Dublin City will become a “city of online neighbourhoods” within the next 10 years, Peter Finnegan (pictured), director of the Dublin City Development Board (DCDB) has pledged. “Our vision is to create a connected and informed city. In 2012, Dublin will be a city where everyone has access to manageable information and have the means and ability to communicate with each other. Dublin will be a city of e-excellence,” he predicts.
The DCDB is a strategic planning partnership that is provided for under the Local Government Act, 2001 and has agreed an economic, social and cultural strategy for Dublin City to 2012, entitled Dublin — A City of Possibilities. Central to this strategy is the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in all economic, social and cultural development.
So how can Dublin become “a connected and informed city”, as Finnegan puts it? “The DCDB ensures transparency and accountability through co-ordinating information relevant to the delivery of our action plan. We developed Dublin.ie to maximise integration and co-ordination of city stakeholders. We aim to develop community media to enhance diversity and promote inclusion and to develop ICT to enable access for all — to empower all communities to access and use information to become an e-city of excellence,” he explains.
The project attempts to provide citizens with interactivity to a range of services, information and products available in the city from both private and public sector providers. “Dublin.ie is a portal or gateway to the multiplicity of interactive services, information and products available in Dublin today. It attempts to harness the communications power of the internet to bring Dublin closer to its citizens in a way that not only supports the aims of the DCDB, but also becomes itself a catalyst for the establishment of Dublin as a true e-city with the resulting benefits for the quality of life of Dublin’s citizens.”
This ambitious project was led by Dublin City Council and developed by DCDB. It is envisaged that this portal site will become a central focus for business and community activity in the city and a gateway to Dublin City. Nevadatele.com has worked in partnership with the DCDB in the creative development of an email facility within the portal. The information gateway offers citizens and businesses access to a unique email address @dublin.ie.
Usage of the site has been growing steadily since its launch last year. On average, the site attracts 7,900 visits per week, accounting for 34,000 page views, and it has 9,890 registered email accounts with about 150 new accounts being created each week.
Dublin.ie includes a searchable directory of businesses, services and community organisations. It offers community groups to create and maintain their own websites, enhancing their ability to distribute information. Through the portal, individuals can also access the website and services of state agencies and government departments. The portal also provides key statistical and data information on the city, covering demographic, economic and social facts and figures.
The site is intended as a measure towards tackling the digital divide in the city. “It’s concerned with facilitating citizens and community organisations to mobilise and harness the power and persuasive influence of ICT so that individuals and communities are enabled to influence the decisions that shape the city,” says Finnegan.
“Dublin.ie brings the citizen and community organisations into e-space, creating an e-voluntary sector space that is positioned between e-public services and e-commerce. This space can help provided new cause for people using and accessing ICT, it can drive the ICT access agenda into the home and can create opportunities and challenges for e-public services and e-commerce provision,” he adds.
Eventually, the DCDB hopes to create local online marketplaces, based on various themes such as learning and sport, which would be linked to provincial and national marketplaces. Already over 2,000 businesses, local community groups and voluntary organisations are pitched on Dublin.ie.
Finnegan explains: “Our aim is to create linkages between websites through the development of communities of interest and themes. This, in turn, can create a marketplace where organisations and communities can share information, goods, resources, opportunities and purchasing power.” He gives the example of a football club. If 20 local football clubs go looking for jerseys together, instead of working individually, their purchasing power is greatly enhanced, he says — in DCDB lingo this enables “reduced price access to commerce”.
So does it stop at Dublin City? “Dublin.ie is part of a bigger national vision,” says Finnegan. “It is public realm property, paid for by public funds from the Department of Environment and Local Government and developed as part of the national county development boards strategic partnership process.” The DCDB is in talks with other boards in Monaghan, Louth, Leitrim, Cavan, Sligo, Omagh, Banbridge, Armagh and Dungannon in terms of adapting and applying the template and software to these counties as part of a continuous rollout nationally.
“All county portals will be interlinked and individuals loading data or information could choose to display same on one or all. Local marketplaces based on the various themes such as sport or learning could be linked to provincial and national marketplaces,” he adds.
The DCDB is also exploring the potential for community Wi-Fi access especially through the use of existing public realm infrastructure. “The potential is there to piggyback on existing fibre optic network in the public realm to provide free online services to community organisations 24/7 and citizens. Such Wi-Fi networks are available in the cities of London and Paris,” Finnegan says. “Although, we do have to be careful not to infringe on the public marketplace.”
“However, broadband at affordable prices into homes is essential if Dublin is to remain competitive as a business location within an international environment where technological infrastructure determines major investment,” he concludes.
By Lisa Deeney