Introducing the “Smart Commercial Triangle”: An Interview with Athens’ Chief Digital Officer, Konstantinos Champidis

Something big is happening in the Athens Commercial Triangle (Trigono): An area of 110 acres is reversing years of urban decline in an effort to change the everyday mindset of citizens towards their city, testing a new way of living in the city center. The Trigono project is delivering more public space to citizens, developing a “smart” lighting system, piloting a “smart” mobile notification system for garbage collection, and adding new benches, bins, and greenery.

Last month, Trigono’s “smart” garbage collection system was publicly launched by Mayor Kaminis, Haris Broumidis, CEO of Vodafone Greece, Konstantinos Champidis, Athens’ Chief Digital Officer, and Elina Dallas, Project Manager for the Athens Commercial Triangle Revitalization Program. With this new service, business owners will be notified when the City’s garbage truck is about to pass by the neighborhood—removing the need for fixed bins and avoiding garbage concentration in this historic part of the city.

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Marios Danilopoulos, a journalist from www.kathimerini.gr sat down with Athens Chief Digital Officer, Konstantinos Hambidis, and the “smart” Trigono launch to talk about “smart” cities.

Marios Danilopoulos: What makes a city “smart”?

Konstantinos Champidis: It is not just about investment in smart lamps, smart parking, digital technology or free WiFi access—the key question is whether smart city services are truly beneficial to residents.  What is most needed is that city ‘users’, from municipal employees to shopkeepers and residents, are involved and are offered tools that can improve everyday life.

MD: Why have you chosen Athens Trigono to pilot these smart city applications?

KC: The implementation of this plan is a part of the City of Athens’ Digital Roadmap. I don’t think we could’ve started this pilot elsewhere because of the level of interaction with the community it requires. Because the Athens Trigono project team interacts with residents and shopkeepers daily, they understand their problems, expectations, and needs. This provides the necessary reality check for our ‘smart’ plans. The Trigono team will tell us whether an idea will work on the ground or not, and whether it truly addresses neighborhood concerns.

MD: Can you tell me more about the new “smart” garbage collection?

KC: The City of Athens is not the first city to use telematics in garbage collection; but what is innovative about this initiative is that for the first time, it turns garbage collection into a service for shopkeepers. Users get a message on their mobile phones about the exact time the garbage trucks pass by their shops.

Business owners in the Trigono area receive a text notification to take out their garbage.

Business owners in the Trigono area receive a text notification to take out their garbage.

MD: How does “smart lighting” work and how will it benefit the area?

KC: Smart lighting is in effect remote-controlled LED lighting. While most the old lamps are controlled by one central switch, with this new system, we can dim, light, and extinguish each of the new lamps individually. This means we can adjust lighting according to the needs and of each part of the neighborhood. Furthermore, this new network of lamps can be used as a basis to install sensors for data collection or to expand Wi-fi networks in the future.

MD: What’s the private sector’s role in all of this?

KC: Unfortunately, the public procurement system does not allow us to test new technologies. But in this case, thanks to our private sector partners in “smart” Trigono (namely Vodafone)  we were able to pilot their system on four garbage trucks in Trigono. With Vodafone’s support, we tested and refined the program according to our needs, and then expanded to another eight vehicles. It is these impactful collaborations that the Municipality seeks with the private sector.

MD: How would you evaluate the City of Athens’ Trigono interventions?

KC: In Trigono, we see a best-practice model of local government, which is based on the fact that, thanks to the Trigono project team, we are in constant contact with the neighborhood. Trigono is an emblematic project, the first one to be realized in cooperation with stakeholders. Now, we have a model that we know works and can be replicated elsewhere.

The City of Athens’ Commercial Triangle Revitalization Program is a public-private partnership, coordinated by the Athens Partnership, based on an exclusive grant by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF)..