European cities, like cities in this country, are on the front lines of government, directly delivering services and affecting the quality of life in their jurisdictions. And, like here, cities band together to exchange successful solutions and lobby higher levels of government for their interests.
One such group is called Telecities, which consists of 70 cities across Western, Central and Eastern Europe, from Manchester, England, to Riga, Latvia. Telecities is funded by the European Commission (EC), the Brussels, Belgium-based executive body of the European Union (EU), although some cities are in nations which are not full members of the EU.
Telecities is based on the familiar premise that telematics, as information technology applications are called in Europe, can play a key role in improving administration, health care, economic development and other government functions. Local European political leaders are also realizing that technology can facilitate dialogue between the government and the governed.
Telecities was formed in 1993 from a working group of Eurocities, an organization similar to the U.S. National League of Cities. Telecities is an arm of Eurocities' European Digital Cities, an umbrella group which includes intergovernmental organizations specializing in different areas of technology, such as intelligent transportation and environmental protection.
Among the goals of Telecities are economic development, improving the quality of life, and developing solutions to what Europeans call "social exclusion," or the gaps between the technology haves and have-nots.
Telecities also promotes the development of interoperability and standardization for telecommunications across national boundaries. Telecities provides local government managers the opportunity to meet with peers and exchange ideas and experience. With that in mind, Telecities has organized workshops, publishes newsletters, and has a Web page at
"We attempt to get access to good practices going on in European cities," said David Carter, head economic development officer for Manchester, England, and currently president of the Telecities Steering Committee. "Some cities have been working on this longer than others, and those who have been working on it for some time have learned some lessons that should be shared rather quickly."
Telecities members also advocate for cities on policy issues and to secure funding from the EC for joint projects, training and economic decisions. "Up to now, influence has come from national governments and the private sector," Carter said. "We feel that there is a local view to be addressed."
Before Telecities was formed, the EC had mainly promoted technology in research and development projects, said Eric Mino, Telecities coordinator, during an EC-sponsored visit to San Francisco this summer. Little international organizational investment was made for things the end-user could utilize, such as Internet navigation software and other applications, he said.
Telecities concentrates on projects for delivering service to the public, rather than working on internal administration applications, such as accounting systems, Mino said. "That's not the focus of Telecities. We focus on the citizens."
The group has a number of projects ongoing to test technology applications under field conditions. One joint project, which has 10 partners, is called DALI, and is headed by Barcelona, Spain. The project is developing and testing the delivery of local information and services through interactive television.
Another is a nine-city project led by Antwerp, Belgium, to deliver government information online and create public space online. The lessons from the two pilots may later be joined, and some cities may use both television and computers to deliver information.
A new member of Telecities is the French Riviera, which includes Nice. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and France Telecom, and partly funded by the French government, a multimedia presentation has been created to promote the Cote d'Azur's business opportunities, including import, export and facilities location. Begun in 1994, potential foreign investors can attend tailor-made presentations in