Smart Cities & Urban Innovation- state of Israeli Urban Innovation
While Israel, like many other countries, still follows the “6 vector paradigm” (Smart mobility, People, Economy, Environment, Government and Living, known as Boyd-Cohen’s Smart City Wheel), more and more Israeli cities are freeing themselves from the ‘big-vendor-oriented solutions’. Instead, they are adopting challenge-based processes focusing on solutions that can improve lives and the cost-efficiency of governing cities with dynamic changes striving to be real smart cities. Writes Architect Rafi Rich, SUiTS & MiDCityLabs IL. .
The urban environment in the 21st century is exposed to great stresses and challenges: uncontrolled urban growth is creating pressure on infrastructure and public services; climate change is reducing accessibility to natural resources, while leaving societies vulnerable to the effects of natural hazards such as floods widening the social gaps between the rich and the poor; and new social structures are changing existing communities, social involvement and ownership of common goods.
While Israel is the “Startup Nation”, Israel is also an Urban Nation with over 93% of the population living in cities and urban environment, little space for expansion and a constant population growth of 2% per annum. Housing infrastructure and quality of living have become real challenges. Over 20 cities doubled their population through citywide masterplans to be implemented within the next ten years. However, housing is not only the roof we need over our heads but also housing at a price we can afford. We seek a quality of life including work, play and study near our residence and mobility which will not cost too much money or time. These changes which resonate with the Indian experience and a worldwide phenomenon, are some of the accelerators for the Israel Smart City ecosystem.
While Israel, like many other countries, still follows the “6 vector paradigm” (Smart mobility, People, Economy, Environment, Government and Living, known as Boyd-Cohen’s Smart City Wheel), more and more Israeli cities are freeing themselves from the ‘big-vendor-oriented solutions’. Instead, they are adopting challenge-based processes focusing on solutions that can improve lives and the cost-efficiency of governing cities with dynamic changes striving to be real smart cities. This approach is based on a needs and opportunities rather than brands and globalism.
For Example, the city of Hadera (100,000 residents) is planning a major development which will grow the urban population by 50%. Its major smart city plan is aimed at reducing private transportation to 50% through dynamic mobility solutions. It also includes localized energy systems and smart water policies to eliminate potable water use in public areas. This plan is meant to address real challenges and needs via a synergy of innovative master-planning and utilization of new technologies and management concepts.
Ofakim (30,000 residents) was built in the first years of the nation as an immigrant town, with one of largest percentage of unemployed population. After years of economic stagnation, Ofakim is planning to than double the size and population of the city, utilize electrical shared mobility solutions, connect old and new neighborhoods, and implement shared economy policies to improve financial capacities and economic growth.
Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, is becoming a solar smart energy mecca due to its distance from the single-managed Israeli electrical grid and its need for energy independency.
Jerusalem is seeking data-based solutions for governance, education and business to improve financial growth and address the challenges of eastern Jerusalem residents. This is the future of smart cities, with less technology focused on creating larger “exits” and more focus on impact and answering local challenges.
Although these examples represent towns and cities that are not necessary large in size and finance, they have become innovation leaders and share their experience in small and large fora. Although the main “push” is coming from the cities themselves, the Israeli government also plays an important role in enhancing the capacity of all cities and towns to develop and implement innovation. In the past few years, over 100 local authority executives from small and large communities throughout the country, have received annual training in digital transformations, civic innovation and smart cities through a range of courses & workshops. These are enhanced by social-media-based and physical networks to enable cooperation between them, sharing successes and failures, reducing fear and improving their opportunities.
In addition, the urban based startup scene in Israel is also maturing, from “exit” based startups to Impact based tech. The Israeli Innovation Authority and government offer funding opportunities as grants or low percentage matching to innovative processes (and not only innovative technologies). They provide funding for startups that answer the real needs of local authorities and that have real potential to be piloted or scaled within them. More and more tech hubs are being built within the cities. Some are funded by the governments or local authorities, others by local and global corporations eager to open their doors to the startup nation and its cities. The focus is not only on direct gov-tech, but also on construction-tech, Fintech, Agro-tech, HLS and other areas related to civic life. All create opportunities for communities to be part of the solution to challenges that affects them, and for the cities to find solutions that cities really need and may actually pay for.
In 2018, The Interdisciplinary College in Herzliya (IDC) developed a new Smart & Sustainable Rating System to evaluate how smart Israeli cities are. The system was developed under the professional guidance of the author of this article, and invited 20 leading cities to evaluate themselves (and later to be audited), based on 4 main criteria: (A) SYNERGETIC URBAN STRATEGIES (smart, sustainable and resilient), (B) INCLUSIVE & DATA-LED MANAGMENT & PLANNING; (C) SHARED & COMMUNITY BASED RESOURCES & URBAN INFRASTUCTURE; & (D) LOCALISED ECONOMY & CHALLENGE BASED INNOVATION
As the aim was to guide the cities with a smart-city playbook to lead the way forward. Although, as expected, not all the cities ranked high, the rating system assisted in passing the message that ‘civic smartness’ isn’t a race of rich and large cities but of cities that create a locally based strategy and solutions that address the entire community.
We have found that if cities are to succeed in addressing their difficulties and enhancing their opportunities to be innovative and smart, it has to start from mapping their own challenges before they rush to copy other cities. As we begin to see in more and more Israeli cities, this has to start from within by utilising data in learning and managing the cities. Only then can they begin to optimise their resources through a synergy between policies, optimised sustainable management of resources, and community-based innovation.
Being smart is not an easy task. On this journey many cities face regulatory gaps, financial barriers and fear of change among communities and civil servants alike. That is the main reason why the Israeli urban tech communities & networks are so important, and why failure is as important as success. This is the secret ingredient of the Start-up nation and it is becoming a crucial ingredient in making Israeli cities smart, sustainable and better places to live in.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
Rafi Rich, is an architect & Urban planner, a Senior lecturer for urban strategies & smart Cities at The Technion in Haifa, and the CEO & Founder of SUITS (Smarter Urban iT & Strategies) an Israeli-based urban innovation integrator working with many cities, governments & organisations in Israel, Europe & Africa, including consulting UNHABITAT & preparing the National Smart City Masterplan for Rwanda. Recently Rich had co-founded the MidCityLabs- an initiative focused on promoting urban Innovation for secondary cities & developing cities around the globe. For more info: