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A smart apps toolkit for connected cities

Projects news & results: 18/03/2014 - 16:17
Connectivity and city governments are a winning combination, with dedicated city apps providing online access to local services and data. What if developers could deliver new apps faster, using an app from one city to build one for another?

Smart city apps use the internet and mobile connectivity to make local services more accessible to citizens. They also help city governments save money on providing information and services. So naturally, local governments are inspired by technology giants like Google, Facebook and Netflix to develop their own apps for sharing data with citizens.

But software developers are interested in wider markets for their apps than just one city, and another city’s good idea can be timeconsuming and expensive to replicate. One solution is to develop comparable programming interface standards for different cities so that one app can be easily applied locally elsewhere.

First, cities need to create their own internal standards for data, which is not easy. Mark Headd, who works on this issue as the US city of Philadelphia’s first chief data officer, says on his blog: “Creating open data standards for cities is really, really hard. It’s also really, really important.”1

It is only when these standards are in place that cities can develop apps that use the data. And once one city can share an app with another, a myriad of new possibilities becomes available.

In Europe, the CitySDK project is taking this next step, aiming to unify interfaces across cities. Using shared application development tools, apps developed for Helsinki and Lisbon are being scaled up to other cities. Together with Amsterdam, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lamia, Lisbon, Manchester and Rome, these cities are helping create a toolkit of open, comparable interface specifications, which will apply to three target areas: mobility, tourism and participation (for reporting issues directly to local government departments).

CitySDK application programming interfaces (APIs) offer a onestop- shop for developers, who will be able to make better apps and services for end users more cheaply and quickly. Cross- European dataset standards will make it easy to scale up applications and grow a smart city app developer community. And if standards and software are open-source, cities can easily implement and adapt APIs and apps for local needs.

The APIs developed for the project have had very positive outcomes for the cities involved. For example, the CitySDK mobility API has produced the OpenData Globe application. This visualizes data, such as live public transport data, for nine European cities, including five in the project. The CitySDK tourism API enabled the award-winning cross-city app ‘Spot’ series which provides information on transport routes, events and tourist attractions for Helsinki, Lisbon, and Lamia.

The APIs have gained interest beyond local governments. In Helsinki, the CitySDK issue-reporting API has also been used by media company Sanoma, the Korjaa Kaupunki association and some SMEs.

These days, cities need to manage changing and emerging datasets, electronic devices, software applications and apps – a challenging task. With the CitySDK APIs, cities can keep on top of these tasks and use innovative apps and services to change the way citizens interact with them: whether by getting feedback on bus stops, sharing tourist routes or reporting potholes.

With the CitySDK APIs developers can build scalable solutions that improve everyday life for urban residents. And the best part is that any city can join the smart team.

  1. www.civic.io/2013/02/26/on-data-standards-for-cities/

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