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People get more connected and technology becomes part of our daily life. Between 2014 and 2015 there was a 27% growth of internet traffic in Amsterdam. Eleven out of fifteen Trans-Atlantic data cables are connected with or go through Amsterdam and the AMS-IX is the second largest internet exchange point in the world. In 2016 Amsterdam was ranked second in the European Digital City Index. Do you work on a smarter city? Share your technologies here!
De Britse innovatiestichting Nesta lanceert vandaag een rapport met aanbevelingen voor het beschermen van de privacy van burgers in de digitale openbare ruimte. Nesta roept steden en lokale overheden op om lokale bevoegdheden slim in te zetten om het gat te vullen tussen de technologische ontwikkelingen en regulering op nationaal en Europees niveau.
In opdracht van de Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CC4DR), waar Amsterdam deel van uitmaakt, heeft innovatiestichting Nesta onderzocht hoe Europese steden en regio's de privacy van hun inwoners beter kunnen beschermen, vooral als het gaat om gegevens die door de private sector worden ingewonnen. Denk aan eye-tracking-camera's die in billboards zijn ingebouwd, of incassobedrijven die gebruik maken van nummerplaatherkenning (ANPR-camera’s), of het gebruik van wifitracking door ondernemers.
Uit de praktijkvoorbeelden die het in rapport When Billboards Stare Back. How Cities Can Reclaim The Digital Public Space zijn verzameld, blijken gemeenten voorop te lopen met innovatief beleid voor sensoren in de openbare of semi-private ruimtes, dat de inzet van onder meer camera’s of geluidssensoren beperkt en ervoor zorgt dat het recht op privacy niet wordt ondermijnd. De gemeente Amsterdam heeft bijvoorbeeld om deze reden een meldingsplicht voor sensoren opgenomen in de Algemene Plaatselijke Verordening.
Het rapport laat zien dat nationale overheden de technologische ontwikkelingen in de publieke ruimte niet altijd goed kunnen bijbenen. Ook blijkt dat er onvoldoende Europese of nationale wetgeving is om technologische ontwikkelingen altijd goed te reguleren. Als er wetgeving is dan zijn de regels veelal abstract, waardoor ze in de praktijk niet altijd goed zijn toe te passen.
Daarom roept Nesta steden en lokale overheden op om het gat tussen de technologische ontwikkelingen en regulering op nationaal en Europees niveau op te vullen door slim gebruik te maken van bevoegdheden. Daarbij is het belangrijk dat steden privacy en grondrechten van hun burgers vooropstellen en tegelijkertijd verantwoorde nieuwe manieren van dienstverlening en innovatie van de private sector stimuleren. Zo wordt de persoonlijke levenssfeer van burgers ook beschermd in de publieke ruimte.
Aanbevelingen voor steden en lokale overheden
Het rapport bevat een aantal concrete acties die steden kunnen ondernemen om hun invloed en effectiviteit te vergroten bij het beschermen van de gegevens van hun inwoners en bezoekers.
• Maak effectief en slim gebruik van de bevoegdheden en instrumenten die steden al hebben zoals vergunningverlening en inkoop, zodat private partijen verantwoord omgaan met de inzet van sensoren in de publieke ruimte.
• Betrek private partijen, burgers en het maatschappelijk middenveld op een ‘bottom-up’ manier. Pak daarbij een communicatieve en bemiddelende rol.
• Zorg dat gegevensbescherming standaard onderdeel uitmaakt van het werk en integreer privacy expertise in de organisatie.
• Pas de Algemene verordening gegevensbescherming aan door het introduceren van een plicht om Data Protection Impact Assessments vooraf aan datacollectie in de publieke ruimte te melden bij lokale overheden en de toezichthouders.
• Zorg voor bewustwording over de positie van steden bij datacollectie door private partijen en lobby voor effectiever toezicht op sensoren in de fysieke publieke ruimte, en specifiek voor publieke ruimten die beheerd worden door private partijen.
De Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CC4DR) is een internationaal netwerk van steden die samen optrekken op het gebied van digitale rechten en beleidsvorming. De coalitie is in november 2018 gelanceerd door Amsterdam, Barcelona en New York en inmiddels zijn zo’n 50 steden wereldwijd lid van de coalitie.
De coalitie zet zich in voor het bevorderen en verdedigen van digitale rechten in de stedelijke context door middel van juridische, ethische en operationele kaders om mensenrechten in digitale omgevingen te bevorderen. Gezamenlijke acties in netwerken zoals de CC4DR zijn essentieel om als gemeenten samen de uitdagingen aan te gaan die digitale technologieën met zich meebrengen. Gemeente Amsterdam is een van de oprichters van de coalitie en de uitdaging die aanleiding was voor het onderzoeksrapport van Nesta speelt ook in Amsterdam: sensoren en apparaten in de fysieke openbare en semi-private ruimte waarmee bedrijven persoonlijke gegevens verzamelen en waarmee het recht op privacy wordt ondermijnd. In samenwerking met andere steden en organisaties wordt samengewerkt om hier een antwoord op te vinden.
Lees het volledige rapport hier
Fotocredit: Sandro Gonzalez
On June 14 and 21 the 16th edition of our Demo Days will take place. This will be the first Demo Days on location (will be announced soon) since COVID-19. Our themes for these upcoming Demo Days are:
15 June: Energy & Mobility
21 March: Circular & Digital
What are the Amsterdam Smart City Demo Days?
The Demo Days are one of the tools we use to stimulate innovation and encourage connection between our partners and community. The purpose of the Demo Days is to present the progress of various innovation projects to each other, ask for help, share dilemmas and involve more partners in a project to take these projects to the next level. In small groups we work on concrete questions.
We have created the Demo Days as a safe place for asking input from the network. A fresh perspective from another professional can be exactly what you need to move forward. You cannot work on a transition alone, which is why it’s important to involve others in your process. During these days, we also give the stage to community members to pitch projects and ask for input from our network.
That’s where you come in!
Not only are the Demo Days open for our community, but we offer you the opportunity to pitch your innovative initiative during the event. We want to involve our community more in the activities that we regularly organise, as you are an important part of the Amsterdam Smart City innovation ecosystem.
Are you working on an innovative project that could use some input? Or are you preparing for an inspiring event that needs a spotlight?
If it fits within our themes, sent a message to email@example.com or let us know in the comments. We would be happy to discuss if it's a match!
Vorige week heb ik de community geattendeerd op de publicatie van mijn e-book Better cities and digitization. Dat is een compilatie van de 23 posts op deze website het afgelopen half jaar.
Inmiddels is ook de Nederlandstalige versie Steden en digitalisering beschikbaar. Ik sta daarin eerst stil bij de technocentrische en de mensgerichte benadering van smart cities. Daarna problematiseer ik de roep om 'datagestuurd beleid'. Ik ga vervolgens uitvoerig in op ethische principes bij de beoordeling van technologieën. Vervolgens beschrijf ik een procedure hoe steden met digitalisering zouden kunnen omgaan, te beginnen met Kate Raworth. Ook het digitaliseringsbeleid van Amsterdam krijgt aandacht. Daarna komen vier toepassingen aan de orde: bestuur, energie, mobiliteit en gezondheidszorg. Wie doorleest tot op de laatste bladzijde ziet dat Amsterdam Smart City het laatste woord krijgt;-)
Via de link hieronder kun je dit boek gratis downloaden.
For 23 weeks I have published weekly episodes of the series Better Cities. The role of digital technology on this site. I have edited and compiled these episodes in an e-book (88 pages). You can download this for free via the link below. The book has 17 chapters that are grouped into six parts:
1. Hardcore: Technology-centered approaches
2. Towards a humancentric approach
3. Misunderstanding the use of data
4. Ethical considerations
5. Embedding digitization in urban policy
6. Applications (government, mobility, energy and healthcare)
7. Wrapping up: Better cities and technology
KNX and FLEXCON2022 are hosting a free KNX Smart Energy & IoT development workshop on June 28, for 15 developers max.
Are you an experienced developer who wants to build Smart Energy applications? Bring your RPi’s and other Linux devices and come to Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam on June 28th !
In this 'mini-hackathon’, you will get to understand the KNX IoT development approach. You will utilize a free client-development solution to interact with the KNX installation to build Energy Management solutions for a cleaner, smarter world. Connect heatpumps, EV's, batteries and solar panels to the smart grid!
The workshop is free of charge. We have only 15 spots available, so apply now! For more information and subscription to the KNX IoT workshop on June 28, check the link:
While it’s easy to find Gorillas, Getir, Flink, and Zapp flash delivery services in iTunes or Google Play app stores, It’s not so easy to locate these many grocery depots in Amsterdam.
In this interactive map we located the many physical locations of these dark stores to see the saturated landscape of flitsbezorging (flash delivery) infrastructure in Amsterdam. The goal of the map is to help consumers choose delivery services based on proximity to homes / businesses and help calm some inner city bike routes!
Curious to see the 10minute cycle zones or the locations of the many dark stores in Amsterdam? Check out this map and more information about dark stores here.
Het rijk geïllustreerde Kennisdossier Duurzame energie (150 pagina’s) is een compilatie van 75 artikelen en blogposts over de energietransitie. Je kunt het via onderstaande link gratis downloaden.
Het bevat de volgende hoofdstukken:
1. Feiten om te onthouden
2. Bronnen van duurzame energie in Nederland
3. Openstaande keuzen: Vier scenario’s
4. Hoeveel zonnepanelen passen in Nederland
5. Energietransitie mogelijk dankzij de zonnecel
6. Van zonnepaneel naar zonnedak en zonnepan
7. Zonnepanelen kunnen (bijna) overal liggen
8. Recycling zonnepanelen: naar de maan en terug
9. Manieren om netwerkverzwaring te voorkomen
10. Smart grids: Waar techniek, digitale en sociale innovatie samenkomen
11. Samenwerken in een energiecoöperatie
12. Duurzaam maken van je woning: Voor jezelf en de aarde
13. Naar een rechtvaardige energietransitie
14. Zonder energieopslag geen energietransitie
17. Verwijderen, opvangen en opslaan van CO2
18. Kernsplitsing en kernfusie
20. Onze toekomstige energievoorziening
In de afgelopen maanden is de maatschappelijke en politieke discussie over de vestiging van datacentra in een stroomversnelling geraakt. Naar aanleiding van de plannen voor de bouw van een groot datacentrum bij Zeewolde is veel gesproken over nut, noodzaak en wenselijkheid van vestiging van dit soort faciliteiten in Nederland. Daarbij kwamen zorgen naar boven over de verhouding tussen het energie- en grondstoffengebruik van datacentra en hun maatschappelijke en economische meerwaarde. Ook was er kritiek op hoe de besluitvorming over de vestiging van datacentra bestuurlijk is ingericht.
