It goes without saying that the heart of a nation is, in almost all the cases, best represented by its capital. It does not come as a surprise, then, that the core of Estonia – the place par excellence where things happen first in the field of digital development – is a smart city like Tallinn.
The concept of intelligent city, though, can come off as a bit
of a tricky one, and not at all because of its supposedly
controversial nature: the number of approaches and actions
aimed to make a city smarter is countless, and each
and every urban area striving to make it has its peculiarities
and particular ways to pursue this target.
Tallinn’s way to become a smart city revolves around three
keywords: accessibility, interoperability, and
user-friendliness. In this respect, our capital has
managed to harmonize its urban and digital development with the
evolution of Estonia as a digital society. A nation and its
main city, hand in hand, providing efficient and convenient
digital services for citizens, tourists and companies,
particularly by employing common infrastructures to exchange
data and avoid redundancies – as well as integrating the
national e-ID system into its authentication mechanisms.
Sepp, city secretary and administrative leader of
Tallinn City Office since 1992, unfolds the key concepts and
components that make Tallinn a smart city.
What makes Tallinn a smart city?
For us, being a smart city or
an intelligent city means that we are
providing good digital services through effective IT solutions,
but no less important is the fact that citizens are willing and
able to use them. We aim to develop solutions that are useful
for the public. So far, “smart” has meant using the latest
technology, having Wi-Fi everywhere, providing seamless
e-services, opening up data etc. We have this part well covered
in Tallinn. Digitally speaking, we are definitely a smart city.
Now the ambition is shifting towards involving people in the
planning process and making planning smarter in general.
How does the city involve citizens in the decision-making and
urban planning process?
We do make surveys and polls and even have a special investment
programme that is set up as a result of citizen surveys.
However, we have not yet embraced digital participation to the
fullest, despite the fact that pretty much all the information
we create is public. But things are changing. For almost three
years already we have been using a planning
register, where the whole process is carried out digitally
and publicly. In the register, there is a citizen’s work desk
for example, where everyone can preset notifications about
preferred areas, as well as sending proposals about
architectural drawings and block plans. Just recently, we
launched our first digital participation tool AvaLinn
(OpenCity). The mobile application AvaLinn is a co-creation
tool for gathering feedback and ideas for spatial planning and
new developments from the citizens. We want to build on
that experience and make citizen engagement more active.
What are the most popular e-services and why?
The most popular e-services, some of which are also available
on mobile devices, are:
- The mobile and web application
of public transport (timetables, online
tracking, journey planner, city map). Accurate and easy to use,
the app is the only official and reliable source that provides
up to date (with a maximum of 30 seconds of delay) information
about public transportation lines in Tallinn. In addition, you
can see the live progress of buses,
trams and trolleys on the web map;
- The application for
traffic cameras, as they cover all of the
most important intersections in Tallinn, and the app provides
the most relevant information about traffic jams;
- The official web
map of Tallinn, providing the most detailed and up
to date information about developments in the city space.
How many e-services does Tallinn have, and how many of them are
fully or partially digital?
Tallinn has 86 fully digital, high-end
e-services where it is possible to submit an application using
HTML forms, give online feedback about the process, and benefit
of many other efficient and effective digital services.
Some examples may regard:
Partially digital are all the services available in Tallinn,
which are 570 in total. On the city administration’s webpage,
there is a
database of services where all of them are presented and
described using the same template.
How do municipal smart services interact with X-Road?
Whenever the need for the involvement of state-provided
databases and registers is relevant, a connection with X-Road
is established. Let’s follow the example of the application for
a childbirth allowance: after logging in, our register checks –
via X-Road – if the applicant is registered as a citizen of
Tallinn. Our services rely on both state and city databases
that utilize inter-base cross-usage of data. Our laws forbid us
to re-process any data that is already available through
What are the future plans to make Tallinn
even smarter, and what role the city can
play – as a smart capital – in a wider
regional and international context?
We wish that people could apply for, or consume, their desired
services using only electronic channels. To achieve that, our
first priority is to continue making our services fully
digital. Along with that, our ambition is to make planning
smarter and involve citizens in the planning process even more.
Despite the fact that we have plenty of open data, we think we
are not using it as much as we could. Technology is already
providing opportunities to make citizen engagement more
interesting and rewarding. For example, virtual reality and
augmented reality in urban planning is something that we have
not tapped into yet, but we look forward to; improving the
portability of our services by making all of the easily
accessible from smartphones and tablets; reaching out for our
potential users and understand how to get them use our
solutions even more. Being the capital, and by far the
largest city in Estonia, means that we are a role model – we
are followed not only by other municipalities but sometimes by
the national government as well. Also, the competition in the
Baltic region is very harsh. With neighbours like
Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, you have to be smart in
order to keep up.