Stay in the know on all smart updates of your favorite topics.
This is the sixth episode of the Better Cities; The Contribution of Digital Technology series. It is about the expectations of the Majors Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) in Boston from representatives of tech companies crowding its doors to sell turnkey "smart" solutions. The Dutch versions of the published posts in this series are here.
Jascha Franklin-Hodge, former head of MONUM, recalls meeting representatives of a Fortune 500 technology company that had tendered to equip all the city's lampposts with cameras and sensors. When asked if this equipment had already proven its worth elsewhere, the answer was that the company would appreciate Boston investigating it. It goes without saying that the city has resolutely rejected this 'offer'. It was one of many exhausting encounters with eager salespeople offering 'promising' technological solutions, with limited knowledge of urban problems. As a result, Franklin-Hodge and his colleague Nigel Jacob decided to incorporate the feedback normally given to these people into a document that they could share with companies. This became the famous Boston Smart City Playbook, with the primary purpose of propagating Boston's intent to develop technology that is responsible, people-centric and problem-driven.
Below I go through the book, paraphrasing (italics) and commenting on each chapter
Stop sending salespeople
The introduction to the booklet sighs, send us someone who knows about cities, someone who wants to talk to the residents about what they like (and don't like!) about Boston. The MONUM team appreciates when technologists come to talk about topics that matter rather than fire well well-prepared pitches. Shared understanding of urban problems and the nature of their solution is the only way to establish a long-term relationship between the company and the city. The team announces to ask examples of how the product has worked or failed elsewhere.
In addition, I believe that representatives of technology companies who believe that a vendor’s pitch will do, sometimes forget that their interlocutors are technologists too, who are often better educated than themselves. However, civil servants often lack knowledge of successful examples from elsewhere, therefore they sincerely hope that representatives of a technology company can provide these. Unfortunately, that rarely turns out to be the case. The best solution is pre-competitive triple-helix collaboration between representatives of municipalities, knowledge institutions and companies. Together they can compensate for each other's knowledge gaps.
Solving real problems for people
Municipal employees often feel that their colleagues from companies lack involvement and knowledge about the concerns of ordinary people. That's why the Playbook expects them to talk to workers, unemployed, entrepreneurs, artists, citizen groups, advocacy groups and architects before visiting MONUM. The team would like to know what companies have learned during this conversation and especially why their products will make a difference.
Such an assignment is not easy. Citizens are easy to speak out about their problems and come up with solutions too. These solutions rarely have a technological component. The tech companies itself must build bridges and ask citizens for their opinion. Even citizens they don't see the value of the proposed technologies, city councils can still be confident in their long-term value.
Don't worship efficiency
Efficiency must be part of the solution to any problem, as cities have finite resources and infinite needs. However, efficiency is never a motive in the phase in which alternative choices are weighed up. Once a choice has been made, the next step is to implement it as efficiently as possible.
Talking prematurely about efficiency often results from ignoring underlying political positions. The question is always: Efficient on the basis of which criteria, for what purposes and in whose interest? As Ben Green wrote in ''The smart enough city' (p. 14): For those on the front lines, words like “better” and “more efficient” are the tip of an iceberg, below which sit the competing interests and conflicting values of the city and the people who live in it. In my opinion, the same applies to the misuse of the adjective 'smart'.
To become a competent partner, representatives of tech companies must not only be familiar with urban problems, but also with current political debates and the mission of mayor and aldermen. Anyone who mentions arguments such as 'cost savings' and 'efficiency gains' as main motives in the discussion about technological solutions for urban problems will immediately be questioned about the real benefits and for whom.
Better decisions, not (just) better data
The price for the purchase of technology must be paid immediately. Often a city can only reap its benefits in the future. The problem is that the success of the technology acquired will depend at least as much on how it is applied. This in turn depends on the behavior of the people involved. The often have to adapt themselves and targeted management is required to bring about behavioral change. Technological innovation usually goes hand in hand with social innovation or at least behavioral change. This could be, for example, breaking through silos between departments whose data must be shared. In essence, the quality of the data depends on its ability to improve decisions. Better decisions, in turn, should pay off in greater satisfaction for all stakeholders involved.