Het rapport 'Beter beslissen over datacentra' van het Rathenau Instituut onderzoekt de maatschappelijke betekenis van datacentra en de besluitvorming over hun vestiging. Het maakt inzichtelijk wat datacentra zijn, hoe ze werken en hoe ze onderling van elkaar verschillen, welke kwesties er spelen en hoe deze kwesties op dit moment bestuurd worden op lokaal, regionaal en nationaal niveau. De analyse mondt uit in vijf aanbevelingen voor een goede publieke governance van de digitale infrastructuur.
Het Rathenau Instituut pleit ervoor om bij de ontwikkeling van beleid, niet te focussen op de (grote) datacentra die nu volop in de belangstelling staan, maar te kijken naar de hele infrastructuur die de digitalisering van onze samenleving mogelijk maakt. Daarbij gaat het ook om kabels, zendmasten, ontvangers, schakelaars en routers, plus de functies die zij in samenhang vervullen. Wat willen we in Nederland met deze infrastructuur? Die vraag zou het voorwerp moeten zijn van een maatschappelijk debat. Naast bestuurders en deskundigen, moeten ook burgers daarbij betrokken zijn. Om het debat te voeden, is ook meer kennis nodig, bijvoorbeeld over de financieel-economische voordelen van datacentra.
De digitale infrastructuur is inmiddels zo belangrijk geworden voor de samenleving dat ze kenmerken heeft van een nutsvoorziening: een essentiële voorziening van algemeen belang. Dit betekent dat publieke waarden leidend moeten zijn bij de governance van deze infrastructuur. Het bestaande energiebeleid kan daartoe als model dienen. Het onderzoek laat zien dat relevante publieke waarden voor de digitale infrastructuur, veel gelijkenis vertonen met de waarden die ten grondslag liggen aan het Nederlandse energiebeleid. Ook hier immers gaat het om betrouwbaarheid, veiligheid, betaalbaarheid, duurzaamheid en goede ruimtelijke inpassing.
Meer hierover kunt u lezen op https://www.rathenau.nl/nl/digitale-samenleving/beter-beslissen-over-datacentra.
Foto bij bericht: Shutterstock
In the last episode of the Better cities: The contribution of digital technology-series, I will answer the question that is implied in the title of the series, namely how do we ensure that technology contributes to socially and environmentally sustainable cities. But first a quick update.
Smart city, what was it like again?
In 2009, IMB launched a global marketing campaign around the previously little-known concept of 'smart city' with the aim of making city governments receptive to ICT applications in the public sector. The initial emphasis was on process control (see episode 3). Especially emerging countries were interested. Many made plans to build smart cities 'from scratch', also meant to attract foreign investors. The Korean city of Songdo, developed by Cisco and Gale International, is a well-known example. The construction of smart cities has also started in Africa, such as Eko-Atlantic City (Nigeria), Konzo Technology City and Appolonia City (Ghana). So far, these cities have not been a great success.
The emphasis soon shifted from process control to using data from the residents themselves. Google wanted to supplement its already rich collection of data with data that city dwellers provided with their mobile phones to create a range of new commercial applications. Its sister company Sidewalk Labs, which was set up for that purpose, started developing a pilot project in Toronto. That failed, partly due to the growing resistance to the violation of privacy. This opposition has had global repercussions and led in many countries to legislation to better protect privacy. China and cities in Southeast Asia - where Singapore is leading the way - ignored this criticism.
The rapid development of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, gave further impetus to discussion about the ethical implications of technology (episodes 9-13). Especially in the US, applications in facial recognition and predictive police were heavily criticized (episode 16). Artificial intelligence had meanwhile become widespread, for example to automate decision-making (think of the infamous Dutch allowance affair) or to simulate urban processes with, for example, digital twins (episode 5).
This current situation - particularly in the Netherlands - can be characterized on the one hand by the development of regulations to safeguard ethical principles (episode 14) and on the other by the search for responsible applications of digital technology (episode 15). The use of the term 'smart city' seems to be subject to some erosion. Here we are picking up the thread.
The dozens of descriptions of the term 'smart city' not only vary widely but they also evoke conflicting feelings. Some see (digital) technology as an effective means of urban growth; others see it as a threat. The question is therefore how useful the term 'smart city' is still. Touria Meliani, alderman of Amsterdam, prefers to speak of 'wise city' than of 'smart city' to emphasize that she is serious about putting people first. According to her, the term 'smart city' mainly emphasizes the technical approach to things. She is not the first. Previously, Daniel Latorre, place making specialist in New York and Francesco Schianchi, professor of urban design in Milan also argued for replacing 'smart' with 'wise'. Both use this term to express that urban policy should be based profoundly on the wishes and needs of citizens.
Whatever term you use, it is primarily about answering the question of how you ensure that people - residents and other stakeholders of a city - are put in the center. You can think of three criteria here:
1. An eye for the impact on the poorest part of the population
There is a striking shift in the literature on smart cities. Until recently, most articles focused on the significance of 'urban tech' for mobility, reduction of energy use and public safety. In a short time, much more attention has been paid to subjects such as the accessibility of the Internet, the (digital) accessibility of urban services and health care, energy and transport poverty and the consequences of gentrification. In other words, a shift took place from efficiency to equality and from physical interventions to social change. The reason is that many measures that are intended to improve the living environment led to an increase in the (rental) price and thus reduce the availability of homes.
2. Substantial share of co-creation
Boyd Cohen distinguishes three types of smart city projects. The first type (smart city 1.0) is technology- or corporate-driven. In this case, companies deliver instruments or software 'off the shelf'. For example, the provision of a residential area with adaptive street lighting. The second type (smart city 2.0) is technology enabled, also known as government-driven. In this case, a municipality develops a plan and then issues a tender. For example, connecting and programming traffic light installations, so that emergency services and public transport always receive the green light. The third type (smart city 3.0) is community-driven and based on citizen co-creation, for example an energy cooperative. In the latter case, there is the greatest chance that the wishes of the citizens concerned will come first.
A good example of co-creation between different stakeholders is the development of the Brain port Smart District in Helmond, a mixed neighborhood where living, working, generating energy, producing food, and regulating a circular neighborhood will go hand in hand. The future residents and entrepreneurs, together with experts, are investigating which state-of-the-art technology can help them with this.
Bias among developers plays a major role in the use of artificial intelligence. The best way to combat bias (and for a variety of other reasons, too) is to use diversity as a criterion when building development teams. But also (ethical) committees that monitor the responsible purchasing and use of (digital) technologies are better equipped for their task the more diverse they are.
Respecting urban complexity
In his essay The porous city, Gavin Starks describes how smart cities, with their technical utopianism and marketing jargon, ignore the plurality of the drivers of human behavior and instead see people primarily as homo economicus, driven by material gain and self-interest.
The best example is Singapore – the number 1 on the Smart City list, where techno-utopianism reigns supreme. This one-party state provides prosperity, convenience, and luxury using the most diverse digital aids to everyone who exhibits desirable behavior. There is little room for a differing opinion. A rapidly growing number of CCTV cameras – soon to be 200,000 – ensures that everyone literally stays within the lines. If not, the culprit can be quickly located with automatic facial recognition and crowd analytics.
Anyone who wants to understand human life in the city and does not want to start from simplistic assumptions such as homo economicus must respect the complexity of the city, try to understand it, and know that careless intervention might have huge unintended consequences.
The complexity of the city is the main argument against the use of reductionist adjectives such as 'smart', but also 'sharing', circular, climate-neutral', ‘resilient' and more. In addition, the term smart refers to a means that is rarely seen as an aim as such. If an adjective were desirable, I prefer the term 'humane city'.
But whatever you name a city, it is necessary to emphasize that it is a complex organism with many facets, the coherence of which must be well understood by all stakeholders for the city to prosper and its inhabitants to be happy.
Digitization. Two tracks
City authorities that are aware of the complexity of their city can best approach digitization along two tracks. The first aims to translate the city's problems and ambitions into policy and consider digital instruments a part of the whole array of other instruments. The second track is the application of ethical principles in the search for and development of digital tools. Both tracks influence each other.
Track 1: The contribution of digital technology
Digital technology is no more or less than one of the instruments with which a city works towards an ecologically and socially sustainable future. To articulate what such a future is meaning, I introduced Kate Raworth's ideas about the donut economy (episode 9). Designing a vision for the future must be a broadly supported democratic process. In this process, citizens also check the solution of their own problems against the prosperity of future generations and of people elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, policy makers must seamlessly integrate digital and other policy instruments, such as legislation, funding, and information provision (episode 8).
The most important question when it comes to (digital) technology is therefore which (digital) technological tools contribute to the realization of a socially and ecologically sustainable city.
Track 2: The ethical use of technology
In the world in which we realize the sustainable city of the future, digital technology is developing rapidly. Cities are confronted with these technologies through powerful smart city technology marketing. The most important question that cities should ask themselves in this regard is How do we evaluate the technology offered and that we want to develop from an ethical perspective. The first to be confronted with this question—besides hopefully the industry itself—is the department of the Chief Information or Technology officer. He or she naturally participates in the first track-process and can advise policymakers at an early stage. I previously inventoried (ethical) criteria that play a role in the assessment of technological instrument.
In the management of cities, both tracks come together, resulting in one central question: Which (digital) technologies are eligible to support us towards a sustainable future in a responsible way. This series has not provided a ready-made answer; this depends on the policy content and context. However, the successive editions of this series will have provided necessary constituents of the answer.
In my e-book Cities of the Future. Always humane, smart if helpful, I have carried out the policy process as described above, based on current knowledge about urban policy and urban developments. This has led to the identification of 13 themes and 75 actions, with references to potentially useful technology. You can download the e-book here:
The 22nd and penultimate episode in the *Better cities: The contribution of digital technology-*series will discuss two ambitious ‘smart city’plans of two governments and the associated risks.
