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City profiles: Balikesir

Interview with Yücel Yılmaz, the Mayor of Balıkesir Metropolitan Municipality

Having a coast to the Aegean and Marmara Seas, with 15 thousand square kilometers area, approximately 1 million 250 thousand inhabitants, and 20 districts, Balıkesir is one of Turkey's largest city. It is also an attraction center for industrial and tourism investors due to its geographical location. With a 3.5 million summer population, 291 kilometers of coastline, and 31 blue flag beaches, our city is called “Province which feeds Turkey” with its natural, archaeological, historical, and cultural beauties as well as its agricultural and animal production potential. With rich touristic items, thermal facilities, Ida Mountain National Park, gastronomy, eco-tourism, and agro-tourism, Balıkesir was elected Turkey's national destination in 'European Destinations Outstanding Project (EDEN)’/2019 due to the high potential of health and well-being tourism. By transforming the strength of its geography, the diversity of agricultural production, and historical accumulation into clean industry, world brand food products with high technology, clean energy, qualified health, and tourism services; we are striving to build a safe and productive city at peace with its nature where each district is accepted worldwide with its unique elements.

I believe that technological advances and innovative approaches have a transformative effect on city life. For this reason, we insist on the "smart city" phenomenon and carry out our studies in line with the "Smart Cities Strategy and Action Plan" prepared by our Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. We strive for building a sustainable and productive city that adds value to human life with technology. While walking on this road, our most important companion is the youth. With the understanding of "investing in young people is our best future plan", we put young people at the center of our work and we try to build a city where they will be proud to live.

1. Briefly describe and explain the Open Data project in Balikesir.

We launched the "Open Data Portal" in March 2020 in order to create an ecosystem based on a common management approach by increasing the relationship between the institution and the stakeholder. Currently, 53 data sets such as environment, transportation, life, demographic structure, and rural are made public and updates are made continuously. As a metropolitan municipality, we are aiming to build a city with a high quality of life and constant increasing productivity with the project that we have implemented with a sustainable municipality understanding in line with the principles of transparency, participation, reliability, and accountability.

With the open data project that brings transparency to the public with easy access to information, participation, and analysis, we continuously communicate and interact with our citizens and create more transparent urban policies.


2. How do you promote the protection of digital rights in your city?

In order to increase the quality of life of people and the people of the city, we are working to contribute to the correct use of technology by establishing infrastructures with reliable digital services.

The data sets we make available to the public have been anonymized in accordance with the standards of the Personal Data Protection Law (KVKK); We shared all our data sets under license. In addition, the KVKK text is approved and entered at the wi-fi points we serve.

We manage Our Call Center, where we serve effectively in order to produce solutions rapidly to the demands and expectations of our people and to strengthen their communication with our municipality with the CRM software we use and integrated with all public institutions. We provide data security with a strong system infrastructure by hosting all the software we use in our services on our own servers.


3. To what extent information technologies affect the everyday life of your citizens and how does your city government deal with threats such as cyber security?

We closely follow the technological developments in the world and strengthen the future of Balıkesir with digital transformation with planning and approaches suitable for the fabric of our city. We direct our work with the awareness that smart cities are not a luxury but a need for our city. In this context, we launched applications such as "smart intersection" and "smart stop", and created free wi-fi access points in areas with high population.

With the Traffic Management System and Balıkesir Traffic Control Center that we have established within the scope of the smart intersection project, we ensure that the urban transportation network is managed more effectively, efficiently, in a planned and sustainable manner. With the innovative and modern "Smart Stop System" we have implemented, the speed of the vehicles, the lines they are located, the stops they will go to and the time to reach those stops are presented to the passengers. With two projects, we strive to provide a more comfortable transportation opportunity for our people, who make the most of technology. In addition, we offer safe and free wi-fi at points such as public transportation areas, parks, and terminals that our citizens use extensively.

With the "data-driven city management" project we are carrying out within our municipality, we plan to find a solution without any cost by identifying problems such as bad roads, puddles, and air quality in our city through the sensors we will attach to our corporate vehicles.

With the Innovation and Technology Center that will be established in the city, we will train young people in areas such as digital literacy and robotic coding. We will provide technology developers with the opportunity to develop products/software, test these products and meet with the end-user in these centers.


4. What CCDR principles do you perceive as more relevant and important for your work?

All of the principles adopted by CC4DR are also important for our institution.

1. Universal and equal access to the internet, and digital literacy

2. Privacy, data protection, and security

3. Transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of data, content, and algorithms

4. Participatory Democracy, diversity, and inclusion

5. Open and ethical digital service standards


5. Why do you feel initiatives such as CC4DR are valuable? Why should cities engage in it?

We believe there are many things that we can learn from other CC4DR member cities, with the help of international collaborations and the exchange of knowledge and experience with other local governments. We fully believe that we can contribute to this cooperation by transferring our experience to other local governments.

Cities who would like to sign and learn more about the coalition, please review the checklist of digital rights actions and apply to formally indicate your interest in joining.
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