Legend has it that in the 13th century a “Grand Duke” named Gediminas, tired after a day of hunting the now extinct European bison, decided to sleep in a small town near the Vilnia River. That night he dreamt of a giant wolf standing on a hill howling as loud as a hundred wolves. After consulting his priest the dream was interpreted to mean that the site was destined to be a great castle and the city was to be the capital of the people of this land so that “the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world.”
This town is now the city of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. This old city has been through a lot since its inception but is now striving to make itself known as a tech hub. To do so, it has created an extremely open municipal data policy where it is required to share the data that it collects with its citizens as long as it doesn’t poses security threats or violates GDPR.
This has made it an attractive place for PropTech companies. Adding to the wide availability of data the city has also designated around 2.5 million square meters to what it calls a “sandbox.” These one hundred some odd buildings are open for selected companies to test their technologies on, free of charge. Povilas Poderskis, Chief Executive Director of Administration at Vilnius City Municipality told me that “the buildings are owned by more than 40 different companies and Vilnius municipality,” adding that the final decision for which technologies gets used is made by participants and the RealBox team, running the project.
They have gone so far as to have a 3D map of the area and have a portal for the data being produced by the buildings (at least for those who can read Lithuanian). When I asked Poderskis what the city aimed to achieve this this initiative he told me, “The city aims to attract tech businesses to Vilnius to develop their products or grow their operations in here. The PropTech sandbox is one of the tools the city offers to tech businesses besides a favorable legal and tax environment, cost competitiveness, a large talent pool and open data.”
It seems to be working. One of the success stories out of Vilnius is a transportation mapping service called Trafi. They have been able to pull together real time data about every transportation option available to residents and put it all in one place.
This is a great example of the types of progressive actions that cities can take to help their economy, citizens and real estate markets. While I have to admit that I did not have Vilnius on my radar before it isn’t a surprise that this kind of program would come out of a smaller sized city. Getting the required agencies to work together and get approval for projects like this is much easier outside of large urban centers.
If cities like Vilnius can prove that the benefits of an open data system can be worth the hassle then we might start seeing more cities take up the ethos. Much like tax incentives for new developments, we could start to see cities compete on how much they can do to attract PropTech innovation. The only difference is that this won’t be considered a “race to the bottom” like competing tax codes but rather a race to be the top smart city pantheon.