Recently, the European Commission launched a 100-city plan, the EU Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities. One hundred European cities that aspire to be climate neutral by 2030 (you read that correctly) can register and count on supplemental funding. I immediately thought of another 100-city plan, India's Smart City Mission. In 2015, Prime Minister Modi announced that in six years 100 Indian cities would become 'smart'. The official term of the project has now ended, and I will examine below whether this goal has been achieved, I discuss the two plans and then explain why I call both of them a leap forward. At the end I will make a few suggestions for how the European mission can still learn from the Indian one.
India's Smart City Mission
In India, 377 million people live in cities. In 15 years, 200 million will have been added. Already, traffic in Indian cities has come to a complete standstill, each year more than 600,000 people die from air pollution, half of the urban areas have no drinking water connection, waste collection is poor and only 3% of sewage is treated. The rest is discharged into surface water, which is also the main source of drinking water.
The Smart City Mission was intended to implement substantial improvements on all these problems in 100 cities, which together comprise 30% of the population. In the improvements digital technology had to play an important role.
The 100 cities were selected because of favorable prospects and the quality of the plans, which usually consisted of a long series of projects.
The regular city governing bodies were deemed incompetent to lead the projects. That is why management boards (‘special purpose vehicles’) have been appointed, operating under company law and led by a CEO, supported by international consultancy firms. All rights and duties of the City Council regarding the execution of the mission were delegated to the appointed boards, including the power to collect taxes! Not surprisingly, this decision has been challenged in many places. Several cities have withdrawn from 'the mission' for this reason.
To implement their projects, each city would receive $150 million over five consecutive years. This money should be seen as seed capital to be supplemented from additional sources such as public-private partnerships, commercial bank lending, external financing, loans, and foreign investment.
Area-oriented and pan-urban approach
The plans contain two components: an area-oriented and a pan-urban approach. The first aims at adapting, retrofitting or new construction and should relate to a wide range of 'smart services'. For example high-speed internet, waste facilities, parking facilities, energy-efficient buildings, but also replacement of slums by high-rise buildings. The slick 'architectural impressions' that circulated at the beginning of the planning period (see above) mainly concern the area-oriented approach.
The pan-urban approach includes at least one 'smart' facility for a larger part of the city. The choice is often made to improve the transport infrastructure, for example the construction of new roads and highways and the purchase of electric buses. No fewer than 70 cities have built a 'smart' control center based on the example of Rio de Janeiro, which I believe was rather premature.
Now that the official term of 'the mission' has ended, a first inventory can be made, although observers complain about a lack of transparency about the results. About half of all the 5000 projects that have been started have not (yet) been completed and a significant part of the government funds have not yet been disbursed. This could still happen in the coming years. This is also because attracting external resources has lagged behind expectations. These funds came mainly from governments, and large technology companies. This has had an impact on the implementation of the plans.
The slow progress of most projects is partly because most of the population was barely aware of the mission and that city councils were not always cooperative either.
It was foreseen that half of the available resources would go to area-oriented projects; this eventually became 75-80%. As a result, on average only 4% of the inhabitants of the cities involved have benefited from 'the mission' and even then it is not clear what the benefits exactly entail. The city of New Delhi covers an area of almost 1500 km2, while the area concerned is only 2.2 km2: So you're not even going to have 100 smart cities. You're going to have 100 smart enclaves within cities around the country, said Shivani Chaudhry, director of the Housing and Land Rights Network.
It soon became clear that the mission would be no more than a drop in the ocean. Instead of $150 million, it would take $10 billion per city, $1000 billion in total, to address all ambitions, according to an official calculation. Deloitte was a little more modest, calculating the need for $150 billion in public money and $120 billion from private sources.
Type of projects
The many topics eligible for funding have resulted in a wide variety of projects. Only one city has put the quality of the environment first. Most cities have initiated projects in the areas of clean energy, improving electricity supply, reducing air pollution, construction of new roads, purchasing electric buses, waste disposal and sanitation. What is also lacking, is a focus on human rights, gender, and the interests of the poorest population groups.
In some places, it has been decided to clear slums and relocate residents to high-rise buildings on the outskirts of the city. Indian master architect Doshi warns that the urban vision behind the smart city plans will destroy the informality and diversity that is the cornerstone of the country's rural and urban society. He challenges planners to shift the emphasis to rural areas and to create sufficient choices and opportunities there.
The European Mission on Climate-neutral and Smart Cities
Cities produce more than 70% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and use more than 65% of total energy. In addition, cities in Europe only cover 4% of the total surface area and accommodate 75% of the population. The ecological footprint of the urban population is more than twice what it is entitled to, assuming a proportional distribution of the earth's resources.
On November 25, 2021, the European Commission called on European cities to express their interest in a new European mission on Climate-neutral and smart cities. The mission aims to have 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030, which will act as a model for all other European cities.
The sectors involved in this transformation process are the built environment, energy production and distribution, transport, waste management, industrial processes and product use, agriculture, forestry, and other land uses and large-scale deployment of digital technology. That is why the European Commission talks of a green and digital twin, or a simultaneous green and digital transformation.
Reaching the stated goal requires a new way of working and the participation of the urban population, hence the motto 100 climate neutral cities by 2030 - by and for the citizens.
According to the plan's authors, the main obstacle to climate transition is not a lack of climate-friendly and smart technology, but the inability to implement it. The current fragmented form of governance cannot bring about an ambitious climate transition. Crucial to the success of the mission is the involvement of citizens in their various roles as political actors, users, producers, consumers, or owners of buildings and means of transport.
The additional investment to achieve the mission is estimated at €96 billion for 100 European cities by 2030, with a net positive economic benefit to society of €25 billion that will increase further in the period thereafter. The European Commission will provide €360 million in seed funding.
The overwhelming amount of funding will have to come from banks, private equity, institutional investors, and from the public sector at the local, regional and national level.
What went wrong with the Indian Mission and its follow-up
The gap between ambitions and reality
Almost all comments on 'the mission' emphasize that three necessary conditions were not met from the start, namely a widely accepted governance model, adequate funding, and involvement of the population and local government. There was an unbridgeable gap between ambitions and available resources, with the contribution of external capital being grossly overestimated.
The biggest problem, however, is the gap between the mission's ambitions and the nature of the problems that India it faces: Cities are bursting at the seams because of the millions of poor people who flock to cities every year in search of work and a place to live that find them only in the growing slums. The priorities for which the country must find a solution are therefore: improving life in rural areas, improving housing in the cities, ensuring safe drinking water, waste disposal, sanitation, and purification of wastewater, good (bus) transport and less polluting car traffic. Urgently needed is a sustainable development model that addresses ecological problems, makes urbanization manageable, controls pollution and will use resources efficiently.
The 'Mission' is a leap forward, which does not tackle these problems at the root, but instead seeks a solution in 'smartification'. Policymakers were captivated by the promises made by IBM and other technology companies that ICT is the basis for solving most urban problems. A view that I objected in the third episode of this series. IC solutions have been concentrated in enclaves where businesses and prosperous citizens are welcomed. The Government of India Special Rapporteur on Housing therefore notes that the proposals submitted had a predominant focus on technology rather than prioritizing affordable housing and doubts the correctness of this choice.
Instead of emphasizing the role of digital technology, the focus should have been on equitable, inclusive, and sustainable living areas for all. Not the area-oriented but the pan-urban approach should have prevailed.
Several authors suggest future actions consistent with the above comments:
• Setting a longer time horizon, which is much more in line with the problems as they are felt locally.
• Decentralization, coupled with strengthening local government in combination with citizen participation.
• A more limited number of large-scale pan-urban projects. These projects should have an immediate impact on all 4000 Indian cities and the surrounding countryside.
• More attention for nature and the environment instead of cutting down trees to widen motorways.
• Training programs in the field of urbanization, partly to align urban development with Indian culture.
The European mission revisited
Europe and India are incomparable in many ways, but I do see similarities between the two missions.
With the proclamation of the 'mission', the Indian government wanted to show the ultimate – perhaps desperate – act of determination to confront the country's overwhelming problems. I therefore called this mission a flight forward in which the image of the 'smart city' was used as a catalyst. However, the country’s problems are out of proportion to this, and the other means employed.
It is plausible that the European Union Commission also wanted to take an ultimate act. After the publication of the ambitious European Green Deal, each national governments seems to be drawing its own plan. The ‘100 cities mission’ is perhaps intended as a 'booster', but here too the feasibility of this strategy is doubtful.
Smart and green
The European Union cherishes the image of a 'green and digital twin', a simultaneous green and digital transformation. Both the Government of India and the European Commission consider digital technology an integral part of developing climate neutral cities. I hope to have made it clear in the previous 21 episodes of this series that digital technology will certainly contribute. However, the reduction of greenhouse gases and digitization should not be seen as an extension of each other. Making a city climate neutral requires way more than (digital) technology. Moreover, suitable technology is still partly under development. It is often forgotten that technology is one of the causes of global warming. Using the image of green and smart twins will fuel the tension between the two, just like it happened in India. In that case, it remains to be seen where the priority will lie. In India it was 'smart'.
Funding of the Indian mission fell short; much is still unclear about funding of the European mission. It is highly questionable whether European states, already faced with strong opposition to the costs of 'climate', will be willing to channel extra resources to cities.
The European mission wants to be by and for the citizens. But the goal has already been established, namely becoming climate neutral by 2030. A new 'bottom-up' governmental approach would have been to investigate whether there are cities where a sufficiently large part of the population agrees with becoming climate neutral earlier than in 2050 and how much sooner that could be and next, leave it to these cities themselves to figure-out how to do this.
Can Europe still prevent its mission from failing like India's? I propose to look for in the same direction as India seems to be doing now:
• Opt for one unambiguous goal: Reducing greenhouse gases significantly earlier than 2050.
• Challenge a limited number of cities each to form a broad coalition of local stakeholders that share this ambition.
• Make extra resources available, but also ask the cities themselves to make part of the necessary investments.
• Stimulate universities and industry to provide a European response to Big Tech and to make connections with the 'European Green Deal'.
My e-book Smart City Tales contains several descriptions of intended and alleged smart cities, including the much-discussed Saudi Arabian Neom. The Dutch version is here.
The first Demo Days of 2022 were a success! On March 10 and 17, we gathered online to connect and inspire our partners and community on the topics Circular & Energy and Digital & Mobility. In this article, we share a recap of the topics and projects discussed during the 15th edition of our Demo Days.
About our Demo Days
The Demo Days are one of the tools we use to stimulate innovation and encourage connection between our partners and community. The purpose of the Demo Days is to present the progress of various innovation projects, ask for help, share dilemmas and involve more partners to take these projects to the next level. More information about the Demo Days can be found here.
Demo Day: Circular & Energy
Circular energy transition
With the changing global economy and shortages of raw materials, it is important to look at materials needed for the energy transition. How can we reduce the negative impact of products that have a positive impact on the energy transition? In this session, participants identified common challenges: think of regulations and logistics, but also behaviour. In addition, one of the conclusions is that education must join the transition. Now that the obstacles are clear, we must reach a joint approach. Do you want to be involved in our next steps? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The social side of smart grids – Mark van der Wees (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) and Lennart Zwols (municipality of Amsterdam)
During the session led by Mark van der Wees and Lennart Zwols, participants discussed the social side of smart grids. Where does the ownership of a smart grid lie? And how can we involve citizens? The main take-out is that we need more knowledge about the broader societal costs, benefits and risks. Questions and input on the societal input of smart grids can be sent to Mark at: email@example.com.
Power in the energy transition – Gijs Diercks (DRIFT)
Gijs Diercks facilitated a session in which we discussed a socio-political aspect of energy transition: namely, how unequal power limits change and reform. Gijs invited participants to discuss their experiences with power relations in energy projects. We often talk about a decentralization of power, but, power often ends up somewhere else. An interesting insight was that it would be good to talk more explicitly about power within concrete projects in the future.
Demo Day: Digital & Mobility
Webinar data management in practice - Arjan Koning (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) and Huib Pasman (Johan Cruijff ArenA)
Prior to the sessions, Arjan Koning and Huib Pasman gave a webinar on data management in practice. What do you need to consider when working with data? And what do you need to arrange in order to properly deal with ownership and authorization of access?
The ownership and responsibility of data – Noor Bouwens (Province of North Holland)
Following the webinar, Noor Bouwens led a working session in which the participants were introduced to the developments, tasks and challenges that the Province of North Holland sees in this area. It turned out that challenges in the field of data governance are recognizable to the businesses, knowledge institutions and governments alike. The biggest challenge is the substantive management of project data and deciding who is responsible for this.
The smart charging square – Peter van Dam (SlimLaden)
In this session, the participants reflected on what the future of parking will look like based on the smart charging square case in Haarlemmermeer. The main take-out from the session is that a broader framework is needed around electric parking solutions. It is difficult for municipalities to predict the future when it comes to EV charging. Therefore municipalities are hesitant to formulate concrete plans. Hopefully soon, more pilots will be set up to take smart charging solution to the next phase.
Are you joining us?
Our next Demo Days take place on June 14 (Mobility & Energy) and June 21 (Circular & Digital).
Are you working on an innovative project that could use some input? Or are you preparing for an inspiring event that needs a spotlight?
If it fits within our themes, sent a message via firstname.lastname@example.org or let us know in the comments. We are happy to talk with you to find out if it's a match! As soon as the program is determined, we will share it on the platform and give you the opportunity to join as participant.
Met trots presenteren we de Responsible Sensing Toolkit die vorige week werd gelanceerd. Deze Toolkit helpt gemeenten en organisaties die op een verantwoorde manier sensor-technologieën willen inzetten in de openbare ruimte.
Ben jij een stadsinnovator die zich bezighoudt met de inzet van sensoren? En wil je meer te weten komen over hoe je daarbij maatschappelijke normen en waarden als uitgangspunt kunt nemen? De Responsible Sensing Toolkit helpt je in zes stappen op weg.
In de Toolkit vind je allerlei hulpmiddelen die je op weg helpen met jouw sensing-project. Bijvoorbeeld ons Responsible Sensing Toolkit Decision Canvas en video's waarin experts hun inzichten delen. Ook kun je je aanmelden voor een van onze workshops, zoals de Quickscan die je helpt bij het maken van een heldere roadmap naar een verantwoord en ethisch sensing-project. In sommige gevallen bieden we deze workshop gratis aan. Lees hier meer over deze workshop.
We proudly present to you the Responsible Sensing Toolkit that was launched last week. This Toolkit empowers municipalities and organizations that want to implement sensing technologies for public space in a responsible manner.
Are you a city innovator thinking about deploying sensors? And do you want to learn more about how societal values could guide you in doing so? The Responsible Sensing Toolkit will help you on your journey in 6 steps.
The Toolkit offers many resources that will help you on your way with your sensing project. For instance our Responsible Sensing Toolkit Decision Canvas or our videos in which experts share their insights. We also offer workshops, like a Quick scan that helps you set up a clear roadmap to a responsible and ethical sensing project. In particular cases this workshop is free of charge. Read more about this workshop here.
The 21st episode of the Better cities – the contribution of digital technology-series is about priorities for digital healthcare, often referred to as eHealth.
The subject is broader than what will be discussed here. I won't talk about the degree of automation in surgery, the impressive equipment available to doctors, ranging from the high-tech chair at the dentist to the MRI scanner in hospitals, nor about researching microbes in air, water and sewerage that has exploded due to the covid pandemic. Even the relationship with the urban environment remains somewhat in the background. This simply does not play a prominent role when it comes to digitization in healthcare. The subject, on the other hand, lends itself well to illustrate ethical and social problems associated with digitization. As well as the solutions available in the meantime.
The challenge: saving costs and improving the quality of care
The Netherlands can be fortunate to be one of the countries with the best care in the world. However, there are still plenty of challenges, such as a greater focus on health instead of on disease, placing more responsibility for their own health on citizens, increasing the resilience of hospitals, paying attention to health for the poorer part of the population, whose number of healthy life years is significantly lower and, above all, limiting the increase of cost. Over the past 20 years, healthcare in the Netherlands has become 150% more expensive, not counting the costs of the pandemic. Annual healthcare costs now amount to € 100 billion, about 10% of GDP. Without intervention, this will rise to approximately €170 billion in 2040, mainly due to an aging population. In the meantime, healthcare costs are very unevenly distributed: 80% of healthcare costs go to 10% of the population.
The most important task facing the Netherlands and other rich countries is to use digitization primarily to reduce healthcare costs, while not forgetting the other challenges mentioned. This concerns a series of - often small - forms of digital care. According to McKinsey, savings of €18 billion by 2030 are within reach, if only with forms of digitization with proven effect. Most gains can be made by reducing the administrative burden and shifting costs to less specialized centers, to home treatment and to prevention.
There are more than 300,000 health sites and apps on the Internet, which provide comprehensive information about diseases, options for diagnosis and self-treatment. More and more medical data can also be viewed online. Often the information on apps is incomplete resulting in misdiagnosis. Doctors in the Netherlands especially recommend the website Thuisarts.nl, which they developed themselves.
Many apps use gamification, such as exercises to improve memory. A good example of digital social innovation is Mirrorable, a program to treat children with motor disorders because of brain injury. This program also enables contact between parents whose inputs continuously help to improve exercises.
Process automation in healthcare resembles in many respects automation elsewhere, such as personnel, logistics and financial management. More specific is the integrated electronic patient file. The Framework Act on Electronic Data Exchange in Healthcare, adopted in 2021, obliges healthcare providers to exchange data electronically and prescribes standards. However, data exchange will be minimal and will only take place at a decentralized level to address privacy concerns. The complexity of the organization of health care and the constant discussions about the content of such a system were also immense obstacles. That's a pity because a central system lowers costs and increases quality. Meanwhile, new technological developments guarantee privacy with great certainty. For example, the use of federated (decentralized) forms of data storage combined with blockchain. TNO conducts groundbreaking research in this area. The institution applies the principles of federated learning along with the application of multi-party computation technology. These innovative technologies enable learning from sensitive data from multiple sources without sharing this data.
The recent eHealth monitor of the RIVM shows that by 2021 almost half of all doctors and nurses had had contact with patients with video calling, while this hardly happened in 2019. Incidentally, this concerns a relatively small group of patients. In the US there was an even larger increase, which has now been converted into a sharp decline. It seems that in the US primary health care is reinventing itself. Walgreens, the largest US drugstore chain, will begin offering primary care in 1000 of its stores. Apparently, in many cases, physical contact with a doctor is irreplaceable, even if (or perhaps because) the doctor is relatively anonymous.
Video calling is not only important for care provider, but also for informal caregivers, family and friends and help to combat loneliness. Virtual reality (metaverse!) will further expand the possibilities for this. TNO is also active here: The TNO media lab is developing a scalable communication platform in which the person involved (patient or client), using only an upright iPad, has the impression that the doctor, district nurse or visitor is sitting at the table or on the couch right in front.
The effectiveness of a remote consultation is of course served if the patient has already made a few observations him- or herself. 8% of patients with chronic conditions already do this. There is a growing range of self-tests available for, for example, fertility, urinary tract infections, kidney disorders and of course Covid-19. There are also home devices such as smart thermometers, mats that detect diabetic foot complications, and blood pressure meters; basically, everything that doctors often routinely do during a visit. The GGD AppStore provides an overview of relevant and reliable apps in the field of health.
Wearables, for example built into an i-watch, can collect part of the desired data, store it for a longer period and, if necessary, exchange it with the care provider.
More advanced are the mobile diagnosis boxes for emergency care by nurses on location, such as ambulances. With a fast Internet connection (5G), specialist care providers can watch if necessary.
A small but growing group of patients, doctors, and researchers with substantial financial support from Egon Musk sees the future mainly in chip implants. This would allow not only more complete diagnoses to be made, but also treatments to be carried out. Neuralink has developed a brain implant that improves communication with speech and hearing-impaired people. The Synchron brain implant helps people with brain disorders perform simple movements. For the time being, the resistance to brain implants is high.
Meanwhile, all these low-threshold amenities can lead us to become fixated on disease rather than on health. But what if we never had to worry about our health again? Instead, the local health center watches over our health thanks to wearables: Our data is continuously monitored and analyzed using artificial intelligence. They are compared with millions of diagnostic data from other patients. By comparing patterns, diseases can be predicted in good time, followed by automated suggestions for self-treatment or advice to consult a doctor. Until then, we have probably experienced nothing but vague complaints ourselves. Wouldn't that be an attractive prospect?
Helsinki is experimenting with a Health Benefit Analysis tool that anonymously examines patients' medical records to evaluate the care they have received so far. The central question here is can the municipality proactively approach people based on the health risk that has come to light because of this type of analysis?
