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Trikala, Greece’ s first smart city, offers cause for optimism

The historic city of Trikala, set among the green fields of Greece’ s agricultural heartland, with a population of 82,000 people, does not look like a prime candidate for a smart city but it has managed to become the country’ s first, piloting many successful smart city projects and providing optimism for the potential of other Greek cities.

Trikala has a reputation for innovation that dates back to 2004, when Greece’ s Ministry of Economics named it the nation’ s first digital city. In 2014, when Dimitris Papastergiou became mayor, eager to implement grand, tech-savvy plans, there was absolutely no budget for them, with the city being €45 million in debt and the financial crisis in full swing.

The city, however, managed to implement several smart solutions by international collaboration with partners and by applying for funding from external sources, such as the European Commission. Its most famous initiative was the driverless bus pilot, which operated for six months gathered extensive coverage inside and outside Greece, and was completed successfully, inspiring a traditionally-minded community to embrace technological change.

The initiative which had the greatest impact on citizen’ s lives, however, was probably the e-complaint system, which led to issues such as the replacement of broken streetlamps being resolved far more quickly and with much greater transparency than before. Since the start of the year, the municipality has received about 4,000 requests and comments, with 10% came from a smartphone app. An experiment with sensor-equipped streetlights slashed electricity usage by 70%. In addition, the city pursues many other smaller initiatives, and has even more ambitious plans for the future.

The municipality hopes that receiving funding and implementing high-tech projects will create jobs, especially for young people, and fight one of the biggest problems in Trikala: brain drain. The success of such initiatives offers hope for the rest of Greece, as about 420,000 people, mostly young graduates, have emigrated since the financial crash in 2008. The youth unemployment rate, which includes students, reached 50% in 2013 and is still hovering around 44%, the highest in the EU. In this climate, the rigorous pursuit of smart city solutions might help the country get out of the financial crisis.

The original article can be found on The Guardian.