In my opinion, representatives of tech companies do not think enough about the 'soft side' of implementing technological change. In addition, they neglect after-sales contacts, which can provide them with valuable information about the impact of organizational conditions on technological innovation.
Platforms make us go ¯\_(**ツ)_/¯
In 2015, Ross Atkin, a critic of smart cities, wrote his Manifesto for the clever city. In the 'clever city', technology is used radically bottom-up to solve the problems that ordinary citizens experience with as little data as possible and in a way that citizens can understand. In the smart city, 'platforms' are often proposed as networks of sensors that collect huge amounts of data because they can potentially be used to solve problems. But many problems that affect people, such as pollution, stench and particulate matter, have been known for years, as have their causes: factories, heavy traffic and unhealthy homes. Installing a sensor network delays the resolution of these problems and is at the expense of it.
Moreover, because of vendor lock-in municipalities risk being stuck for years to solutions that companies have developed, as long as there are no standards or there is no guarantee of interoperability. Representatives of technology companies should be asked what they believe to be the cheapest solution for collecting critical data and what the interoperability of this solution is.
Police monitor video cameras throughout the city and transit companies use GPS trackers to detect the location of buses and trains. Since the observation of people in public space is increasing rapidly, the question is what is the bottom-line of privacy of citizens that must always be respected. Representatives of tech companies should be surveyed to make explicit the privacy risks of their technologies and whether these technologies meet data minimization requirements.
In my opinion, it is up to cities to draw up guidelines about internet safety, privacy security and data minimization, but also to make explicit which means are acceptable for crime prevention and law enforcement. The development of such guidelines is also an opportunity for pre-competitive collaboration between cities, companies, and knowledge institutions.
Ben Green, also a former member of the MONUM team and now a teacher at the Ford School of Public Policy, Michigan University, also refers to the Smart City Playbook in his work 'The smart enough city' and emphasizes that the last thing to happen is considering technology as imminent and inevitable, thus beyond dispute and deliberation (p. 7). Technology must always be justified by its proven contribution to human well-being.
The Boston Smart City Play Book makes it clear that before they can provide 'solutions', tech companies must become familiar with urban problems, preferably through direct contact with stakeholders and citizens in particular. In addition, cities also want to be involved in the development of these technologies.
The Playbook spawned a series of research and development projects, including the Local Sense Lab, a loose group of sensor technologists developing sensors and other devices of demonstrable value to Boston residents.
Read the Boston Smart City Playbook by following the link below
The fourth edition in the series Better cities. The Contribution of Digital Technology is about “digital social innovations” and contains ample examples of how people are finding new ways to use digital means to help society thrive and save the environment.
Digitale sociale innovatie – also referred to as smart city 3.0 – is a modest counterweight to the growing dominance and yet lagging promises of 'Big Tech'. It concerns "a type of social and collaborative innovation in which final users and communities collaborate through digital platforms to produce solutions for a wide range of social needs and at a scale that was unimaginable before the rise of Internet-enabled networking platforms."
Digital innovation in Europe has been boosted by the EU project Growing a digital social Innovation ecosystem for Europa (2015 – 2020), in which De Waag Society in Amsterdam participated for the Netherlands. One of the achievements is a database of more than 3000 organizations and companies. It is a pity that this database is no longer kept up to date after the project has expired and – as I have experienced – quickly loses its accuracy.
Many organizations and projects have interconnections, usually around a 'hub'. In addition to the Waag Society, these are for Europe, Nesta, Fondazione Mondo Digitale and the Institute for Network Cultures. These four organizations are also advisors for new projects. Important websites are: digitalsocial.eu(no longer maintained) and the more business-oriented techforgood.
A diversity of perspectives
To get to know the field of digital innovation better, different angles can be used:
• Attention to a diversity of issues such as energy and climate, air and noise pollution, health care and welfare, economy and work, migration, political involvement, affordable housing, social cohesion, education and skills.
• The multitude of tools ranging from open hardware kits for measuring air pollution, devices for recycling plastic, 3D printers, open data, open hardware and open knowledge. Furthermore, social media, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, big data, machine learning et cetera.
• The variety of project types: Web services, networks, hardware, research, consultancy, campaigns and events, courses and training, education, and research.
• The diverse nature of the organizations involved: NGOs, not-for-profit organizations, citizens' initiatives, educational and research institutions, municipalities and increasingly social enterprises.
