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Technologies in cities

Technology in cities

EUI-Innovative Actions (EUI-IA) Calls for Proposals are dedicated to topics aligned with the New Leipzig Charter and the European Union’s priorities, such as the green and digital transitions, as well as the Urban Agenda for the EU. 'Technology in cities' will be the one of the topics of the third EUI-IA Call for proposals to be opened on May 2024.

Definition and context of the topic

One of the European Commission’s six priorities[1] is to ensure that digital technology serves sustainable growth, improves quality of life and secures Europe’s leadership in the global economy. Emerging technologies can be an important ally in developing inclusive, safer, resilient and sustainable cities.

Innovation, and in particular its new wave of deep-tech innovation, is the EU’s reply to global commitment to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, to make our economies more digital and to guarantee Europe’s food, energy, and raw materials security. The New European Innovation Agenda[2] provides for actions to mobilise cities and regions through “regional innovation valleys” in view of accelerating the deployment of deep tech innovation.

The EU is pursuing a human-centric and sustainable vision for a digital society to empower citizens and businesses. Multi-country projects are supported by the Digital Europe[3] programme 2030 in order to boost European digital capacities and capabilities centred around four thematical objectives: digital skills, digital infrastructure, digital transformation of businesses and digitalisation of public services.

To help building a resilient Europe’s Digital Decade[4], public administrations, citizens and businesses should be able to enjoy the benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) while feeling safe and protected. The European AI Strategy aims at making the EU a world-class hub for AI and ensuring that AI is human-centric and trustworthy. Such an objective translates into the European approach to excellence and trust through concrete rules and actions.

Alongside with AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) enables us to merge the physical and the virtual worlds. It offers innovative solutions and allows us to create smart environments. IoT technologies are at the forefront of the world economy’s digital transformation. Data collected from IoT sensors can be monitored and fed back to a central system to trigger an action, gain insights or respond to another connected object, hundreds of kilometres away.

Data is another essential resource from the digital world with a great potential for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation and societal progress in general.  The development of data-driven applications will bring various benefits to public administration, citizens and businesses:  better policymaking and public services, improved healthcare, new products and services, while reducing the costs of public services and improving their sustainability and efficiency.

In this context, the Cohesion funds contribute to the development of an inclusive digital society where citizens, research organisations, businesses and public administrations take full advantage of the opportunities that digitalisation offers. Effective e-government at national, regional and local level involves developing tools as well as rethinking organisation and processes, in order to deliver public services more effectively, easily, quickly and at a lower cost. In particular, digital and telecommunication technologies can be used to enhance traditional networks and services for the benefit of local communities through developing projects such as smart cities and villages.

Special attention is given by Cohesion policy to tackling environmental and climate challenges, in particular the transition towards a climate-neutral economy by 2050, to harnessing the potential of digital technologies for innovation purposes, and to support the development of functional urban areas[5].

Cohesion policy has been contributing to Europe’s efforts to deploy digital technology to reach growth and sustainability goals for over a decade. For the 2021-2027 period, Cohesion policy has planned more than EUR 40 billion of investments in digitisation through the 2021-2027 programmes funded by ERDF, ESF+, the Cohesion Fund, Interreg and the Just Transition Fund.

Under the topic “Technology in cities” the European Urban Initiative (EUI) aims at supporting the testing of innovative solutions powered by new technologies in real life settings for better services to citizens and/or for boosting local authorities’ capacities to offer these services, via experimentations that could be replicated at a wider scale with the help of the Cohesion policy investments.

The topic “Technology in the cities” contributes to and has links with a number of EU policies and initiatives such as the EU Green Deal, EU fit for the Digital Age, EU Mission on Climate-neutral and Smart Cities, EU Security Union Strategy, EU Cybersecurity Strategy, New European Bauhaus Initiative, Harnessing Talent in Europe’s Regions, European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.

It also builds on the achievements from the Urban agenda for the EU thematic Partnership on “Digital transition” and the actions developed for better regulation, funding and knowledge in the area[6].

The European Commission aims at reaching a balanced portfolio of projects meeting the highest quality standards while reflecting the geographical, spatial and demographic diversities of European cities. Project proposals are expected to be highly experimental, consequently not likely to be funded by traditional or mainstream sources of funding.

Relevance for and role of urban authorities

Cities are places of pluralism, creativity and solidarity. Cultural and political traditions have been foundations for the development of cities reflecting democratic rights and values. Cities are also laboratories for new forms of problem-solving and test beds for social innovation.

Cities are faced with numerous and increasing complex challenges but also have new technological tools at hand to better address them. The technology, data, and information are playing increasingly important roles in the life of citizens and shifting the power dynamics of our society. Cities are at the forefront on this technological change. Due to their specific ecosystem with high population and infrastructure density, cities are constituting prime locations for new technologies to be implemented, and for data to be produced, collected and shared to optimise the benefits of new technologies by multiple stakeholders.

There is no limit to the potential of new technologies to help cities to improve public services, better interact with local businesses and citizens and help them to be involved (active and participative democracy), increase productivity and address sustainability challenges.

By creating innovative and inclusive urban communities to test and use the new technologies for a better urban governance, new dynamics could be induced in the urban ecosystem, tools and processes replying to the specific needs of the city identified, and/or co-created within local and regional innovation clusters or digital hubs.

The recent development of less costly sensors, combined with the spread of mobile and highspeed internet and the miniaturisation of computing technology, have opened the way for a new technological revolution. The Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), the high resolution global positioning system (GPS), big data, Blockchain technology, virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR), Digital Twins with embedded AI base components and AR/VR and new building materials and techniques are expected to transform cities’ core functioning elements and transform the way our citizens live and interact in urban areas.

Within this context, local authorities should focus on finding new place-based, citizen-centric solutions that address the community needs and respond to economic, social and environmental local challenges, while ensuring data privacy and security. These technologies used in urban context will need to work together seamlessly and be inclusive to benefit all citizens.

Issues of public control and ownership of local data accumulated via new technologies should be carefully and transparently assessed, particularly in cases where services are externalised to third parties that could potentially misuse such information. Applications created for the benefits of the community should be free, open source and user-friendly. Technologies in themselves are neutral – but the way they are managed will determine the real impacts on city life.

Project proposals on the ‘Technology in cities’ topic should therefore not be elaborated in isolation from medium to longer term goals of applicant cities, as expressed for instance, in Sustainable Urban development strategies of Cohesion policy[7] or any other city-level strategic document. Such an embedding in relevant urban strategies and plans will be weighted in project proposals’ strategic assessment[8].

Prompts for urban authorities

Without being prescriptive in terms of response expected, that may vary significantly from one city to the other in view of their size, inner characteristics and challenges, applicants are invited to consider the themes and issues listed below when preparing their project proposals. Testing measures linked to more than one of these themes and issues, in an integrated manner, is also possible and highly recommended for the topic of this call. 

