Developing smart and sustainable cities takes great vision. Estonia has been visionary since its restoration of independence in the 90s. Today, the country is a digital leader in the world, having 99% of all its services online, together with great public trust in their security. Estonia is also the first country in the world to implement mobile positioning data (MPD) for official statistics. Countries all over the world have been trying to replicate this digital way of thinking. But it didn't come overnight – Estonia’s digital success was the result of decades of investment and experimentation. It is about much more than technology.
An innovative mindset has enabled Estonian cities to utilise big data for the benefit of its citizens. MPD is the first solution for mobility studies that provides a look of the whole city over an extended period of time, previously not available or hard to get. Where one-off surveys were the norm in the past, they can now be kept to a bare minimum. MPD offers results fast, with high accuracy and timeliness, while creating no burden to citizens.
Tallinn and Tartu - innovations hubs for smart city
Without knowing where people live and work, how they commute or where tourists go, planning a lively and functional city can be difficult. For a city to be smart it has to think about how to be truly beneficial for its residents for years to come. Developing new services often requires the non-glamorous job of data analysis and number crunching, testing solutions and seeing how those affect the most important part of any city, its people and visitors.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and Tartu, the country’s second biggest city, have set an ambitious goal to be carbon free by 2050. Therefore, using and managing green energy resources and developing an efficient public services system is a priority for them. In 2019 Tartu launched the first bike sharing system in Estonia which covers the whole city, powered with the help of green electricity. In the same year a data-driven public transport route network was introduced, using buses that run on biogas. The new route network solution was developed together with Tartu-born data analytics company Positium, and WSP Finland.
Raimond Tamm, Deputy Mayor of Tartu, commented on the project: "The former bus route network didn't match the needs of our citizens any more and therefore we looked for ways to design it in a way that reflects the real demand. So we turned to mobile positioning data and working with Positium, as they have ample experience and have developed globally recognised methods. Mobile phone data enabled Tartu to create a demand-based network by seeing where and when people commute on a daily basis. After the launch in 2019 our bus ridership went up by 10% and the number of regular passengers increased by 13%."
Mobile positioning data (MPD) provides a unique input to strategic spatial planning on the municipal, regional and national level. Similarly to Tartu, MPD was used in the Estonian capital city Tallinn to map mobility between sub-districts and work-related mobility outside the districts. As the dataset is continuous, it reveals changes over time, which is necessary for discovering actual spatial trends in a city. An extensive overview like this has proven to be especially useful in urban planning where mobility has the largest impact on the quality of life and sustainability. The project laid the foundation for new urban development planning in the North Tallinn district. “MPD is the only relevant method for getting data describing movements between various locations,” said Jaak-Aadam Looveer from the Tallinn City Planning Department after the Tallinn Urban Mobility project.
Future of smart urban development at EXPO 2020 DubaiThe official delegations of the cities Tartu and Tallinn are at the Dubai Expo 2020 on 9-13 January to share their experiences and learn from their counterparts. On 10 January, a business seminar „Creating cities of the future with the help of tech-innovation“ will be hosted at the EXPO 2020 Estonian pavilion to highlight the best examples of local level public-private partnerships. The seminar will also discuss building a future via technological innovation and examine the “connectivity” between local governments and technological enterprises, whereby the cities’ infrastructure is offered for piloting the modern and innovative solutions.