Casablanca gets smart to clean up

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Morocco's economic center, the city of Casablanca, has experienced galloping urbanization in recent years and it’s significantly affected urban life.

The city houses one of every five Moroccans and produces one third of the country's wealth, but a response has come from, of course, the startup sector.

Numa Casablanca, a local branch of international startup and accelerator network Numa, is running a series of workshops called #DataCity Casablanca. They kicked off at the end of November and intend to teach attendees how to develop and prototype a project that can actually contribute to the emergence of a city a good living standards.

The program accompanies innovation around urban challenges such as an heavy traffic, heavy construction activities, increased pressure on sanitation and waste management systems, and a dramatic increase in energy, water and food needs.

A panel of experts discussing opportunities of the Smart City in Casablanca. (Images via Numa Casablanca)

Casablanca, the next smart city?

The expression ‘smart city’ refers to one that uses information and communication technologies to improve the quality of urban services, reduce costs and lower the city’s ecological footprint. The idea is not new for Casablanca, but no tangible action had yet emerged.

"We've been talking about smart cities for three years in Casablanca and we have done nothing for three years. Today, we are the first concrete program of prototype for smart city solutions," Leam Zniber, cofounder of Numa Casablanca, told Wamda.

#DataCity Casablanca has placed open innovation and open data at the center of its strategy, relying mainly on the ability of those involved in city management to collect, use and analyze data on inhabitants’ behaviors. The good news is that much of the data is already available from companies and administrations, hence the need to develop shared platforms to allow for the aggregation of data.
Smart City attendees debating in Casablanca.

Broad collaboration

Numa Casablanca had to engage corporations and win over local authorities before launching the program, since the exploitation of personal data and the management of public space can be heavily regulated.

"We chose our corporate partners based on three criteria. First, the fact that their business was about the smart city. Second, the prior existence of an innovation process, because if it does not exist, we cannot create it. And last, their appetite to work with the ecosystem, " Leyth Zniber said.

Salma Kabbaj, cofounder and general manager of Numa Casablanca, said it was important to involve large companies in the early days of creating a smart city ‘ecosystem’. Lydec, Inwi, Lafarge-Holcim Maroc, Michelin and RATP Dev, the manager of Casa Tramway participated.

Attendees working on a workshop at Numa.

From exploration to prototype

Numa Casablanca used a launch conference called Co-building Casablanca Smart City on November 30 to engage citizens, innovators, researchers, experts and entrepreneur. The 120 people who attended also sat in on three workshops addressing six challenges around the themes of vehicle energy efficiency, the environmental impact of buildings, and interventions in public space.

Elhaidi Abdeslam, a student in data science engineering, is particularly interested in climate issues and hopes that this program will allow him to develop a viable solution.

"Here in Casablanca, the problem of pollution is real. My wish is to create a startup that tackles with these environmental issues. This event allowed me to meet new people, discover the work of other startups, and learn from their experience," he told Wamda.

Of the proposed challenges, none directly addresses the issues of urban agriculture.

Abbes Benaissa, founder of Bioponica and secretary general of RIAM, the Network of Agroecological Initiatives in Morocco, believes that in the implementation of smart cities it is increasingly necessary to set up a form of urban agriculture, and more generally "rethinking the city of tomorrow”.

“We hope by our participation in this debate to bring a holistic view on the approach of the city,” he said.

The workshops meet every Wednesday until February 27, 2017.

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