Smart Cities CoolWhen it comes to ‘smart cities’, Paris and San Francisco are two of the world’s leaders. They have now agreed to a research partnership, with the goal of exchanging experiences and learning from each other.

Interview with Marie-Perrine Durot, Technology Partnership Director at PRIME.

L’Atelier: Paris and San Francisco have recently signed a partnership in the field of ‘Smart and Digital Cities’. What’s the objective of this trans-Atlantic collaboration?

Marie-Perrine Durot: Becoming a ‘smart’ city is first and foremost all about getting sectors which have up to now been working independently to dialogue and work together. In the first place we need to connect up the public works and infrastructure sector, i.e. energy, water, garbage collection and processing, transportation, etc, with the world of new technologies and communications – big data, the Internet of things, smart sensors, and so on. A second revolution is needed to de-compartmentalize the roles of decision-makers, experts and citizens in the way our cities are run. There are currently a range of ‘open data’ initiatives underway with the aim of enabling cities to open up their data to the general public so as to foster innovation. A third move is for cities to break out of their geographical isolation. Cities have so much to share.  That’s the reason why we’ve embarked on the Paris- San Francisco partnership. This month a delegation of ten US experts representing cities, universities, and startups is going to Paris for the Futur en Seine digital festival taking place there from 13 to 23 June, and then on to the Nice Innovative City Convention on 18-19 June. Our aim for the partnership is that the two cities will become areas for study and experimentation, sharing their data and experiences, and come up with new solutions to meet the challenges of the 21st century city – for example managing pollution, waste, energy, traffic, urban mobility, and so on.

What can cities like Paris and San Francisco bring to each other?

The two cities have much to learn from one another: new approaches to urban mobility, water management, the future of smart grids, open data and crowdsourcing… The Paris region already has some interesting and very innovative experiments to share, such as Autolib, which is certainly one of the largest self-service electric car sharing schemes in the world. Then there’s the Paris Region Lab, an initiative which enables the city to become an experimentation area for major companies and startups to collaborate, which could well provide the city with some useful inspiration. So Paris is already launching some ambitious programs to encourage innovation in the city, and getting closer to San Francisco and the amazing Silicon Valley ecosystem is a fantastic opportunity, a source of inspiration. I’m thinking in particular of the creation of sf:citi(San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovationearly in 2012; this is an organization which aims to strengthen the link between the local authorities and local hi-tech firms. Last but not least, at a time when cities need to start making the switch to cleaner energy, the experience of Californian cities such as San Francisco, which has set the city’s public services the target of using 100% renewable electricity, will be of invaluable assistance for our cities in Europe.

How is the collaboration between the two cities going to work?

We envisage very open collaboration involving both the public and private sectors and the R&D world. Paris and San Francisco are also going to support research work undertaken by INRIA (the French National Institute for IT and Automation Research) and CITRIS (the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society), which is headquartered at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. These two institutes, which are leaders in this field, have launched a joint research program. CITRIS, which brings together over 300 faculty and thousands of students from the best universities in California, has launched the SocialApps Lab, a pioneering laboratory for developing new  models for ‘positive impact games’ apps and so on, designed to enable the city’s inhabitants to get involved and influence the development of their urban environment. In the same field, INRIA is carrying out research on new sensors which will enable data on the way people interact with the physical aspects of the town – e.g. GPS coordinates, and social data such as the number and content of Twitter messages sent – to be recorded.