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Madrid ponders future of smart city



Programme has become a political issue in Europe's third largest city

Madrid’s public hire electric bicycles have an innovative feature aimed at ‘nudging’ riders to return them to useful places. Rentals from a station with an occupancy of 70% receive a 10 cent discount and the same bonus is given on bikes returned to a ‘deficit’ station, with less than 30% occupancy useful places.

The idea is an example of imaginative uses of data in Europe’s third largest city. Now Madrid, which elected a new mayor early this year, is considering what more it can do with data, and for whose benefit.

The city’s starting point is a Smart City programme launched in 2014 under a contract with IBM’s subsidiary INSA. Under the programme, the city is implementing a technology platform called Madrid iNTeligente (MiNT) – Smarter Madrid - which will enable 3.25 million citizens to instantly communicate with the city about issues, receive instant feedback and track progress or the status of an event or issue.

When the contract was signed, an example of promised benefits was the ability to report a leaking fire hydrant. "A citizen will be able to upload a photo and location to alert officials who will tackle the problem and inform citizens when it will be fixed," the city authority and IBM said in a joint statment.

Big data and analytics are also due to improve services such as trees and green spaces, cleaning and waste management.

MiNT has a budget of €15 million over four years beginning in January 2014.


However, in June this year, the city elected a new mayor, Manuela Carmena, who wants the project realigned. Earlier this month she said that, despite the money invested in smart city technology, "there is no clear database of social services" with information about her highest priority - malnourished children. She blamed "a lack of clear design over what the programme wanted to achieve with these technologies."

Carmena has now opened a consultation saying: "Smart cities and technological structures should always be for citizenship.”

How this will play out in real terms remains to be seen. But some commentators are already pointing to Madrid as an example of a city reclaiming the agenda from IT companies. Writing in the Guardian this week, BBC economics commentator Paul Mason said: “City governments must stop being patsies to the IT giants and start to think, from first principles, what technology would look like if it served the people.”


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