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How to face the challenge of limited financial resources?

Large-scale investment projects are an important way of improving the quality of life in a city but they are not the only option. Small local projects have a significant impact on the city development as well.

Among key and as considered by many one of the most difficult city challenges is to obtain sufficient financial resources to carry out the planned projects. The financial crisis has significantly scaled down the public funds, and hence public budgets. On the other hand, the citizens’ expectations remain high. For the undisturbed provision of basic city services to its residents cities must constantly and often attain various financial and other resources in innovative manners. If, however, the city also plans or carries out extensive infrastructure projects, then the challenge of achieving the set goals is even greater.

Recently the European Commission published an encouraging news about European Parliament confirmation of the funds for Juncker’s plan aimed to promote European economic growth and employment. The plan aims to provide visibility and technical assistance to investment projects and therefore improve the use of new and existing financial resources with at least 315 billion euros in three years. As a part of Juncker’s plan the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) will be launched this autumn. The Fund is an initiative launched jointly by the EIB Group and the European Commission to help overcome the current investment gap in the EU by mobilising private financing for strategic investments. EFSI will transfer the €5 billion capital from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and a €16 billion guarantee fund towards mobilization of additional investments in the following areas:

  • Infrastructure: transport, energy, digital, environment, urban and social sectors.

  • Education and training, health, R&D, ICT, innovation.

  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency.

  • Support to SMEs and mid-cap companies.

9 projects have already been approved for EFSI funding by the EIB. For example, the city of Vienna managed to obtain funding for the project in the context of their overall healthcare plan »Vienna’s hospitals concept 2030« with the aim of ensuring efficient and unique medical services to city residents. Within the project, the city will renovate and modernize three outdated hospitals.

Even though large-scale investment projects are an important way of improving the quality of life in a city they are not the only option. Small local projects have a significant impact on the city development as well. The city does not have to lead such projects or even be (extensively) financially involved, if the city efficiently motivates and directs the potential of its citizens.

An interesting local project started a few years ago in the city of Birmingham where enthusiastic city residents gathered in the »Hackathon« weekend event to discuss the topics such as smart cities, search for useful ideas and use computer programming to create solutions for the Birmingham smart city. After several years the event expanded and upgraded. This year, information on the key city challenges, which could be solved by using the appropriate technology, were obtained by a short survey. Based on the results and ideas received, the Hackathon participants developed four practical projects that could help Birmingham become a smart city:

  • creation of a monitoring system for abandoned, blighted and tax-delinquent properties in the city area,

  • mobile food market: mobile application for ordering groceries, finding market/store locations, and more,

  • application for monitoring the safety in the parks and promoting special events, and

  • a tool for the city administration data conversion.

The phenomenon where volunteers offer their free time and expertise to create new technological or other smart urban solutions has become a real trend on a global level and represents an innovative way of developing useful urban solutions that many cities wouldn’t be able to develop by themselves. Of course, there are limits to what can be achieved free of charge. In order to achieve the best possible results it is still crucial to use professional smart city platforms as well.

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