  • Ensuring better and adapted public services by facilitating the access to quality services, lowering the administrative burden for citizens, creating new adaptive services, improving the management of the public infrastructure, enhancing the transparency and efficiency, ensuring real time exchange of information with users, reducing costs transaction time and errors. Emphasis must be placed on cost reduction, automation, acceleration, and simplification of administrative procedures. To combat the digital divide, support to the most vulnerable in the digital transition must be part of any proposed change.
  • Consolidating the multilevel and multistakeholder governance, ensuring an effective participatory democracy and stimulate innovation and competitiveness by increasing the number of local stakeholders and citizens actively and structurally involved in the strategic planning and decision-making process but also enhancing the co-design and co-creation approaches for instance, to build gender equality into urban planning; by developing the organisational, regulatory and governance structure that provides the environment and conditions to support a culture of innovation and facilitate partnerships between cities, universities and local businesses, to create/enhance the innovation and smart specialisation dynamics. Smart Communities AR/VR digital twinning could also be used for enabling informed decision-making processes through advanced modelling techniques and natural immersive interfaces empowering city stakeholders and citizens (CitiVERSE).
  • Mastering the digital transformation, local data collection and sharing while ensuring the highest standards for data privacy by exploring how cities can collect, use, store, share sub-city level data, with increased granularity, in order to facilitate and to improve the delivery of services to their citizens, to help to the decision-making process based on data management, to contribute to the local economic development and innovation, to the skilling and reskilling of the most vulnerable, to promote jobs and new businesses creation and to attract and retain talents.
  • Perfecting the Spatial planning and land use and industrial zoning by using technologies in the strategic and spatial planning, for ensuring harmonious and optimal urban and peri-urban development. Cities need to find innovative ways in using new technologies to optimise the balance between the needs of various land uses such as housing, spatial activation of industrial zones, brownfield remediation and redevelopment, public space, social services.
  • Ensuring better services, digital and physical accessibility, and inclusion of persons with disabilities and older population by increasing active participation in the governance system of the city, by collecting and analysing specific data on the local specific needs and experiences, in order to create/adjust local policy, allocate resources, improve services and create adapted smart street and/or infrastructure equipment/furniture for the sake of equal access to urban spaces, public transport and/or buildings; by developing free and open source, user-friendly mobile applications that cater to various disabilities (e.g. screen readers, voice commands, large fonts). The proposed projects should support the integration of persons with disabilities and an active ageing policy, with a specific attention on measures for labour market inclusion, lifelong learning, and retaining talent.
  • Safe, secure and resilient cities by redesigning urban spaces for the citizens to be less exposed to climate change and other threats based on vulnerability assessment and scenarios, by proposing new innovative services, infrastructure and equipment contributing also to the resilience of critical infrastructures and public spaces, by elaborating and using prevention and crisis management plans and techniques, accompanied by specialised trainings for local practitioners and raising awareness techniques among citizens; by enhancing capacities of local administrations in cooperation with citizens and stakeholders to fight organised (cyber)crime.

Among the various areas to be explored to make EU cities safer, secure and more resilient, applicants could consider:

  • Strengthening prevention and mitigation of natural and man-made disasters (industrial risks, extreme weather, wildfires, earthquakes, public health risks, security threats) in urban areas by integrating technologies in predictive and preventive policies, plans and projects used as new ways to build diverse scenarios, to anticipate environmental and climate challenges and economic risks as well as associated social transformations and health concerns.
  • Ensuring food security in urban and functional areas: considering the increased impacts of climate change and the biodiversity crisis, cities have a key role in shaping "food environments”. New technologies could be used in urban areas in a way that may create innovative, inclusive, and integrated ways to connect with local farmers, with the aim of creating functional areas for sustainable and resilient food systems.
  • Cybersecurity: by including strategic foresight and proactive cybersecurity risk management processes in their plans and designs for integrating new technologies into their infrastructure systems; by proactively managing the ICT supply chain risk of any new technology used in cities’ infrastructure and/or services. Ensuring cybersecurity in cities while actively involving citizens requires a multifaceted approach with due account of education and awareness raising with a focus on most vulnerable publics.

Cohesion policy targets

 

  • Specific objective 1.1 for a more competitive and smarter Europe by “developing and enhancing research and innovation capacities and the uptake of advanced technologies”.
  • Specific objective 1.2 for a more competitive and smarter Europe by “reaping the benefits of digitisation for citizens, companies, research organisations and public authorities”.
  • Specific objective 1.4 for a more competitive and smarter Europe by “developing skills for smart specialisation, industrial transition and entrepreneurship”.
  • Specific objective 1.5 for a more competitive and smarter Europe by “enhancing digital connectivity”.
  • Specific objective 2.4 for a greener Europe by “promoting climate change adaptation and disaster risk prevention and resilience, taking into account eco-system based approaches”.
  • Specific objective 4.1 for a more social and inclusive Europe by “enhancing the effectiveness and inclusiveness of labour markets and access to quality employment through developing social infrastructure and promoting social economy”.
  • Specific objective 4.2 for a more social and inclusive Europe by “improving equal access to inclusive and quality services in education, training and lifelong learning through developing accessible infrastructure, including by fostering resilience for distance and on-line education and training”.
  • Specific objective 4.3 for a more social and inclusive Europe by “promoting the socioeconomic inclusion of marginalised communities, low-income households and disadvantaged groups, including people with special needs, through integrated actions, including housing and social services".
  • Specific objective 5.1 for a Europe closer to citizens by “fostering the integrated and inclusive social, economic and environmental development, culture, natural heritage, sustainable tourism and security in urban areas”.

