Free internet, driverless buses, sensor-equipped streetlights, and 5G technology are just some of the innovative steps taken by the central Greek town of Trikala, earning it a reputation as the country’s smartest city.
Located on the Thessaly plain, Trikala has also managed to overcome ingrained opposition to change by actively involving the community in the adoption of new technologies.
Mayor Dimitris Papastergiou, who was re-elected in the local elections of May 2019, is a strong advocate of change. In charge of the municipality since 2014, Papastergiou is largely seen as the driving force behind the city’s growing high-tech profile.
“No one can stop the changes that are coming. The smartest thing is to best prepare for them,” says Papastergiou, who is an electrical engineer.
Some 130,000 Trikala residents enjoy one of the best standards of living in the country, with the majority using bikes for their transport needs thanks to the creation of citywide bike lanes.
The municipality boasts an impressive list of initiatives including: a driverless bus under the CityMobil2 pilot project – complete with its own fibre optics network, sensor-equipped streetlights that slashed electricity costs by 70%, and the Demosthenis citizens complaint system that can handle city problems within 48 hours.
Additionally, Trikala offers 6,000 households free Wi-Fi. The city has introduced electric cleaning vehicles and, additionally, provides smart-home monitoring technologies. Among those to benefit from these smart home technologies are elderly citizens displaying initial signs of dementia.
Other projects in the pipeline include the introduction of new farming technology that will focus on the cultivation of ancient medicinal plants and herbs to be used by the pharmaceutical industry.
The town is not scared of embarking on these challenges alone or of doing things differently.
In fact, it is the only city in Greece to have enforced a 2008 public space smoking ban, with the growing support of local businesses.
Among its most ambitious projects, though, is the installation of 5G wireless technology, which will be able to support advanced smart services for the entire city.
Soon to become the first Greek city with 5G in place, once up and running this network will be able to support services relating to waste and water management, public building energy efficiency, and smart parking.
Trikala’s ambitious 5G plans earned the city an award at the 2018 Mobile & Connected World conference in Athens.
But what is Trikala’s secret to getting ahead in the technological race?
Simple. The city makes good use of EU projects, tapping into both national and European Commission funds. It’s worth noting that these are funds that just about any municipality can access, yet most fail to do so due to a lack of the right preparation.
With the help of these initiatives, Trikala regularly invites innovators to share their ideas, teams up with private companies, and allows itself to be used as a test ground for ideas. If successful, these ideas are then scaled up and applied to cover the needs of the entire city.
Yet most importantly, this innovation-driven approach is positioning Trikala at the forefront for the adoption of new technologies across Greece.