Smart City Expo Casablanca: citizens before infrastructure

France was very well represented at the 3rd edition of Smart City Expo Casablanca from 18-20 April, 2018. The event has positioned itself as Africa’s hub for intelligent and above all inclusive cities.

“Casablanca is a world leader in its use of new technologies to improve the lives of residents” declared Ricardo Zapatero, international business director at Fira de Barcelona (*), which co-organises the event, on 18 April, 2018 during the inaugural session at the Hyatt Regency Congress Hall.

Smart City Expo brought together representatives from 30 countries in Casablanca on 18-20 April 2018 © UrbanUtopia

The inaugural session also saw Mohamed Jouahri, director of Casablanca Events and Animation, welcome the participation of representatives from 30 countries and a delegation from Shanghai as headline guests. France was well represented too. During a round table session on aligning finance and regulations for urban innovation, Renaissance urbaine president Nicolas Buchoud asserted that “Casablanca is a case study for the challenges facing smart cities”.

“It is no longer possible to think tech without thinking social”, he continued, picking up on the central theme of these three days of fruitful debate. The need to put citizens, residents, public service users, at the centre of decision-making was reiterated by speakers at all the various events. And in a country where basic requirements (access to water, education, employment, etc.) remain unsatisfactory for a large part of the population, that is purely logical.

Renaissance urbaine president Nicolas Buchoud. ©UrbanUtopia

The drive to increase revenues

It is no accident that providing 10,000 households with access to essential services is one of the objectives set out for Casablanca by the Global Fund for Cities Development (FMDV) under an agreement for a 172 million euros loan over 20 years. Other objectives upon which release of the funds is conditional include increasing tax revenues by 40%, modernising administration of the tax receipt system, upgrading 116 km of public highway and simplifying and digitising administrative procedures in the Casablanca’s municipal administration. Karim Slimani of the FMDV asserted that “digital technologies have proved to be incredibly efficient in terms of improving local tax collection rates”.

1,500 Grand Paris projects

French representatives at the Expo included Vincent Gollain, who presented a session on how Grand Paris is an opportunity for France’s capital region to change its image and break out from its confinement to “Culture and Tourism” audiences. Vincent Gollain, urban development director of IAU-Ile de France (Institut d’aménagement et d’urbanisme d’Ile-de-France) used the Casablanca Expo to highlight the 1,500 urban development projects already brought to life by the Grand Paris Express”.

French participants at the congress included Vincent Gollain, who presented a session on how Grand Paris is an opportunity for France’s capital region to change its image and break out from its confinement to “Culture and Tourism” audiences. © UrbanUtopia

Gérard Wolf, president of Medef International’s sustainable cities taskforce, and Deloitte’s Christian Gillet, co-author with Nicolas Buchoud of a new report presented at Smart City Expo Casablanca (see separate article) were also in attendance. Real estate consultant Christian Gillet emphasised that digital technologies could allow Morocco to leapfrog stages of development, citing the country’s record mobile phone ownership rate of 130%. Meanwhile, Christian Gillet recalled the trend-setting example of His Majesty the King of Morocco in regard to mobile phone uptake.

The mayor of Mulhouse gave a presentation on the various smart city facets of her town. A new project named “Mulhouse diagonals” designed with urban architects Reichen et Robert & Associés, will see the town’s many canals emerge from beneath concrete slabs that partly cover them, not only reviving their charm but also the working heritage – they will be used to reduce heat islands. Mulhouse has created a “mobility account”, which allows users to use and pay for all the town’s different transport modes in a single app, and another app called “Allô proximité”, which alerts users to transport disruptions within the town. Both these developments were detailed at the Casablanca event.

Mulhouse mayor Michèle Lutz at the exhibition fair in the Hyatt Regency on Casablanca’s Place des Nations-Unies © UrbanUtopia

Contactless payments

At the exhibition fair, French exhibitors included Derichebourg (urban services) and OpenDatasoft (open data). The former is already well established in Morocco (see separate article), whilst the latter intends to set up shop in the country very soon. “Our ‘Software As A Service’ solutions give cities the means of presenting data back to the public, with the option to use third party API if they wish” explains Frédéric Gauzy, director for South Europe and the Maghreb for the Parisian firm, which has pioneered open data usage and recently signed a partnership deal in Morocco with MLK Consulting.

Many French firms are involved in Casablanca’s transport infrastructure and ticketing, the latter being more modern than the ticketing offer in Paris. Valence-based company ACS, which was recently purchased by Conduent (formerly part of Xerox), created the contactless payment card-operated turnstiles for the tramway in Casablanca. The tramway is run by RATP Dev, with rolling stock provided by Alstom and consultancy by Systra. “Following its launch of ticketing by contactless payment cards, Casa Transport is now looking at ways to introduce NFC-based payments (using mobile phones) and at post-payment”, explained Adnane Salama, one of Casa Transport’s Information System executives. The Smart City ethos is truly galvanising Casablanca.

(*) Fira de Barcelona, co-organiser of Smart City Expo Casablanca, also organises the Smart City Expos in Catalunya (Barcelona), Quebec (Montréal) and Mexico (Mexico City).


Casablanca is the financial capital of a country with the wind in its sails © UrbanUtopia


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