Written by Kieran O’Hea

It’s long been my ambition to transform Digital Cork from a concept based on advocacy, projections and past experience into a tangible entity, underpinned by a vibrant digital ecosystem and a thriving digital economy. That possibility now exists, with or without municipal co-operation.

I’ve lately discovered DigitalTown, a global cloud-hosted platform that essentially delivers what I call “a digital city in a box”. This makes it easy for cities to get online without investing in expensive bespoke systems. The city council buys a platform licence, merchants get a free online shopfront and residents and visitors get a smart wallet for carrying out transactions.

DigitalTown is a serious player, having consulted with thousands of business leaders, city managers, elected officials, civic activists, as well as chambers of commerce, trade associations, and municipal leagues on five continents. The platform is already being deployed in major cities including Austin, London, Dallas, Nashville, Miami, San Diego, Rio de Janeiro, and Sydney.

With benefits for municipalities, residents, visitors and local businesses, DigitalTown believes that it has a significant value proposition. According to Rob Monster, CEO of DigitalTown, “Any city, town or village can be a DigitalTown.” Here’s how it works:

  • Everyone gets a free Smart Wallet. Peer to peer payments with conventional currency and cryptocurrency can be made without fee. Transacting with the public and private sector is as easy as buying from Amazon.
  • Every merchant gets a free storefront. Merchants sell products or services directly. The entire platform is self-funding through commissions. Unlike platform monopolies, as this platform grows, commissions actually drop.
  • Every city platform can be locally owned. Every city platform is intended to be owned by locals, through Blockchain-based CityShares. Once allocated, the CityShares can be bought and sold without fee.
  • Every city platform can be locally governed. Popular vote determines the direction of each city platform, notably the eventual prospect of selling the cooperative to the municipality and how to spend residual profit.
  • Every city becomes interoperable. The credentials, preferences and payment methods needed to use bikeshare, rideshare, public transport, and to make purchases in one city, etc. also work in another city.

The service supports responsible economic development and civic engagement for today’s digital age. Inspired by the support-local movement, the platform lets users search, shop and connect directly with nearby merchants and service providers.

Users can access real-time information on tourism, city events, recreation and public safety, as well as make lodging reservations, shop at local businesses and pay for parking and other services. City administrators can also use the platform to deploy advanced digital solutions for online business licensing, permitting, and asset management.

Digital innovations have severely disrupted traditional high streets and much else, so there is an urgent need to help towns and cities recover their vibrancy and create new earning potential by cooperating collectively as a digital marketplace.  Only ambitious, joined-up and highly scalable approaches like the Digital Town platform will meet this challenge.

The platform allows cities to encourage “buying local” in order to keep more funds in the local economy. Local merchants can use the platform to reach global audiences, even if they have never had an internet presence. There are no setup fees, no service fees, and no requirement for a conventional bank account or merchant account.

Merchants simply pay a low commission on actual sales, thereby making it easy for merchants of all sizes to be accessible via web and mobile. Verified merchants have the option of redeeming sale proceeds to a variety of outlets, as well as major cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Each city on the platform has its own branding, unique domain name (for example, Cork might be https://my.cork) and can issue and trade city shares under that name. The city reinvests in itself and the CityShare holders benefit when the city grows. It’s a digital civic ecosystem with something for everybody, underpinned by smart technology.

DigitalTown’s cooperative ecosystem harnesses blockchain to put people and places at the heart of the digital economy, giving them the means to explore, connect, invest and transact in cities. This is the future of local co-creation, culture and economic success.

Municipal support is, of course, preferable, but Digital Cork could also be privately run with investors receiving city shares commensurate with their contribution to the licence cost. Digital Cork could even become an independent digital city – with its own cyber currency, its own stock market, its own crowdfunding, its own Google etc. Very appropriate considering we already refer to ourselves as The People’s Republic of Cork!

DigitalTown is in the process of rolling the platform out to cities around the world, but no Irish city is on the network yet. It’s an opportunity to position Cork as a leading city for innovation in the Digital Age and put the digital economy firmly on the city’s agenda where it belongs. Check out https://digitaltown.com and let me know what you think.

Kieran O’Hea is Head of Digital Cork. He can be contacted on 087 6481344 or [email protected].


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