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Can Paris Help Cities Revamp Their Digital Infrastructure? (Contributed)

The City of Lights has developed a world-class, open platform for digitizing city services. Already successful in Paris, the platform, which can power multiple services, could start to appear in U.S. cities soon.

At the heart of the digital era we live in is an increasingly connected world where sharing is easier than ever. New technologies, from open source APIs to cloud services, have enabled business leaders to empower their workforce, foster collaboration with other companies and increase productivity across the board. So why haven’t the same enabling technologies been applied to city government infrastructures across the world? 

The city of Paris is quickly emerging as the digital leader among cities: calling on other city governments around the world to embrace their open source platform, Lutece, with the hopes of creating a developer community specifically for city governments. 

City governments across the world respond to the same resident needs: non-emergency requests, maintaining city facilities, addressing zoning and building regulations, and requiring the same back-office functions. Instead of using public funds to re-create digital solutions that power these operations in each city, the city of Paris is determined for cities to “build once and share.” Nejia Lanouar, chief information officer of the city of Paris, believes their open source platform is the mechanism to make this happen. 

“As other cities build and share plugins, they will improve the lives of many people around the world,” she explained. “I want Paris to be a model for others and collaborate with other creative and innovative cities across the globe.”

Named for the Roman city where Paris now stands, Lutece is a modular, open source platform that powers hundreds of the city’s digital services with more than 2 million lines of code. These services include the city’s participatory budget, which is the largest in Europe at €100 million per year; online inventory for social housing where eligible residents can find a state subsidized home; their non-emergency reporting platform, “Dans Ma Rue;” and even an online memorial for deceased soldiers. Each of these services — and hundreds more — are available as plug-and-play modules for others to use and build off of.  

Rather than purchasing costly technology solutions piece by piece, a free, open source platform like Lutece allows cities to repurpose software developed by others. Additionally, Lutece enables cities to iterate, improve and customize existing tools for themselves and others. A number of French cities and organizations are using Lutece, including Lyon, Nice and the French weather service. But Paris has its eyes on the United States where, according to the 2012 census, there are more than 19,500 municipalities.

Bloomberg Associates, the pro-bono municipal consulting arm of Bloomberg Philanthropies, shares and scales innovations to cities and identified Lutece as an asset for Paris and other cities alike. Bloomberg Associates has supported Paris’ efforts to internationalize the platform and forge potential city partnerships in Europe and North America. 

Last year, the city of Paris and Bloomberg Associates brought Lutece to Johns Hopkins University’s bi-annual hackathon, HopHacks, to be used for the first-ever civic track at the event. Students developed a solution using Lutece over 48 hours to match available homeless shelter beds to people in need in Baltimore. 

This September, Lanouar will speak at the Smart City Expo in Atlanta about Paris’ mission to create a developer community for city governments and foster cross-city collaboration. While there, she plans to meet with a number of American city governments to promote the platform’s adoption. City leaders should listen and join the movement to digitize city infrastructures across the board.

As a senior member of the Media and Technology team at Bloomberg Associates, Todd Asher helps develop municipal strategies related to public communications and economic development in the media and technology sectors. Prior to joining Bloomberg Associates, Todd served as first deputy commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment (MOME) after serving as chief operating officer for NYC Media. At MOME, he was responsible for day-to-day operations as well as business development, customer service and industry support in the digital, film, television and commercial production arenas. Todd was instrumental in the appointment of the first chief digital officer and creation of the NYC Roadmap for the Digital City.