Medics participating in a large-scale study by the University of Chicago and the company Verify were amazed at the accuracy with which algorithms were able to diagnose patients and predict diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer. In a recent article, oncologist Samuel Volchenboom described that it is painful to note that the calculations came from Verify, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which not only used medical data (with patients’ consent), but also all other data that sister company Google already had stored about them. He adds that it is unacceptable that owning and using such valuable data becomes the province of only a few companies.
Perhaps even more problematic is that these predictions are based in part on patterns in the data that the researchers can't fully explain. It is therefore argued that the use of these types of algorithms should be banned. But how would a patient feel if such an algorithmic recommendation is the last straw? It is better to invest in more transparent artificial intelligence.
Implementing digital technology
Both many patients and healthcare professionals still have doubts about the added value of digital technology. The media reports new cases of data breaches and theft every day. Most people are not very confident that blockchain technology, among other things, can prevent this. Most medical specialists doubt whether ICT will reduce their workload. It is often thought of as some additional thing. Numerous small-scale pilot projects are taking place, which consume a lot of energy, but which are rarely scaled up. The supply of digital healthcare technologies exceeds their use.
Digital medicine will have to connect more than at present with the needs of health professionals and patients. In addition to concerns about privacy, the latter are especially afraid of further reductions in personal attention. The idea of a care robot is terrifying them. As should be the case with all forms of digitization, there is a need for a broadly supported vision and setting priorities based on that.
Against this background, a plea for even more medical technology in our part of the world, including e-health, is somewhat embarrassing. Growth in healthy years due to investment in health care in developing countries will far exceed the impact of the same investment in wealthy countries.
Nevertheless, it is desirable to continue deliberately on the chosen path, whereby expensive experiments for the benefit of a small group of patients have less priority in my opinion than investments in a healthy lifestyle, prevention, and self-reliance. Healthcare cannot and should not be taken over by robots; digitization and automation are mainly there to support and improve the work of the care provider and make it more satisficing and efficient.
One of the chapters in my e-book Future cities, always humane, smart if helpful, also deals with health care and offers examples of digital tools. In addition, it pays much more contextual information about the global health situation, particularly in cities. You can download by following the link below. The Dutch edition is here.
PODCAST: In this episode of the Tech Data Tech on Stage podcast we discuss thorny 21st century issues like opting-in and opting out of public space, innovation outpacing governments and planners, hyper transparency = open source & open data, and “greening of IT” versus “greening by IT” . Awesome round table with Lieke Hamers of Dell Technologies, Tom van Arman of TAPP, Markus Pfundstein of LIFE electronic and Kees Tolsma of Tech Data. A great 30min session moderated by Danny Frietman and produced by Patrick Vogelaar
Stories from the living labs front line: Bureau Marineterrein and Johan Cruijff Arena
De inzet van drones in steden is volop in ontwikkeling en kan in de nabije toekomst helpen bij het oplossen van allerlei vraagstukken. Maar naast kansen brengt de technologie ook risico’s met zich mee, zoals schending van privacy en dreigingen op het gebied van veiligheid en cybersecurity. Wat is er nodig om drones verantwoord toe te passen?
Het Responsible Sensing Lab, Amsterdam Drone Lab en Amsterdam Smart City sloegen de handen ineen om deze vraag te beantwoorden middels een reeks kennis- en designsessies in het Responsible Drones project. Het Lab brengt nu een rapport uit vol inzichten en adviezen voor verantwoord dronegebruik. De vijf inzichten die centraal staan:
De gemeente Amsterdam onderzoekt op basis van de 4 vastgestelde rollen (gebruiker, regelgever, faciliteerder en beschermheer) de kansen van zinvolle drone toepassingen in de openbare ruimte.
Voor verantwoord droneverkeer moet de proportionaliteit van de toepassing getoetst worden. Vandaag de dag zijn er nog geen spelregels rondom de maatschappelijke proportionaliteit van drones.
Bewoners en maatschappelijke organisaties moeten bij ontwikkelingen rondom drones sterker worden aangehaakt én aangehaakt blijven. Momenteel vinden projecten rondom de toepassing van drones voornamelijk plaats in de vorm van publiek-private samenwerkingen waarin marktpartijen sterk vertegenwoordigd zijn.
Toekomstscenario’s met drones lijken voor veel mensen nog ver weg en er is over het algemeen weinig kennis over dit onderwerp. Door de complexiteit is de dialoog met burgers over drones een uitdaging.
Drones roepen snel argwaan op bij burgers. Heldere communicatie over drones verhoogt de publieke acceptatie en maakt tegenspraak door burgers mogelijk.
Benieuwd naar de toelichting en bijbehorende adviezen van deze vijf inzichten? Download een korte of lange versie van het rapport op: https://responsiblesensinglab.org/nl/projecten/responsible-drones#report.
Afbeelding: © Dutch Drone Delta, Antea Group
The 20th episode of the Better Cities - The contribution of digital technology-series is about electrification, as part of climate adaptation. Based on this theme, both the role of digital technology and the relationship between digital and social innovation will be illustrated.
The Dutch government has dug deep into its pockets to get citizens and companies to cover their roofs with solar panels and to encourage the construction of solar meadows. Favorable tax facilities have been created and a generous so-called ‘salderingsregeling’ has been set up, and with success.
Solar energy and grid overload
Most citizens are very satisfied with solar panels and their impact on the energy bill. So far, no audit office has checked what the government pays for a kilowatt hour of electricity that citizens produce on their roofs. This includes the costs of the aforementioned (tax) facilities and subsidies, as well as the billions in investments in grid reinforcement resulting from the large-scale (re)delivery to the grid of decentral generated energy. In fact, when there is more supply than demand for electricity on the grid, the wholesale price of electricity is negative. In that case, thanks to the ‘salderingsregeling’, the electricity company pays back the full amount and also has to pay(!) companies that buy electricity at that time!
And now? Now the government suffers the consequences and is limiting the growth in the number of solar panels. Many requests for the large-scale generation of solar energy are waiting for a license because the electricity grid in large parts of the Netherlands is overloaded.
There are three ways to solve this problem. The first is to increase the capacity of the high-voltage grid. The second is large-scale storage of electricity, both for the short and the long term. The third is network management. The least elegant solution here is curtailment which means that the capacity of all solar meadows and wind farms is only used for 70%. A better alternative is the construction of smart grids; this is what this article is about. Smart grids have more to do with digitization than with extra cables. *A smart grid is an energy system in which PV panels, electric cars, heat pumps, household appliances, large but also small-scale storage systems and substations are intelligently connected.*However, more attention to energy storage is desperately needed too and high-voltage grid reinforcement will also be inevitable locally.
From centralized to decentralized electricity supply
Electricity infrastructure around the world is designed for centralized electricity generation, characterized by one-way traffic from producer to consumer. Now that many consumers have also become producers ('prosumers') and solar meadows and wind farms are being developed in many places in addition to the usual power plants, the network structure of the future must be decentralized. It will consist of two or three levels. Together, these will ensure a stable system in which much more electricity is used than today. This new structure is at the forefront of development. In 2016, approximately $47 billion was spent worldwide on infrastructure and software to make the electricity system more flexible, integrate renewable energy and better serve customers. The book Promoting Digital Innovations to Advance Clean Energy System (2018) is an excellent overview of these developments. This book can here be downloaded for free.
Most prosumers supply an average of 65% of the generated electricity back to the main grid. Own storage capacity is part of the solution and creates a mini grid that significantly reduces the need to supply back. Otherwise, there are times when the main grid benefits from supplying back locally generated power. Therefore, the next step is for main and mini grids to communicate with each other. In this case we speak of a smart grid: The management of energy production in large-scale power stations (including wind and solar parks) will then take place in conjunction with the regulation of the inflow and outflow of electricity from the main grid to the mini grids. This may also include signals to households to charge or discharge batteries, turn on the boiler, postpone charging the car or stop the production of energy. An automated monitoring and control system is a necessary enabler here.
The exchange of data between mini grids and the main grid has many privacy aspects, especially if the grid operator can influence what goes on 'behind the meter'. An intermediate layer between main and mini grids offers a solution. We then speak of a microgrid. This is a kind of switch between the main grid and the micro grid, that enables the micro grid even to function autonomously in the event of a failure of the main grid.
A microgrid contains three elements:
1. Installation(s) for local energy production for more than one user (usually a neighborhood): solar panels, wind turbines, cogeneration, heat pump(s), biomass power station, hydropower turbine and possibly an emergency production system (generator).
2. A storage system: home and neighborhood batteries and in the future also supercapacitors and chemical latent heat storage.
3. A digital management system to guarantee the balance between the production of and the demand for electricity, to determine how much energy is taken from or returned to the main grid and which calculates the costs and benefits per household.
In a micro grid, households can exchange their surpluses and shortages of electricity without the direct intervention of the grid operator or the electricity producers. These are solely related to the surpluses and deficits of the entire microgrid, eliminating the need to interfere in the mini grids of individual households. Thanks to the real-time monitoring of electricity production and consumption, the price of electricity can be determined minute by minute. For example, the households that are part of the microgrid can agree to purchase as much electricity as possible when the price is low. At such moments, home batteries, electric cars, any neighborhood battery and boilers and hot water barrels will be charged and heated. This can be done fully automated. For example, the Powermatcher, an open-source application developed by TNO, which now employs 1000 people in the Netherlands. This video illustrates how a microgrid works.
A microgrid gains extra value if the users form an energy cooperative. Here it is possible to decide about the algorithms that regulate the circulation of the current in the microgrid. A cooperative can also take care of the management and maintenance of the solar panels of other collective facilities such as a neighborhood battery, local energy sources (wind or solar park or geothermal heat). The cooperative is also a good means of negotiating with the network operator and the energy company.
The virtual power plant
By linking heat pump technology, energy generation and energy storage at the district level, a significant step can be made with the energy transition. Here are some examples.
The Amsterdam virtual power plant
An almost classic example of a microgrid is the Amsterdam virtual power plant. Here, 50 households produce electricity with solar panels, store it in-house and trade it according to availability when the price on the energy market is most favorable.
