Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
It was only a matter of time before a canine-friendly app sprung up Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv wasn’t kidding when it claimed to be the dog-friendliest city in the world. The Israeli city has one of the highest numbers of dogs per capita—1 for every 17 residents—and the pups’ pampered treatment is enviable. Fido is welcomed in parks and restaurants, and on buses and trains. They were recently given their very own Dog Day, they get hour-long massages and film nights, and now, they’re even getting their own app.
On Monday, the city government launched Digi-Dog, a mobile app that was created specifically for dog owners. It alerts them to pet-friendly events and businesses nearby, and sends reminders about vaccinations.
It was only a matter of time before an app like this sprung up in the city, where canines are considered more like children than pets. They’re people’s answer to loneliness and isolation, and they help create the sense of community in the city—which, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, still holds on to its collective roots. So the local government and businesses alike are willing to spend the money on dog parks (the city has some 70 already) and opening up dog-specific shops.
Even Tel Aviv’s startups cater to dogs. At last year’s Dog Day festival, Israeli startups showed off apps that help owners book dog walkers, for example. One app aims to create a mobile marketplace for dog owners, who can find anything from a vet to a canine hair dresser.
As for Digi-Dog, the app is part of the city’s smart cities initiative to foster community engagement. It’s a spin-off of the city’s popular DigiTel app, which officials created in 2013 to improve how the local government communicates with its 410,000 citizens. The app allows residents to report potholes and share location-based information on bike lanes and parking. In 2014, it helped crown Tel Aviv as the “best smart city” at the Smart City Expo conference in Barcelona, a title the city reveled in.
In the global race to become the city of the future, Tel Aviv has been nurturing one of the fastest-growing hubs for startups and smart technology, from smart traffic lights to irrigation systems. “Probably between 30 percent and 40 percent of all startups in Tel Aviv are currently developing something that could have a smart-city application,” Eytan Schwartz, the CEO of the economic development agency Tel Aviv Global, told OZY.
It’s worth mentioning, though, that municipality’s smart city efforts and the app—which the city says is used by a third of its population—have received criticism for not going far enough. In an interview with Citiscope, for example, the former Tel Aviv city council member and university professor Noah Efron said DigiTel functioned more like a “lifestyle” app than a civic one. “It doesn’t allow citizens to band together. It doesn’t facilitate, say, petitions,” he said. “It doesn’t pass on decisions the city is making and allow folks to take part. It doesn’t enable people to influence policy.”
And Digi-Dog will likely get its fair share of praise and critiques, too. But at the very least, the app is a testament to the city’s love—obsession, even—for man’s best friend.