Result and output indicators

Project proposals will be assessed, among other criteria, on their ability to achieve credible results and on the soundness of their methodology to measure these results.

In the context of the topic “Technology in cities” in particular, urban authorities are invited to define a set of indicators capturing, in an integrated way, the interrelated co-benefits (e.g. enterprises supported, citizens engagements, jobs and labour force, trained local actors or citizens etc.)  that their project proposals would generate.

In their applications, urban authorities may refer to any of the indicators listed below, whenever relevant for their project ideas. The list is not prescriptive or exhaustive. It includes indicators that do not correlate explicitly with the subject matter of the topic but which can be of help to express tangible results and are thus worth considering. Such indicators should be complemented by indicators relevant to the specific project.

Urban authorities remain free to define their own project specific indicators, while considering those listed, in order to reflect in the clearest and most convincing way the changes, which their project has the potential to accomplish. 

Output indicators

  • Citizens involved in the preparation and co-implementation of the project; (measurement unit: persons).
  • Enterprises cooperating with research organisations (measurement unit: enterprises working with research organisations).
  • Enterprises supported (of which: micro, small, medium, large) (measurement unit: enterprises).
  • New enterprises supported (measurement unit: new enterprises).
  • New equipment created and/or supported (measurement unit: new equipment).
  • New products and services created (measurement unit: new products/services).
  • People supported (trained, upskilled, accompanied or assisted) (measurement unit: persons).
  • Population covered by projects in the framework of integrated actions for socio-economic inclusion of marginalised communities, low-income households and disadvantaged groups (measurement unit: persons).
  • Stakeholders involved in the preparation and co-implementation of the project (measurement unit: participations of stakeholders).
  • Value of digital services, products and processes developed for enterprises (measurement unit: euro).
  • Investments in new or upgraded disaster monitoring, preparedness, warning and response systems against natural disasters (measurement unit: euro).
  • Investments in new or upgraded disaster monitoring, preparedness, warning and response systems against non-climate related natural risks and risks related to human activities (measurement unit: euro).

Result indicators

  • Apprenticeships supported in SMEs (measurement unit: persons).
  • Jobs created in supported entities (measurement unit: annual FTEs).
  • Level of participation achieved in the engagement with local communities – information, consultation, co-creation, co-decision (measurement unit: percentage of the local population engaged).
  • SMEs introducing product, process, marketing or organisational innovation, trademark and design applications (measurement unit: enterprises).
  • SMEs staff completing training for skills for smart specialisation, for industrial transition and entrepreneurship (by type of skill: technical, management, entrepreneurship, green, other) (measurement unit: participants).
  • Users of new and upgraded digital services, products and processes (measurement unit: users/year).
  • Population benefiting from flood protection measures (measurement unit: percentage of the local population protected).
  • Population benefiting from wildfire protection measures (measurement unit: percentage of the local population protected).
  • Population benefiting from protection measures against climate related natural disasters (other than floods and forest fires) (measurement unit: percentage of the local population protected).
  • Population benefiting from protection measures against non-climate related natural risks and risks related to human activities (measurement unit: percentage of the local population protected).
  • Annual users of new or modernised facilities for employment services (measurement unit: users/year).
  • Annual users of new or modernised e-health care services (measurement unit: users/year).
  • Annual users of new or modernised social care facilities (measurement unit: users/year).

[5] Article 11 of the Regulation (EU) 2021/1058 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 June 2021 on the ERDF an on the CF.

[7] Article 11 of the Regulation (EU) 2021/1058 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 June 2021 on the European Regional Development Fund and on the Cohesion Fund.

[8] See section 3.2 of the EUI-IA guidance for applicants for further details on the selection procedure.