Future Living Berlin
This is a nice small-scale practical example developed by Panasonic. Future Living Berlin consists of a neighborhood with apartment buildings for a total of 90 households. The residential buildings are equipped with 600 solar panels that, together with a collective battery system, provide a constant flow of sustainable energy. Among others, to power the seventeen central air/water heat pumps, of which two to five per residential building are installed in a cascade and provide heating and hot tap water. The shared cars and communal washing machines are good for the environment, and they also promote neighborly contact. The Internet of Things also plays a role in controlling the heat pumps. Installers maintain remote access to these systems via a cloud platform.
Tesla's Virtual Power Plant
Tesla has built a virtual power plant in Australia for 50,000 households. Every household has solar panels, with a capacity of 5 kilowatts and a Tesla Powerwall battery of 13.5 kilowatt-hours. As a result, the power station has a capacity of 250 megawatts and a storage capacity of 675 megawatt-hours. Here too, every household charges the battery and possibly the car with self-generated energy and with cheap energy if the supply is large, and they supply the energy they have left to the electricity companies at the market price. In this way the participants save 20% of the annual energy costs.
The ultimate step: autarky
Companies that want to use solar panels and supply the surplus of energy back to the grid are also increasingly encountering the capacity limitations of the main grid. The result is that an increasing number of businesses take power supply into their own hands and even completely refraining from being connected to the grid. Commercial solutions for local virtual power grids are now available, for which companies such as Alfen and Joulz are involved. One of the options is Energy-as-a-service, where the business customer does not invest in an installation but pay a fixed amount per month.
The use of blockchain
Blockchain enables exchanging surplus energy between prosumers without human intervention. Brooklyn Microgrid is a 'benefit corporation', to which every resident who has solar panels can connect and buy energy directly from or sell energy to another user (P2P), without the intervention of the electricity company. Blockchain provides a secure, transparent, and decentralized ledger of all energy production and consumption data and transactions based on 'smart contracts'. These are self-executing programs that automate the exchange of value (here, the amount of electricity) on bilaterally agreed terms. Home and neighborhood batteries, individual and collective heat pumps and charging stations for cars can also be connected to this system.
A similar pilot with blockchain is taking place in the southern German town of Wilpoldsried. Project partners Siemens, grid operator AllgäuNetz, Kempten University of Applied Sciences and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) have jointly developed the platform and an app, considering the given load capacity of the grid.
Digital twins: need for oversight
Smart grids, ranging from local mini and micro grids to regional applications, are a substantial alternative to grid reinforcement. At the same time, they create new electricity flows, especially where there is a direct exchange between smart grids and the main grid. That is why there is a growing need to map these flows and regulate them where necessary. Digital twins can be helpful here.
Delft University of Technology has developed a small digital twin for a quarter of the Dutch high-voltage grid. This will gradually be expanded to encompass the entire network. To this end, the existing high-voltage hall of TU Delft will be converted into an Electrical Sustainable Power Lab, which will mirror the electricity network, including high-voltage pylons, sources of wind and solar energy, energy storage and distribution networks. This allows, for example, to simulate the effect of linking a new wind farm. As a result, it provides an overview of all bottlenecks and thus lays the foundation for better network management or the choice for grid reinforcement.
But there are also many promising developments at the local level. For that we must be in the US for the time being. The Cityzenith company, together with Arizona State University, has developed the SmartWorldOS digital twin and is making it available to Phoenix, Las Vegas and New York. Each of these cities is building a digital twin of a part of the center. The twins comprise all the buildings, transportation systems and infrastructure of the affected areas and are powered by sensors sent over a 5G network. They aggregate 3D (space) and 4D (time) data about the actual energy use and visualize and analyze it. Subsequently, the impact of other forms of lighting, heating, but also electricity generation with solar panels on the roof, on the facades and in the windows can be simulated and measured and a decision can be made about their implementation.
I have compiled a dossier on many aspects of the use of solar energy. This dossier deepens this article in several respects. Innovations in solar panels, the use of window glass to generate energy, the growth of solar energy in the Netherlands and the storage of electricity are discussed. Those who are interested can find this file by following the link below.
In the 18th episode of the Better Cities - The contribution of technology-series, I answer the question how digital technology in the form of MaaS (Mobility as a Service) will help reduce car use, which is the most important intervention of improving the livability of cities, in addition to providing citizens with a decent income.
Any human activity that causes 1.35 million deaths worldwide, more than 20 million injuries, total damage of $1,600 billion, consumes 50% of urban space and contributes substantially to global warming would be banned immediately. This does not apply to traffic, because it is closely linked to our way of life and to the interests of motordom. For example, in his books Fighting traffic and Autonorame: The illusory promise of high-tech driving, Peter Horton refers to the coteri of the automotive industry, the oil companies and befriended politicians who have been stimulating car use for a century. Without interventions, global car ownership and use will grow exponentially over the next 30 years.
Reduction of car use
In parallel with the growth of car use, trillions have been invested worldwide in ever new and wider roads and in the management of traffic flows with technological means.
It has repeatedly been confirmed that the construction of more roads and traffic-regulating technology have a temporary effect and then further increase car use. Economists call this induced demand. The only effective counter-measures are impeding car use and to discourage the perceived need to use the car, preferably in a non-discriminatory way.
Bringing housing, shopping, and employment closer together (15-minute city) reduces the need to travel by car, but this is a long-term perspective. The most effective policy in the short term is to reduce parking options at home, at work and near shopping facilities and always prioritizing alternative modes of transport (walking, micro-mobility, and public transport). Copenhagen and Amsterdam have been investing in bicycle infrastructure for years and are giving cyclists a green track in many places at the expense of car traffic.
For several years now, Paris has also been introducing measures to discourage car traffic by 1,400 kilometers of cycle paths, ban on petrol and diesel cars in 2030, redesign of intersections with priority for pedestrians, 200 kilometers of extension of the metro system and closure of roads and streets. Meanwhile, car use has fallen from 61% in 2001 to 35% now. Milan has similar plans and in Berlin a group is preparing a referendum in 2023 with the aim of making an area car-free larger than Manhattan. Even in Manhattan and Brooklyn, there is a strong movement to reduce car use through a substantial shift of road capacity from cars to bicycles, pedestrians, and buses.
Because of the pandemic, the use of public transport has decreased significantly worldwide as many users worked from home, could not go to school, took the bicycle or a car. Nevertheless, cities continue to promote public transport as a major strategy to reduce car use. In many places in the world, including in Europe, urban development has resulted in a high degree of dispersion of and between places to live, shop, and work. The ease of bridging the 'last mile' will contribute significantly to the increase in the use of public transport. While bicycles play an important role in this in the Netherlands, the ideas elsewhere are based on all forms of 'dockless micromobility’.
From a technological point of view, autonomous passenger transport involves type four or five at a taxonomy of automated cars. This includes the Waymo brand developed by Google. In some places in the US, these cars are allowed to drive with a supervisor ('safety driver') on board. Type 5 (fully autonomous driving under all circumstances) does not yet exist at all, and it is highly questionable whether this will ever happen. Besides, it is questionable too whether the automotive industry aspires building such a car at a substantial scale. Given their availability, it is expected that many people will forgo purchasing them and instead use them as a shared car or as a (shared or not) taxi. This will significantly reduce car ownership. To sell as many cars as possible, it is expected that the automotive industry will aim for level three automation, which means that the car can take over the actions of the driver, who must stay vigilant.
The impact on cities of autonomous shared cars and (shared) taxis is highly uncertain. Based on traffic data in the Boston area and surveys of residents, a study by the Boston Consultancy Group shows that approximately 30% of all transport movements (excluding walking) will take place in an autonomous car. But it also appears that users of public transport are a significant part of this group. Most people interviewed were scared using an unmanned shared taxi. Without sharing, there will be more cars on the road and more traffic jams in large parts of the city than now. A scenario study in the city of Porto (Portugal) that assumes that autonomous cars are mainly used as shared taxis and public transport is not cannibalized shows a significant decrease in car traffic.
Considering refraining from car use
Designing an efficient transport system is not that difficult; its acceptance by people is. Many see the car as an extension of the home, in which - even more than at home - they can listen to their favorite music, smoke, make phone calls or meet other persons unnoticed. Considering this, the step to alternative transport such as walking, cycling, or using public transport is a big one.
Most people will only decide to do so if external circumstances give sufficient reason. Hybrid working can lead to people wondering whether keeping an expensive (second) car is still responsible and cycling – in good weather – is also an option. Or they notice that because of restrictions driving a car loses part of its attractiveness and that public transport is not that bad after all. Some employers (Arcadis, for example) also encourage other forms of mobility than the (electric) lease car. <i>This lays the foundation for a 'mind set' in which people begin to break down their mobility needs into different components, each of which is best served by another mode of transport.</i> As soon as they realize that the car is an optimal solution only for part of the journeys, they realize that the price is shockingly high and a shared car is cheaper. For other journeys, a (shared) bicycle or public transport may be considered. Against this background, the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) must be placed.
Mobility as a Service: MaaS
MaaS is an app that offers comprehensive door-to-door proposals for upcoming journeys, ranging from the nearest shared bicycle or scooter for the first mile or alternatively a (shared) taxi, the best available connection to public transport, the best transfer option, to the best option for the last mile. For daily users of the same route, the app provides information about alternatives in the event of disruptions. In the event of a delay in the journey, for example on the way to the airport, an alternative will be arranged if necessary. No worries about departure times, mode of transport, tickets, reservations, and payment. At least, ideally.
These kinds of apps are being developed in many places in the world and by various companies and organizations. First, Big Tech is active, especially Google. Intel also seems to have all the components for a complete MaaS solution, after taking over Moovit, Mobileye and Cubic. In Europe, it is mainly local and regional authorities, transport companies (Transdec, RATP, NS) and the automotive industry (Daimler-Benz and in the Netherlands PON).
The Netherlands follows its own course. The national MaaS program is based on public-private partnership. Seven pilots are ready to take-off. Each of these pilots places a different emphasis: Sustainability, accessibility of rural areas, congestion reduction and public transport promotion, integration of target group transport, public transport for the elderly and cross-border transport.
The pandemic has delayed its start significantly. The Gaiyo pilot in Utrecht (Leidsche Rijn) is the only one that is active for some time, and the results are encouraging. Apart from the national MaS pilots, the RiVier initiative was launched in January 2019; a joint venture of NS, RET and HTM in collaboration with Siemens.
