This city portrait is in two parts. This first part describes the ambitious plans of the Alba Iulia City Hall as it uses tourism and strong partnerships to transform Alba Iulia into Romania’s first smart city. The second part takes a closer look at some of the more than 100 smart city solutions being implemented there.
Welcome to Alba Iulia, the First Smart City in Romania
In Alba County, Transylvania, nestles a small city with a big plan. Alba Iulia, the principality’s earlier capital and a symbol of the Great Union of Romania a hundred years ago, has set its sights on becoming Romania’s first smart city. Its pilot project, officially launched in December 2016, is set for being showcased in 2018 – with the occasion of the Romanian Centennial year – and continuing in 2019 also.
The motivation of the city’s administration was to create a more inclusive environment with greater opportunities for its residents and businesses. It aims to improve the quality of life within the city by facilitating better mobility, better healthcare, and a better education for its population, which currently stands at around 74,000 people. It also wants to build its ICT industry: its government views technology not as a luxury but as a necessity, a tool toward the simplification and cost reduction of daily life, and considers the application of integrated technologies as an enabling step toward many of its goals. It also hopes to encourage the increased engagement of its citizens within their communities, making Alba Iulia a destination of choice to live and work.
The first step toward becoming smarter was to case out solutions being applied in other smart cities and to establish a set of best practices suited to Alba Iulia’s situation (as facilitated by solutions databases such as the bee smart city database). This collection was completed in 2016 to inform the next phase of the plan. Citizen input was invited via public debate: the city’s Ministry of Communications asked what the people – businesses and academia as well as individual citizens from across the country – thought a smart Romanian city should look like by 2020, and proposals were gathered and incorporated into the guide. The ministry hopes to establish itself permanently as the go-to hub for all stakeholders as the city’s smart projects go forward.
“The City of Alba Iulia is a perfect example of how a smaller city can successfully transform into a smart city with a purpose-driven and intelligent strategy. Assessing local needs and matching these with existing best practices of other cities is the most efficient approach. Other cities can learn a lot from Alba Iulia's Smart City strategy!", states Thomas Müller, Managing Partner at bee smart city.
Alba Iulia, Tourism Capital of Romania
The implementation of Alba Iulia’s smart city strategy began with projects designed to encourage more people to visit the city, strengthening its tourism industry by targeting the city’s attractions and designing projects to restore and revitalize them. In the historical city center, the 300-year-old Alba Carolina citadel has received the most attention, being almost completely renovated from the ground up through no less than twenty separate projects dedicated to this site alone. The restoration of the citadel was supported by the European Commission’s Regional Operational Program, with over a third of the city’s 200 million EUR development funding being committed to this large-scale project. Alongside the restoration, this funding has supported the construction of new lodging and other tourist facilities as well as landscaping and the creation of new tourist attractions. The city has also invested in related transportation infrastructure such as improved roads and bicycle paths, from which its citizens can directly benefit.
The city’s projects are not just attracting attention from tourists: renewed interest in the local university has been observed, with an increase in the number of foreign students applying for courses there. A budget of 1.5 million EUR was dedicated just to the Erasmus program over the period 2015–2018, allowing students (and now staff) to travel and spend a semester at a participating academic institution and thus increasing the visibility of Alba Iulia as a destination for higher education.
“A smart city is made by people,” the city’s manager, Nicolaie Moldovan, said in a recent interview for Mediafax news agency. Alba Iulia therefore recognizes the importance of an educated workforce, but also acknowledges that significant funding for further infrastructure will be needed, as well as the development of legislation and supportive initiatives to keep smart city projects on track. While further EU funding would be very welcome, the city’s administration also has a longer-term plan. They will require “good collaboration with utilities, telecoms, transport or safety companies,” Moldovan said.
Public–Private Collaboration Protocols Fund Alba Iulia’s Smart Future
The direction of these ongoing developments planned by the city focus strongly on building up its ICT industry and using this as a basis for future products and services. The city government wants to engage participants across R&D, academia, and the general public to create a network of stakeholders capable of designing a smart Alba Iulia based on integrated technologies. Such plans don’t come without a cost, but the funding strategy planned to support the next phase of Alba Iulia’s smart city projects is forward-thinking and will itself help to make the city smarter.
