In Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the Hauts-de-Seine, children are taught using interactive videos, their parents pay for parking on their smartphones and senior citizens are improving their memory with help from a robot. This town of 65,000 inhabitants is already one of the best connected in France, and has been contemplating the theme of the smart city for some time:with an open data policy, the creation of a smart grid, smart mobility projects and more.We interviewed Eric Legale, the Managing Director of Issy Média, the local public company responsible for the town’s communication tasks and innovation projects.
issy-Les-Moulineaux, a totally Digital town for everyBODY
When we think about the smart city, we often think of Issy-les-Moulineaux, why is that?
Eric Legale: In Issy-les-Moulineaux, we began our digital strategy a long time ago: this year we are celebrating 20 years since the creation of the first free Internet access point for inhabitants. We have been investing in digital technology in order to develop the local fabric, strengthen our economic competitiveness and attract new businesses and new inhabitants. Innovation is in our DNA. We are trying to stay one step ahead – that’s why we like to experiment – while staying practical and helping inhabitants use this technology.
What innovative digital technology can the inhabitants of Issy-les-Moulineaux already use?
Today, inhabitants of Issy-les-Moulineaux have access to all of the local administrative services online. Everything that can possibly be offered in a digital format is there for them to use. For example, they can pay for their children’s school lunches online, reserve a time slot in the leisure centres on Wednesday afternoon or on the weekend, pay for car parking on their mobile phone or borrow a DVD from one of the local multimedia libraries and return it on a Sunday night if they want using an electronic returns system. At school the children work with interactive video technology. This week, we also just gave the local senior citizens a Nao robot that does gym classes with them and helps them to exercise their memory.
“Digital services are offered in every branch of our activities, for all groups of the population and all age groups.”
Right now we’re working on a lot of mobility projects, testing smartphone applications in particular, that will allow inhabitants to find a car parking space, to use a private car park or even to see where the bus is in real time, so that they don’t miss it when it’s just around the corner.
How do the inhabitants of Issy-les-Moulineaux feel about the town becoming more digital?
The population is extremely well-connected to the Internet, and it’s been like this for many years. Inhabitants use the Internet a lot and encourage its development. When people complain it’s not because of the services we offer, but that they don’t have enough “very, very, high-speed” access (however, Issy-les-Moulineaux will be the first town with over 50,000 inhabitants to be 100% fibre optic by the end of this year). When it comes to digital services, people use them at their own pace, if and when they need to:
“Our desire isn’t to impose them on people. What I mean is, these digital services exist and can make life easier, you can choose to use them or leave them… It’s a very pragmatic strategy. “
What is the town’s policy in terms of open data?
We began our open data policy three years ago. We started with the data from the town council budget… The bravest move that a council can make! We recently obtained a new platform from Open Data Soft, to simplify how this data is displayed. Actually, one of the main difficulties of open data is that this is raw data we’re talking about! Today, dozens of different types of data have been put on line and we are trying to get inhabitants and developers interested.
the smart city must nOt be an exclusively technical vision
How do you define the smart city?
There are several definitions of a smart city. The one I like the most is the most obvious:
“For us, a smart city is a city that cares about its environment, that can avoid traffic congestion, that manages its consumption of energy and water and has communication tools at its disposal that make it simpler for citizens to use all of these services.”
We sometimes quote the 6 levers of smart cities. My favourite lever is the social lever: the smart city is first and foremost a community of men and women that must have access to education, culture and services. Next, through infrastructure and the use of digital technology we can improve the management of the city – its energy use and transport. What’s more, in the future this is actually what will make the difference between a connected city and all the other. In connected cities citizens will have a raised awareness of their energy use and the tools they need to manage this consumption.
I’ll give you a very concrete example: For three years we have been working on a project called the Issy Grid. Initially this was to see how we could save electricity during peak hours in an office building. Today, this project has widened to include residential buildings, especially those in Fort d’Issy. In this eco-district, all of the inhabitants have a domotics system that allows them to visualise their electricity use and take action accordingly – easily managing the thermostat for example. Consequently they can lower their energy use and also the cost of their electricity bill. We are also working on transport issues and trying to lead by example. With digital technology there are promising ways for reducing traffic jams, improving air quality, reducing pollution and mitigating climate change.
“In our vision, the smart city can only be made a reality if there is unfailing cooperation between the public and private sectors, because nobody is capable of making it happen alone.”
Issy Grid was set up thanks to a consortium of ten large companies including Bouygues, Microsoft, Total, EDF and Schneider Electric. On the question of transport, we’re still in the preliminary stages, but we’re working in partnership with a lot of start-ups and with large groups like Cisco, Microsoft, Transdev etc.
Can you already see the results of these actions?
It’s still difficult to measure. The best result we’ve had is that in 20 years the number of jobs in Issy-les-Moulineaux has more than doubled, and the number of inhabitants has increased by 35% while housing tax has decreased by 30%. These figures show us that by investing in digital technology we can ensure the town excels in its economic and social development. The smart city is a new concept. We’ve been working on energy use for three years, but transport is still tentative… We have to allow enough time for the results to show.
How do you think France fares in comparison with other countries on the smart city theme?
There aren’t really any truly convincing models of the smart city around the world.Generally the best examples are projects that have risen out of nowhere. In other words new cities, often in South Korea, or the Arabian Peninsula. These cities are excellent technically-speaking, but lack a soul. A city is above all the men and women that live in it. They are what make it what it is. If you just build buildings with a lot of connections and put human beings in them, it’s sterile.
“When we talk about smart cities, we need to emphasise the fact that, first of all, we are building a city for the people who live there and not just for personal gratification. We’re not making a computer-aided city, we’re setting up tools so that we can be more efficient and simplify life for citizens. I think we have to keep repeating that the smart city is not a technical vision, but a place to live, that excels thanks to its digital technology. “
Today, smart grid projects are popping up everywhere and smart mobility projects are appearing.The Internet has existed for 20 years, and there are thousands of cities that are highly-advanced in terms of digital uses.So right now France is doing pretty well!