Worth mentioning is an initiative from the European Union (European Institute for Innovation and technology - Urban Mobility), Eindhoven University of Technology, Achmea and Capgemini. 21 partners have now joined, including the municipality of Amsterdam. The aim is a pan-European open mobility service platform, called Urban Mobility Operating System (UMOS). The project aims to provide MaaS for the whole of Europe in the long term. UMOS expects local providers to join this initiative. Unlike most other initiatives, this is a non-profit platform. For the other providers, profitability will mainly be a long-term perspective.
The development of the MaaS app is complex from a technological and organizational point of view. It is therefore not surprising that five years after the first landing there are only partial solutions. <b>The basis for a successful app is the presence of a varied and high-quality range of transport facilities, a centralized information and sales system and standardization of various data and interfaces of all transport companies involved.</b> So far, they have not always been willing to share data. A company like London Transport wants to maintain direct contact with customers, and Uber and Lyft don't want to hand over the algorithms they use to calculate their variable fare. This type of data is indispensable for realizing a real-time offer of several door-to-door transport alternatives for every conceivable route, including pricing, and purchasing tickets. It is hoped that licensing authorities will mandate the provision of all data required for a fully functioning MaaS platform.
One of the most balanced MaaS applications is MaaX developed by Capgemini, the Paris Transport Authority and the RATP. This is comparable to the NS and OV9292 app, supplemented by options for carpooling, taxi transport, shared cars, shared bicycles, scooters, electric scooters, and parking.
Does MaaS is viable?
I believe that MaaS as such will encourage very few motorists to refrain from owning a car. This will mainly have to be done through measures that impede car use or reduce the need for it. Nevertheless, MaaS is useful for those who have just decided to look for alternatives. The app also has added-value for users of public transport, for instance if information in the event of disruptions is made available timely.
It is therefore clear to me that this app should be made available as a form of service, funded by the transport providers and the government and can make significant savings in infrastructure costs if car use decreases.
The above deepens two essays included in my e-book Cities of the Future: Always humane, smart if helpful. The first essay Livability and traffic – The walkable city connects insights about livability with different forms of passenger transport and policy. The second essay Towards zero road casualties: The traffic-safe city discusses policies to make traffic safer and the effect of 'self-driving' cars on road safety. The e-book can be downloaded here by following the link below.
Volgende week donderdag 17 maart vindt de tweede editie van Demodag #15 plaats. De thema’s Digitaal en Mobiliteit staan centraal, en het programma is inmiddels rond. Naast een paar mooie initiatieven en complexe vraagstukken, wordt er dit keer ook een korte webinar gegeven door de Hogeschool van Amsterdam en de Johan Cruijff ArenA. Deze introductie van datamanagement geeft een goede theoretische basis voor een van de daaropvolgende werksessie.
De Demodagen zijn onderdeel van ons innovatieproces en bedoeld om de voortgang van verschillende innovatieprojecten te stimuleren, hulpvragen op tafel te leggen, dilemma's te delen en anderen te betrekken bij projecten of uitdagingen. Meer informatie over wat de Demodagen precies zijn en waarom je mee wilt doen, vind je hier.
Klinkt het programma interessant? Je bent meer dan welkom om aan te sluiten. Laat het ons weten in de comments of mail naar email@example.com!
Amaze Mobility - Amaze Mobility
Amaze is een gedreven startup, die nauw samenwerkt met deelmobiliteit-aanbieders om het doolhof van gedeelde en duurzame mobiliteit te ontrafelen. Ondersteund door een consortium van experts uit de industrie, won Amaze een openbare aanbesteding in Amsterdam. Afgelopen jaren heeft Amaze met een ervaren team van 11 man geïnvesteerd in het ontwerpen en bouwen van een platform en app. Met deze app kunnen gebruikers kiezen hoe ze willen reizen op het moment dat zij dat nodig hebben.
Schinkelkwartier - Architectural Prescription
[PITCH IN ENGLlSH] Based on the example of Schinkelkwartier (The best masterplan in the Netherlands in 2021) the head of Architectural Prescription will deconstruct dilemmas of urban design using parametric analytics and computational tools. Feedback from the community on the digital approach to optimize urban fabric is very welcome.
Datamanagement in de praktijk - Hogeschool van Amsterdam / Johan Cruijff ArenA
Een introductie rondom datamanagement met praktische tips om verantwoord om te gaan met data. Waar moet je op letten als je met data werkt, het ontsluit, verzamelt en bewaart? Wat dien je te regelen om op een juiste manier om te gaan met eigenaarschap en autorisatie van toegang?
Het eigenaarschap en de verantwoordelijkheid van data - Provincie Noord Holland.
Hoe gaan onze overheden om met hun eigen data en data van derden? Welke afspraken maak je over de kwaliteit? Wat ligt bij de business en hoe creëer je bewustzijn? In deze werksessie gaat Provincie Noord-Holland verder in op de uitdagingen op het gebied van data eigenaarschap en verantwoordelijkheid.
Het slimme laadplein - SlimLaden
Vorig jaar is het laadplein met batterijen verstopt in straatmeubilair en slimme, dynamische laadzuilen in Hoofddorp in gebruik genomen. Dit zogenoemde Laadplein-2-Grid is de eerste in zijn soort in Nederland. Maar gaat het aantal EV-rijders in de komende jaren zo toenemen, dat het dynamisch parkeersysteem overbodig gaat zijn? Hoe ziet parkeren er in de toekomst überhaupt uit? Waar moet de focus liggen als je dit concept wilt opschalen?
The 17th edition of the Better cities - the role of digital technology series deals with strengthening local democracy through digitization.
In 1339, Ambrogio Lorenzetti completed his famous series of six paintings in the Town Hall of the Italian city of Siena, entitled The Allegory of Good and Bad Government. The above excerpt refers to the characteristics of good government: putting the interests of citizens first, renouncing self-interest, and integrity. But also developing a vision together with all those involved, transparency, justice and efficiently carrying out its many tasks.
In this article, I will discuss citizens’ involvement in government. The complaint is widely heard that democracy is reduced to voting once every few years and even then, it is not clear in advance what the policy of a new (city) government will be, due to the need to form coalitions. Digitization can substantially strengthen the citizen's input.
Being well-informed: the foundation of democracy
Digital channels are an excellent way to inform citizens, but digital disinformation and deepfakes are also on the rise. In this regard, YouTube has become notorious. Political microtargeting via Facebook has an uncontrollable impact and ruins the political debate. On the other hand, the 'Stemwijzer' app is a well-respected tool of informing citizens. Meanwhile, this tool has been adopted by a number of countries.
There are many other valuable digital sources of information, which increase the transparency of politics, for example by disclosing petty bribery, 'creative' accounting and preferential treatment. Prozorro (Ukraine) is a website that takes tenders away from the private sphere, My Society (UK) is an extensive collection of open source tools to hold those in power to account, Zašto (Serbia) is a website that compares statements of politicians with their actions and Funky Citizens (Romania) exposes irresponsible government spending, miscarriages of justice and forms of indecent political conduct.
Every time I am amazed at the fumbling with huge ballot-papers that then must be counted by hand. Estonia is leading the way here; people vote digitally from home without security risks. If this is not possible in other countries, then I have my doubts about the security of other digital applications
Estonia is the best example of far-reaching digitization of public and private services. Not only the usual municipal services, but also applying for building permits, registering for schools, health affairs, banking, taxes, police, and voting. All these things happen via one digital platform - X-road – that meets the highest security requirements. Data is stored in a decentral way via end-to-end encryption using blockchain technology. Citizens manage their own data.
More than voting
There is a widespread desire among citizens for greater involvement in political decision-making. This includes referenda and popular assemblies, which still take place in Swiss municipalities. But there is little room here for the exchange of views, let alone discussion. Moreover, several authors try to improve direct democracy by bypassing the role of political parties. In his book Against elections (2013), the Flemish political scientist David van Reybrouck proposes appointing representatives based on weighted lottery. A lottery alone does not yet provide a representative group, because never more than 10% of the chosen people respond to the invitation. What remains is a predominantly indigenous group, over 50 years of age with higher education, interested in politics.
The strength of citizens' forums is that they enable deliberation between independent citizens rather than representatives of political parties, who are bound in every way by coalition agreements.
Van Reybrouck’s ideas have been adopted in different ways and in different places, but always as a complement to representative democracy. Citizens' forums have achieved good results in Ireland. There are also several examples in the Netherlands. The biggest bottleneck has been the acceptance of the results by established political bodies. In April 2021, a committee led by Alex Brenninkmeijer advised positive about the value of citizens' forums in climate policy in an advisory report to the House of Representatives.
Another interesting option is liquid democracy. Here, like direct democracy, citizens can vote on all issues. However, they can also transfer their vote to someone else, who they believe is more involved. This person can also transfer the received mandates. With secure IT, this is easy to organize. Examples of useful apps include Adhocracy (Germany), a platform for participation, collaboration and idea generation, Licracy, a virtual people's parliament, Sovrin, an open source decentralized protocol for any kind of organization. Insights Management Tool is an application for converting opinions of a large amounts of citizens into 'insights' that can benefit politicians. I will add a few more applications, which are mainly intended for cities: EngageCitizens (many South European cities including Braga, Portugal), an application that enables citizens to submit ideas and discuss them in virtual discussion groups, Active Citizens (Moscow), an application where residents can participate in referendums, CitizenLab, a medium for citizens to discuss ideas about local issues. Finally, I refer to the comprehensive applications Decide Madrid and Decidem (Barcelona), which I have discussed elsewhere.
All these apps increase the involvement of part of the citizens in government. These are usually highly educated. Meetings are held in Madrid and Barcelona to let underprivileged residents also make their voices heard.
Due to the many and complicated tasks that city authorities must deal with and the often equally complicated decision making in the city council, it is not easy create room for decentralized citizen participation. Several cities try to improve citizen participation in political decentralization. The establishment of city districts with their own administrative bodies often leads to power struggles between central and decentralized politicians, without residents gaining more influence.
According to Jan Schrijver, the centralized administrative culture of Amsterdam the city’s ideals of citizen participation often clashes even though the impressive amount of policy instruments to promote participation: Initiating a referendum has been made more accessible, social initiatives can be subsidized, and confirmed in neighborhood rights, including the 'right to challenge' and neighborhoods have a budget of their own.
Very recently, a 'mini-citizen deliberation' was held under the leadership of Alex Brenninkmeijer on the concrete question of how Amsterdam can accelerate the energy transition. This meeting was very productive, and the participants were satisfied with the progress. It will become clear soon whether the city council will adopt the proposals.
