the phase of policy development and that is why we are activating many partnerships with the private sector” says the Vice Mayor Gabriel Pleṣa.

5) Murcia – Modulating the use of social media platforms for emergencies and citizens participation
Murcia is taking the most of every different social media platforms to fulfill different communication needs of different types of audience. From the use of Twitter to inform citizens during a recent flooding to the use of Facebook to invite residents to present their ideas for the regeneration of Santa Eulalia neighborhood, Murcia is testing different functions of the platforms and making them a cross-cutting tool for urban development and growth.
The Mayor is personally leading this effort, informing citizens on his action through ten accounts and pages on different social media.
“We have social media as public service – says the Deputy Mayor for Urban Development and Culture Jesus Pacheco – We mean them as open channels to the politicians and from the politicians. That helps the transparency and the co-governance but we see that social media are also a powerful ways of pressure: today a tweet can have more impact than a newspaper headline Nevertheless it can’t replace the human contact, which is vital for who is governing a city”.    

Simone d’Antonio