Tell us about Burgas’ journey towards becoming a smart city
In 2015, the Municipality of Burgas set out ambitious plans to become a smart city, and Sharing Cities was the platform we needed in order to undertake this challenge.
Starting with the programme’s ten replicable measures, Sharing Cities provided us with a blueprint to test, validate and implement a range of smart solutions across the city.
Looking back, I would say that Sharing Cities came at a pivotal moment to help accelerate our vision for a more connected, inclusive and greener city. It was a real game changer in terms of unlocking investment and finding the right implementation paths.
What were, in your opinion, the programme’s key successes?
Taking stock of what has been achieved in the programme’s lighthouse cities, we tried to apply similar principles and methodologies locally. For instance, we’ve had some great successes with our building retrofit programme, learning from the co-design and citizen engagement process implemented in Milan for private buildings. We also took on board the Lisbon approach to retrofitting our public buildings.
We successfully launched a new urban shared data platform for the city – a dream come true! The platform, although still in its early days, integrates data from multiple sensors and provides publicly accessible information to citizens on car parking availability, air quality, pollution, and water levels in case of potential flooding.
We also have a smart waste management system, whereby sensors placed on underground waste containers let the city know when it’s time to empty them.
Our public realm is equipped with smart lampposts. Combining street furniture, landscape and smart lighting, the lampposts have become the city’s micro social hubs for unexpected encounters!
We also took a completely integrated approach to e-mobility, upgrading our e-charging and smart parking infrastructure which we are very proud of. We now have ambitious plans to scale-up smart mobility solutions in the city and beyond.
Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve encountered
As part of our building retrofit works, we soon realised the challenges of integrating sustainable energy management systems (SEMS) within existing buildings. However, the pilots we’ve realised demonstrated significant potential savings and made a strong case for SEMS replication, particularly for our new cultural, social, and educational buildings. The pilots also prompted the need to include SEMS specifications within future tender documents to help us standardise the process. For this, we are planning to use information from the Sharing Cities playbooks as a guide.
Our citizen engagement strategy is also ever-evolving and must continuously adapt to people’s needs. Currently we’re trying to get a better understanding of how people are using our apps to ensure these remain relevant and useful. Future-proofing this technology has certainly been one of the biggest challenges, and we will continue to work closely with the lighthouse cities to coordinate our efforts.
How would you define Burgas’ replication strategy?
Our strategy is simple: Start small, evaluate successes and opportunities, and build on them. This has been a huge adaptive process over the years. The Sharing Cities programme has been effective in helping us to secure strong political commitment and a collective desire to continue in this direction.
The municipality is now looking at different funding streams to scale-up our measures as we continue to look for viable business models for different solutions. At a governance level, it is vital that all our smart technology measures are fully and coherently integrated within our upcoming municipal strategic plan, which will be effective until 2027, and will ensure alignment with the city’s priority projects.
What advice would you give to other cities interested in replication?
Smart solutions aren’t one size fits all. We have to dig deep to understand what works and what doesn’t in a specific local context.
What does the future hold for Burgas?
Our plans are two-fold: To scale-up our successful measures within Burgas and beyond.
Conversations are already underway with two cities in Bulgaria that have been inspired by our schemes. We are proud to be leading the pathway to a new interconnected network of smart cities, and to contribute to shaping the vision for a forward-thinking, environmentally responsible nation.
About Sharing Cities
The Sharing Cities ‘lighthouse’ project is a testbed for finding better, common approaches to making smart cities a reality. By fostering international collaboration between industry and cities, the project aims to develop affordable, integrated, commercial-scale smart city solutions with high market potential. Sharing Cities is a part of a family of projects that make up the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP SCC01 – Lighthouse Projects).
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement N°691895
Greater London Authority
Greater London Authority