A city of commons
Democratization is mostly conceived of as a decision-making process, the result of which the municipal organization carries out. The ultimate step of democratization, after decentralization, is autonomy: Residents not only decide on, for example, playgrounds in their neighborhood, they also ensure that these are provided. Increasingly, the latter is formally established in the right to challenge. For example, a group of residents demonstrates that they can perform a previously municipal task better and often cheaper themselves. This is a significant step on the participation ladderfrom participating in decision-making autonomy.
In Italy this process has boomed, and the city of Bologna has become a stronghold of urban commons. Citizens become designers, managers, and users of some municipal tasks. Creating green areas, converting an empty house into affordable units for students, the elderly, or migrants, operating a minibus service, cleaning, and maintaining the city walls, refurbishing parts of the public space and much more.
From 2011, commons have been given a formal status. The most important instruments in this regard are cooperation-pacts. In each pact, city authorities and the parties involved (informal groups, NGOs, schools, entrepreneurs) lay down agreements about their activities, responsibilities, and power. Hundreds of pacts have been signed since the regulation was adopted. The city provides what the citizens need - money, material, housing, advice - and the citizens make their time, skills, and organizational capacity available. In some cases, commons also have a commercial purpose, for example the revitalization of a shopping street by the entrepreneurs established there. In that case, they often unite in a cooperative.
Only a limited number of people feel attracted to talk along the lines of politics, but many more people want to do something. This is at the roots of the success of the commons-movement. This explains the success of the commons-movement in Italy and elsewhere.
Democracy after the commons
The commons-movement might influence urban governance in the longer term. The Italian political scientist Christian Iaione predicts the emergence of a city of commons. Here, all most urban tasks are performed by commons and cooperatives. The city is a network of both, decision-making is decentralized and deconcentrated.
A similar idea The city as a platform has emerged in the US coming from a completely different direction. Instead of simply voting every few years and leaving city administration to elected officials and expert bureaucrats, the networked city sees citizens as co designers, co-producers, and co-learners, according to Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder of GovLab. In the city as a platform residents look individually and collectively for new and better ways to meet their needs and enliven public life. These may be neighborhood-based initiatives, for example the redevelopment of a neighborhood or city-wide initiatives, for example cooperative of taxi drivers, competing with Uber.
Without saying it in so many words, everyone involved sees both the city of commons and the city as a platform as an opportunity to make citizens the engine of urban development again instead of multinational companies. But in view of the (financial) power of these companies, it could also turn out that they appropriate the city. We have already experienced this once when a sympathetic and democratic sharing platform such as Airbnb grew into a multinational enterprise with a far-reaching impact on urban life. For the time being, therefore, city administrators can best focus on enabling and supporting citizens' joint action to make cities more beautiful, liveable, and sustainable.
The above builds on two essays included in my e-book Cities of the Future: Always humane, smart if helpful. The first essay Strengthening Urban Democracy – The Well-Governed City elaborates on the concepts of direct democracy, decentralization and autonomy and describes digital applications for both improving services and urban democracy. The second essay Citizens' Initiatives – City of the Commons extensively examines activities in various places in the world to increase the involvement of residents in their place of residence, and in that context discusses in detail the idea behind 'commons'. The e-book can be downloaded by following the link below.
The 16th episode of the series Building sustainable cities - The contribution of digital technology reveals what can happen if the power of artificial intelligence is not used in a responsible manner.
The fight against crime in the United States, has been the scene of artificial intelligence’s abuse for years. As will become apparent, this is not only the result of bias. In episode 11, I discussed why artificial intelligence is a fundamentally new way of using computers. Until then, computers were programmed to perform operations such as structuring data and making decisions. In the case of artificial intelligence, they are trained to do so. However, it is still people who design the instructions (algorithms) and are responsible for the outcomes, although the way in which the computer performs its calculations is increasingly becoming a 'black box'.
Applications of artificial intelligence in the police
Experienced detectives are traditionally trained to compare the 'modus operandi' of crimes to track down perpetrators. Due to the labor-intensive nature of the manual implementation, the question soon arose as to whether computers could be of assistance. A first attempt to do so in 2012 in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology resulted in grouping past crimes into clusters that were likely to have been committed by the same perpetrator(s). When creating the algorithm, the intuition of experienced police officers was the starting point. Sometimes it was possible to predict where and when a burglar might strike, leading to additional surveillance and an arrest.
These first attempts were soon refined and taken up by commercial companies. The two most used techniques that resulted are predictive policing (PredPol) and facial recognition.
In the case of predictive policing, patrols are given directions in which neighborhood or even street they should patrol at a given moment because it has been calculated that the risk of crimes (vandalism, burglary, violence) is then greatest. Anyone who behaves 'suspiciously' risks to be arrested. Facial recognition plays also an important role in this.
Both predictive policing and facial recognition are based on a "learning set" of tens of thousands of "suspicious" individuals. At one point, New York police had a database of 48,000 individuals. 66% of those were black, 31.7% were Latino and only 1% were white. This composition has everything to do with the working method of the police. Although drug use in cities in the US is common in all neighborhoods, policing based on PredPol and similar systems is focused on a few neighborhoods (of color). Then, it is not surprising that most drug-related crimes are retrieved there and, as a result, the composition of the database became even more skewed.
In these cases, 'bias' is the cause of the unethical effect of the application of artificial intelligence. Algorithms always reflect the assumptions, views, and values of their creators. They do not predict the future, but make sure that the past is reproduced. This also applies to applications outside the police force. The St. George Hospital Medical School in London has employed disproportionately many white males for at least a decade because the leather set reflected the incumbent staff. The criticized Dutch System Risk Indication System also uses historical data about fines, debts, benefits, education, and integration to search more effectively for people who abuse benefits or allowances. This is not objectionable but should never lead to 'automatic' incrimination without further investigation and the exclusion of less obvious persons.
The simple fact that the police have a disproportionate presence in alleged hotspots and are very keen on any form of suspicious behavior means that the number of confrontations with violent results has increased rapidly. In 2017 alone, police crackdowns in the US resulted in an unprecedented 1,100 casualties, of which only a limited number of whites. In addition, the police have been engaged in racial profiling for decades. Between 2004-2012, the New York Police Department checked more than 4.4 million residents. Most of these checks resulted in no further action. In about 83% of the cases, the person was black or Latino, although the two groups together make up just over half of the population. For many citizens of colour in the US, the police do not represent 'the good', but have become part of a hostile state power.
In New York, in 2017, a municipal provision to regulate the use of artificial intelligence was proposed, the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act (POST). The Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a prominent US civil rights organization, urged the New York City Council to ban the use of data made available because of discriminatory or biased enforcement policies. This wish was granted in June 2019, and this resulted in the number of persons included in the database being reduced from 42,000 to 18,000. It concerned all persons who had been included in the system without concrete suspicion.
San Francisco, Portland, and a range of other cities have gone a few steps further and banned the use of facial recognition technology by police and other public authorities. Experts recognize that the artificial intelligence underlying facial recognition systems is still imprecise, especially when it comes to identifying the non-white population.
The societal roots of crime
Knowledge of how to reduce bias in algorithms has grown, but instead of solving the problem, awareness has grown into a much deeper problem. It is about the causes of crime itself and the realization that the police can never remove them.
Crime and recidivism are associated with inequality, poverty, poor housing, unemployment, use of alcohol and drugs, and untreated mental illness. These are also dominant characteristics of neighborhoods with a lot of crime. As a result, residents of these neighborhoods are unable to lead a decent life. These conditions are stressors that influence the quality of the parent-child relationship too: attachment problems, insufficient parental supervision, including tolerance of alcohol and drugs, lack of discipline or an excess of authoritarian behavior. All in all, these conditions increase the likelihood that young people will be involved in crime, and they diminish the prospect of a successful career in school and elsewhere.
The ultimate measures to reduce crime in the longer term and to improve security are: sufficient income, adequate housing, affordable childcare, especially for 'broken families' and unwed mothers and ample opportunities for girls' education. But also, care for young people who have encountered crime for the first time, to prevent them from making the mistake again.
This will not solve the problems in the short term. A large proportion of those arrested by the police in the US are addicted to drugs or alcohol, are severely mentally disturbed, have serious problems in their home environment - if any - and have given up hope for a better future. Based on this understanding, the police in Johnson County, Kansas, have been calling for help from mental health professionals for years, rather than handcuffing those arrested right away. This approach has proved successful and caught the attention of the White House during the Obama administration. Lynn Overmann, who works as a senior advisor in the president’s technology office, has therefore started the Data-Driven Justice Initiative. The immediate reason was that the prisons appeared to be crowded by seriously disturbed psychiatric patients. Coincidentally, Johnson County had an integrated data system that stores both crime and health data. In other cities, these are kept in incomparable data silos. Together with the University of Chicago Data Science for Social Good Program, artificial intelligence was used to analyze a database of 127,000 people. The aim was to find out, based on historical data, which of those involved was most likely to be arrested within a month. This is not with the intention of hastening an arrest with predictive techniques, but instead to offer them targeted medical assistance. This program was picked up in several cities and in Miami it resulted in a 40% reduction in arrests and the closing of an entire prison.
What does this example teach? The rise of artificial intelligence caused Wire editor Chris Anderson to call it the end of the theory. He couldn't be more wrong! Theory has never disappeared; at most it has disappeared from the consciousness of those who work with artificial intelligence. In his book The end of policing, Alex Vitale concludes: Unless cities alter the police's core functions and values, use by police of even the most fair and accurate algorithms is likely to enhance discriminatory and unjust outcomes (p. 28). Ben Green adds: The assumption is: we predicted crime here and you send in police. But what if you used data and sent in resources? (The smart enough city, p. 78).
The point is to replace the dominant paradigm of identifying, prosecuting and incarcerating criminals with the paradigm of finding potential offenders in a timely manner and giving them the help, they need. It turns out that it's even cheaper. The need for the use of artificial intelligence is not diminishing, but the training of the computers, including the composition of the training sets, must change significantly. It is therefore recommended that diverse and independent teams design such a training program based on a scientifically based view of the underlying problem and not leaving it to the police itself.
This article is a condensed version of an earlier article The Safe City (September 2019), which you can read by following the link below, supplemented with data from Chapter 4 Machine learning's social and political foundationsfrom Ben Green's book The smart enough city (2020).