When Romania joined the EU in 2007, Alba Iulia had the fortune to grow and to see increased investment. That investment is ongoing, with 35 private companies now signed up to offer over a million euros in funding to support more than 100 smart city projects in Alba Iulia, such as digital education development (digital classroom and smart education in all the schools in Alba Iulia), an intelligent public lighting system and LoRaWAN technology, a smart parking system, car sharing, e-health solutions, smart metering, smart tourism, virtual tours as part of the citadel upgrades, as well as smart e-governance and Wi-Fi for the city.
Orange Romania is one company which has formed a highly productive partnership with Alba Iulia, with the city signing off on no less than fourteen smart city solutions to be implemented within a single year. As a result of this partnership, a secure wireless network has been established that provides citizens with 4G and 4G+ internet access on public transport and across the city in 15 busses, including at the restored citadel, with a total of 230 hot spots. Since they began work, already 10% of citizens are estimated to have used the service, with an average session time of 30 minutes. In addition, sensors have been connected to monitor the city’s air quality and LoRaWAN, an IoT network of 150 further sensors spanning the whole city, which has enabled a smart LED lighting system to save power and reduce Alba Iulia’s electricity bills: a drop in consumption of 50% has already been recorded. A smart water management system based on the established network is soon expected to do the same for the city’s water consumption, and new projects currently under investigation could lower other of the city’s costs and greatly increase its sustainability.
Increasing Citizen Participation in Alba Iulia
As the data generated by the new sensor network is being made openly available, further engagement from companies and innovative individuals is expected to generate new projects and apps that could help the city and its residents to live and work smarter. Open data should also encourage citizen participation and engagement with the city as well as allowing new startups, forging partnerships between stakeholders and building the city’s knowledge-based economy. A City Analytics platform already provides access to visualizations of urban mobility within the city, and further open data platforms are currently being researched.
The municipal administration has begun leveraging Alba Iulia’s Wi-Fi network to encourage increased communication between the city and its residents. Opinions have been canvassed from at least 4,300 public transport users taking short surveys through designated portals on buses. Increased internet access within the city has also facilitated the digitization of government services, leading to a suite of apps enabling direct contact between citizens with mobile devices and the City Hall (‘CityApps’). Being developed through a partnership with Cluj IT, the package includes a CityHealth app, which allows citizens to report issues to the city’s administration and to be notified in real time regarding updates and outcomes. The project passed its test phase and it is already working. There is also a Smart Alert Alba Iulia and City Alert apps letting residents directly submit complaints. The team involved with the CityApps package is looking to create an entire digital ecosystem of e-government solutions, helping Alba Iulia to work together with its citizens to quickly identify and resolve priority issues for the community.
Some of the smart tourism solutions implemented in Alba Iulia have also been adapted for secondary uses by its citizens: the electronic guide ‘e-AlbaIulia’, designed Bluetooth connections to the city’s hot spots, was intended as an interactive tool for city discovery, providing virtual guides and treasure hunts for visitors. It is now also being used for communications between the city and its residents, sharing information about events and acting as another channel for citizen feedback.
Smart City Alba Iulia
The recent ‘Business Review Awards 2018’, judged by representatives of the Romanian business community and announced in March this year, saw the Alba Iulia City Hall listed as a finalist for its efforts to turn Alba Iulia into a smart city. The economic benefits of its initiatives are already speaking for themselves and, after the first chapter of the Alba Iulia Smart City 2018 pilot project officially closes in 2019, the ambitions of the city, its focus on attracting new visitors and investors, building its higher education and industry, and its strong and effective partnerships will keep carrying it forward into its smart future by creating a dedicated smart city department.
“Alba Iulia can act as an impressive role model for other cities. Often, smart city strategies fail in terms of execution. Alba Iulia shows how to execute a smart city strategy fast and efficiently without all the marketing hype that many other cities focus on. The City is a true hidden champion of smart city development in Europe.”, recognizes Bart Gorynski, Managing Partner of bee smart city.
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Images provided by Alba Iulia Smart City