The Smart City is the Start-Up City

Lots cities are vying for the title 'Smart City.' but Tel Aviv has a reason to brag
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai surfs the Internet under a roof of 600 colorful umbrellas decorating Rothschild Boulevard, announcing the new 'Wi-Fi cloud' in the city in 2013. (photo credit: Kfir Sivan)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai surfs the Internet under a roof of 600 colorful umbrellas decorating Rothschild Boulevard, announcing the new 'Wi-Fi cloud' in the city in 2013. (photo credit: Kfir Sivan)

The annual Smart City Expo in Barcelona, is much like New York Fashion Week. Rather than famous designers presenting haute couture fashion for next season, you can find cutting edge tech giants revealing sci-fi concepts of smart and sexy mega-cities.
Projects that take detailed planning and design into consideration, are flaunted by famous powerhouses such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. Mega companies take the stage and present technological concepts that can change how we live in the cities we love. The Smart City Competition serves as the grand finale of the Expo, wherein cities around the world compete for the renowned title, The Smartest City of the World. Sassy and cutting edge, the 2014 expo winner and holder of the title is the apple in the tech world’s eye- Tel Aviv, Israel.

Tel Aviv, the metropolis known to many as Start Up City, has committed to transforming itself into a Smart City. The greater Tel Aviv metropolis includes 3.2 million people and is among the top three global business hubs in the Middle East, alongside Dubai and Istanbul. The city has developed a leading reputation for its technology and innovation capacity and has been rated the second most dynamic startup ecosystem in the world after Silicon Valley, based on the Startup Genome “Top 100 Innovation Cities”.

Tel Aviv’s new “Digitel” Platform, supported by Microsoft CityNext technology has flourished- demonstrating the commitment of the city to connecting its people. Both residents and tourists alike benefit from an innovative and highly personalized platform of information and connectivity. The Digitel platform serves as a personalized recommendation engine, helping residents and visitors alike to enjoy the bounty Tel Aviv has to offer. Young singles can receive recommendations of local bars, parties, and even for pop-up street parties for which the city is infamous. Parents, on the other hand, can receive real-time notifications of fun family activities nearby. Digitel will recommend age appropriate activities and places for some family fun.

The adoption of Big Data practices together with the mass deployment of free Wi-fi across Tel Aviv, have provided the city with a cutting edge platform for improving citizen services. The Smart City Expo jury panel particularly commended the Roll-out of the Digitel model as a benchmark and a pioneer of new models for public engagement in key aspects such as urban development and participatory budgeting.

In addition to the municipality’s efforts to engage the residents of Tel Aviv, the city itself is the home of many “Smart City” applications such as Waze (Acquired by Google), Moovit, GetTaxi, Breezeometer, as well as many other startups that have expanded globally. Never the one to fall behind, Tel Aviv is planning on being the first city in the world to launch an automated transit network (ATN) system, also known as the SkyTran.

Though the smart city culture is famous in its own right, what really makes Tel Aviv tick is its people. Sitting in their Rothschild Boulevard offices coding or drinking espresso at the local trendy cafe, many Telavivians dream of building their own start up. An “exit” to Google or Facebook for billions of dollars is the ultimate Telavivan dream. Entrepreneurs (also known as Startapistim) are the new pop star idols and the city is packed with more than 50 Accelerators and the largest number of start-ups per capita.

Like any other city in the world, Tel Aviv still faces many challenges. One of the city’s biggest challenges today is public transportation. Since public transportation is not allowed on Sabbath (which accounts for more than 15% of the week) and since parking is relatively cheap, the city suffers from major congestion problems. Hopefully a new metro line together with a network of underground streets, can promote a more walkable and bicycle friendly city, resulting in reduced congestion and air pollution.

Whether you are an urban planner, a technologist, or a fashion designer, Tel Aviv is a city worth paying a visit. Enjoy the white sand beaches and Bauhaus architecture while discovering Tel Aviv’s secrets using its Smart City application. You’ll quickly see why Tel Aviv was the winning project in the Smart Cities conference, and we hope that you bring some new ideas of your own to the city that’s always ready and open for innovation.

About the Author
Omri Ziv is a Smart Cities Technology Specialist. Omri holds a Bachelor's Degree in Management of Information Systems from the Tel Aviv Academic College and is currently earning his MBA at at Tel Aviv University.
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