The city of Heraklion (EL) has developed a strategic plan that includes three pillars: Smart City, Resilient City and Cultural-Touristic City. The first, “Heraklion: Smart City”, encompasses a good practice developed by the Municipality of Heraklion in cooperation with the city's major stakeholders. Its purpose is to apply internationally recognised smart city practices to fully realise the potential of the city's assets while strengthening areas in which the city has traditionally been lacking. The exceptional element is that these smart city practices are being implemented on an interdisciplinary level. Major stakeholders are working together like never before to realise these goals, spanning interdepartmental gaps between institutions and services. Through this collaboration, effective and sustainable smart city initiatives have taken root bringing positive results and new opportunities - from extensive broadband networks to e-government services and support for volunteers and entrepreneurs.
Any changes within a city affect the individuals, organisations, communities and businesses that make up that city. It only makes sense, then, that all of these stakeholders be involved in the governance of the city. The solution that this smart city strategy has provided for Heraklion is a Smart City Committee formed in 2011, a first for Greece, which is chaired by the Municipality of Heraklion and has representation from many of the city’s major stakeholders. This committee has provided a framework within which stakeholders of all types (businesses, transportation organisations, citizen groups, public services and individual citizens) can formulate a common vision for the city and can also be involved in the decision-making processes. Projects of each individual stakeholder can then be aligned with this common vision, and can even overlap and be compatible with those of other stakeholders, increasing their value. Joint ventures between stakeholders will allow for larger and more ambitious endeavours that can benefit the city further. In a period of economic turmoil and financial austerity, such a strategy has proven to be all the more needed and its benefits are even more profoundly felt. Specific solutions that have resulted include information and communications technology infrastructure to promote citizen connectivity, volunteer and social inclusion initiatives, public forums that promote entrepreneurship and ambitious interdisciplinary and inter-stakeholder projects that promise to vastly improve the city.
Heraklion’s Smart City Strategy has built on the sustainable and integrated approach by providing the tools and the context for the integration that is necessary to sustainably deal with urban challenges. As a result of its strategy, according to a study by the European Parliament’s Directorate General for Internal Policies, “Mapping Smart Cities in the EU,” Heraklion has been deemed strong in the following three smart city axes: governance, economy and citizen participation. Within these three axes the integrated and sustainable approach that Heraklion has adopted allows it to flourish in this way.
Practical examples include Heraklion’s participation in the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and the city’s Sustainable Urban Development Plan. The latter has been approved by the city council and has been ratified by the Regional Government of Crete as well. This is a project that has been granted over 14 million euros of European funding to provide for long-term sustainable urban design and development.
Additionally, the enabling of participatory government has allowed challenges to be solved in an integrated fashion. Solutions have not been tailored only to the needs of a specific group of people, or only to maximise economic benefits or only to provide for a single social need. This holistic approach has allowed for solutions to positively affect all parties involved, from individual citizens, to businesses, to communities and to the city as a whole.
The adoption of a smart city strategy and a common vision required the participation of all related stakeholders. This first materialised in 2009 with the leadership role of Heraklion in the Icarus Network, a network of cooperation between municipalities of Crete and of the islands of the Aegean which developed the “Charter of Obligations of Municipal Authorities to Citizens in the Knowledge Society”. In 2011, the first Heraklion: Smart City Committee was formed and chaired by the Municipality of Heraklion with the representation of stakeholders including higher education and research institutes, transportation and business sector organisations. In 2015, the second Heraklion: Smart City Committee was convened with the backing of the City Council. This long-term committee has representation from the Foundation for Research and Technology (FORTH), the University of Crete, the Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Crete, the Heraklion Chamber of Commerce, the Heraklion Urban Buses (KTEL) organisation, individual experts and delegates from all political groups represented in the City Council. The purpose of the committee is to facilitate the collective management of the city's strategic objectives as opposed to allowing the independent development and management of individual objectives of each institution. In this way, the committee is able to aid in capitalising on the benefits of a participatory approach to the development of smart city projects and initiatives.
The smart city strategy has made a noticeable difference. Some examples are:
1) Broadband infrastructure has reached 100% coverage. Private telcos have been given right-of-way to create their own fibre optic networks. The Municipal fibre optic network connects over 60 schools and many public services serving over 18,000 students and 5,500 public servants. Heraklion also boasts the nation’s largest municipal Wi-Fi network, which has been in continuous operation since 2008,
2) e-Government – Heraklion provides citizens with over 160 e-services via the municipality’s portal. It is ranked third among municipal portals in Greece according to alexa.com and second during the summer tourist season. There is a plethora of additional sites with which visitors can interact with the city including ruralheraklion.gr, heraklionculturalcity.gr and heraklionsculptures.gr, as well as a Heraklion City App,
3) The support of multiple volunteer groups has also been a result of the smart city initiative. The City Council has set up specific committees to support the participation of volunteers. These volunteer groups organise community outreach events that help the city especially in this time of financial austerity,
4) The Dimoskopio is a multidisciplinary organisation whose vision is to promote and support entrepreneurship and innovation to improve the economic climate of the city.
Heraklion is a medium-sized municipal area with an urban population of around 150,000 and a rural population of around 25,000 located geographically at the edge of the European Union. As a city, it is a vibrant tourist destination and boasts over 4,000 years of history and culture. It also has a strong specialised economy with its unique agricultural products.
There are many cities in Europe that share a similar profile with that of Heraklion. This is why we believe that the Heraklion: Smart City Initiative would be very interesting for other European cities.
Heraklion’s successes in this endeavour, especially in the strong points mentioned above, can become an example and a point of reference for similar cities. The experience that Heraklion has obtained through this endeavour has created a set of case studies and good practices that can be used by other cities to create or supplement their own Smart City Strategy.
The appeal of participating in URBACT comes from the exchange of information and best practices that will mutually benefit all parties involved. Heraklion has weak points that require attention and a lot of work, and participation in URBACT will also give Heraklion the opportunity to benefit from the best practices of other cities. It is this very exchange of experiences between cities that make the presentation of these best practices interesting for all parties involved.