Dominic Fritz: Timisoara will become a truly European city

Timisoara “has a lot to catch-up and it is still far from its true potential; but with work, perseverance, patience and professionalism we will turn this city into a truly European city in the next few years”, says Timisoara’s new Mayor Dominic Fritz. ”My strategy and my team’s strategy is to access as much money as possible from non-repayable funds, however large or small. We have submitted a list of nearly 50 projects, worth €1,3 billion in total for NRRP,” Fritz said in an exclusive interview with Energynomics.

Dear Mr Mayor Dominic Fritz, what are the plans in Timișoara concerning the new Smart City program?

We have assembled a team of community players (entrepreneurs, sociologists, public policy specialists, IT-ists) who are already working on a strategy for the future of Smart City and on digital transformation (the first such process that Timișoara will undergo). We will work on the necessary documentation to engage in projects with NRRP financing on smart netcity infrastructure, smart public lighting, smart charging stations. Also, when about financing, we will prepare for the 2021-2027 financing cycle based on structural funds, managed by Regional Development Agency ADR West. We intend to bring the city hall as close as possible to the citizen, not only using digital tools but also by bringing civil servants closer to civil society. We will bring volunteers to the City Hall to work side by side with the officials in solving the problems in the city and the community.

What are the main directions to be followed in the areas of transport (electromobility) and energy efficiency?

Smart city means, above all, smart, automatic and digital management of city problems. Smart cities are safer, greener, more convenient for citizens, more connected to their needs and more efficient to manage.

As regards transport, the Ministry of Development will purchase 44 electric buses for Timișoara. We are working in parallel on a system whereby the position of the vehicles will be visible in real-time so that the citizens know how long they will reach the station. Also, the existing traffic management system, one of the best performers in the country, but not yet used at its true capacity, will become smart and adaptable, the traffic lights system will automatically adapt to pedestrians or traffic levels. Public transport will also be introduced into the traffic management system so that they will be prioritized when reaching intersections, by changing how the traffic lights system works, and once they have passed the critical area the system to return to normal.

Traffic monitoring (number of vehicles, vehicle type, speed, location/congestion) will improve the algorithms of the traffic lights system.

We are also working on a system that will allow citizens to see in a mobile phone application the parking places available in the new parking areas we will build.

We will extend the network of electric car charging stations, including parking areas in the residential districts. Newly built parking lots will have e-charging stations from the very beginning. Earlier this year, we completed a tender for the installation of 16 new charging stations for electric vehicles that will be spread across the city.

What about district heating, public lighting and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings?

Last but not least, all the renovation of public buildings will also be aimed at transforming them into smart buildings, whose water and energy consumption can be monitored, to make them more cost-efficient. We want all blocks of flats built before 1989 to be thermally rehabilitated by 2030.

We will transform the district heating company in Timișoara, Colterm, into a new local company, with the main activity of producing electricity in cogeneration or trigeneration system.

Air quality parameters and noise level will be measured in real-time, so the administration will be able to intervene immediately when legal limits are exceeded. We have already approved a plan to reduce noise pollution in the city. Also, through a partnership recently signed with Eta2U Foundation, Timișoara City Hall will install 16 new air quality measurement stations. At present, four such stations are in operation in Timișoara; installed back in 2007, their technology is obsolete.

We also intend to build a digital portal of public data in various areas: from the smart city infrastructure to the various operators of mobility, electricity, heating, water and other utilities. Smart city solutions will be capable to provide information for us to analyze and take smart measures to make consumption more efficient in buildings, develop a circular economy and, by extension, reduce emissions and pollution.

What is the stage of digitalization within the local authority in Timișoara?

At the moment, the digitalization level of Timișoara City Hall is still not where we would have expected for the times we are living. Even when such digital solutions are part of the internal processes of the City Hall and in some of our interactions with citizens, they are fragmented and are therefore not intuitive either for Timișoara or for civil servants. There is now a reluctance on both sides to adopt these digital solutions.

We are working on an integrated solution that reduces the time and energy consumed by citizens and officials in addressing their needs and problems.

The road ahead is rather long because first, we need to digitalize this citizen-city relationship and then lure as many citizens and officials as possible to these new digital tools. But we are talking about a form of digitalization where people are immersed in non-invasive technology.

How do you see, with the EU Green Deal in mind, the development of Timișoara in the medium and long term?

The strategy I have and my team has is to access as much money as possible from grants, however big or small. We have submitted a list of almost 50 projects worth 1,3 billion euros in the NRRP, but at the same time, we have recently accessed financing of 70.000 lei through the National Institute of Heritage, for writing the technical documentation necessary to rehabilitate part of the Theresia Bastion and to turn it into an art gallery.

Our philosophy is that any extra money we can bring to Timișoara through these funds relieves the city budget for financing other projects.

Unfortunately, the city has a lot to catch-up and it is still far from its true potential; but with work, perseverance, patience and professionalism, we will turn this city into a truly European city in the coming years, an attraction for both tourists and professionals and the European business environment.

It is clear that the city’s strategy needs to be reviewed as soon as possible. Through an integrated strategy, we will be able to act and take steps toward attracting NRRP funds for infrastructure, including smart city, then the Structural Funds from the 2021-2027 cycle, that will help us implement an ecosystem of competitive development and emancipation of the local business environment and its connection to the latest global technological trends.
Another target will be to find and engage in partnerships for Horizon 2027 and other Green Deal funding opportunities. The final aim is to be accepted as one of the 3 beneficiary cities that will represent Romania among the 100 cities involved in the European Union’s Green Deal pilot project.

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This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of Energynomics Magazine, issued in March 2021.

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Bogdan Tudorache

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