European Week of Regions and Cities
7-10 OCTOBER 2019 Brussels

Digital Cities Challenge: A step to Achieve Digital Development in Europe

Digital Cities Challenge: A step to Achieve Digital Development in Europe

The EU sets up an initiative to help 41 cities develop and implement digital policies, facing the big societal challenges of today 

The very near future seems to be just like the present: based on digitalization. It can be said that Europe has good results in terms of digitization: 58% of European households have ultra-fast connectivity and 4G mobile networks covers 91% of the EU population.

However, 43% of Europeans still lack basic digital capabilities. There are cities in Europe that need support to take full advantage of the fourth industrial revolution and become more productive, more innovative, better places to live. As the President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, affirmed: "Citizens are waiting, we need more solutions and to achieve them we need to level up the ambition."

What is the Digital Cities Challenge?

Digital Cities Challenge was launched last year in October during the European Week of Regions and Cities to accelerate digital transformation in the cities which need a development in the technology sector. The programme counts with a limited budget (9.2 billion euros), which allows 15 cities to benefit from this project. It also counts with 20 fellow cities not paid by the programme but invited to engage digital initiative using their own resources, and six mentor cities, which are high-standard cities that offer support.

Algeciras (Spain), Sofia (Bulgaria), Ventspils (Latvia), Rijeka (Croatia) and Pori (Finland) are some of the 15 cities selected for this year.

To achieve the results, the program offers high-quality police advice, enabling city leaders and their main stakeholders to access high-level experts with local and international experience in the design and implementation of digital transformation strategies, free of charge and in their local language for 15 months.

Digital Cities Challenge offers not only mentoring from experts but also networking and collaboration opportunities. The purpose of the initiative is said to be the transformation of the life of residents of these areas as well as businesses and entrepreneurs.

Digitalization is crucial at every level

The programme tries to link the digitalization to all the sectors, trying to achieve a digital economic improvement in a global view. Markku Markkula insists on the fact that the European Union cannot solve the digital challenge in Brussels; the action needs to be local: every city and region should be responsible for their digital development, basing the process in a social and collaborative economy.

"We need more change makers, courageous enough to build a new digital world," said Markkula during the presentation.

Although the digital challenge is different in each region, the programme tries to set up a common strategy to achieve similar results. Markkula claims that the measurement of the results in numbers is important but focusing on the quality makes a difference.

Ventspils (Latvia), an example of DCC work

Ventspils, the Latvian port city on the Baltic Sea, is one of the cities which is being benefited from the work of the Digital Cities Challenge programme. The city has established a dedicated municipal institution called Ventspils Digital Centre.

It was created to provide access to the ICT for everyone, facilitate the development of necessary skills to stimulate the meaningful use of ICT and to implement Ventspils ITC sector development strategy.

There, citizens can get advice, use computers and public Wi-Fi network, print, etc. DCC has offered the city the possibility to provide digital skills training such as robotics and 3D computer graphics to students from the schools of the city. 

Egons Spalāns (Deputy Executive Director on ICT) declared that at least 16% of school-age children have attended these classes. The initiative tries to reach every level of the current digital world, working in universities as well as schools or kindergarten, helping not only students but also teachers.

 

By Laura Cuesta Ramírez (Spain)