Below, these four perspectives are only discussed indirectly via the selected examples. The emphasis is on a fifth angle, namely the diversity of objectives of the organizations and projects involved. At the end of this article, I will consider how municipalities can stimulate digital social innovation. But I start with the question of what the organizations involved have in common.
A common denominator
A number of organizations drew up the Manifesto for Digital Social Innovation in 2017 and identified central values for digital social innovation: Openness and transparency, democracy and decentralization, experimentation and adoption, digital skills, multidisciplinary and sustainability. These give meaning to the three components of the concept of digital social technology:
The multitude of themes of projects in the field of digital social innovation has already been mentioned. Within all these themes, the perspective of social inequality, diversity, human dignity, and gender are playing an important role. In urban planning applications, this partly shifts the focus from the physical environment to the social environment: We're pivoting from a focus on technology and IoT and data to a much more human-centered process, in the words of Emily Yates, smart cities director of Philadelphia.
Ben Green writes in his book 'The smart enough city': One of the smart city's greatest and most pernicious tricks is that it .... puts innovation on a pedestal by devaluing traditional practices as emblematic of the undesirable dumb city.(p. 142). In digital social, innovation rather refers to implement, experiment, improve and reassemble.
Technology is not a neutral toolbox that can be used or misused for all purposes. Again Ben Green: We must ask, what forms of technology are compatible with the kind of society we want to build (p. 99). Current technologies have been shaped by commercial or military objectives. Technologies that contribute to 'the common good' still need to be partly developed. Supporters of digital social innovation emphasize the importance of a robust European open, universal, distributed, privacy-aware and neutral peer-to-peer network as a platform for all forms of digital social innovation.
Objectives and focus
When it comes to the objective or focus, five types of projects can be distinguished: (1) New production techniques (2) participation (3) cooperation (4 raising awareness and (5) striving for open access.
1. New production techniques
A growing group of 'makers' is revolutionizing open design. 3D production tools CAD/CAM software is not expensive or available in fab labs and libraries. Waag Society in Amsterdam is one of the many institutions that host a fab lab. This is used, among other things, to develop several digital social innovations. One example was a $50 3D-printed prosthesis intended for use in developing countries.
Digital technology can allow citizens to participate in decision-making processes on a large scale. In Finland, citizens are allowed to submit proposals to parliament. Open Ministry supports citizens in making an admissible proposal and furthermore in obtaining the minimum required 50,000 votes. Open Ministry is now part of the European D-CENTproject a decentralized social networking platform that has developed tools for large-scale collaboration and decision making across Europe.
It is about enabling people to exchange skills, knowledge, food, clothing, housing, but also includes new forms of crowdfunding and financing based on reputation and trust. The sharing economy is becoming an important economic factor. Thousands of alternative payment methods are also in use worldwide. In East Africa, M-PESA (a mobile financial payment system) opens access to secure financial services for nine million people. Goteo is a social network for crowdfunding and collaborative collaboration that contribute to the common good.
These are tools that seek to use information to change behavior and mobilize collective action. Tyze is a closed and online community for family, friends, neighbors, and care professionals to strengthen mutual involvement around a client and to make appointments, for example for a visit. Safecast is the name of a home-built Geiger counter with which a worldwide community performs radiation measurements and thus helps to increase awareness in radiation and (soon) the presence of particulate matter.
5. Open Access
The open access movement (including open content, standards, licenses, knowledge and digital rights) aims to empower citizens. The CityService Development Kit (CitySDK) is a system that collects open data from governments to make it available uniformly and in real time. CitySDK helps seven European cities to release their data and provides tools to develop digital services. It also helps cities to anticipate the ever-expanding technological possibilities, for example a map showing all 9,866,539 buildings in the Netherlands, shaded by year of construction. Github is a collaborative platform for millions of open software developers, helping to re-decentralize the way code is built, shared, and maintained.
Cities can support organizations pursuing digital social innovations in tackling problems in many ways. Municipalities that want to do this can benefit from the extensive list of examples in the Digital Social Innovation Ideas Bank, An inspirational resource for local governments.
Direct support through subsidies, buying shares, loans, social impact bonds, but also competitions and matching, whereby the municipality doubles the capital obtained by the organization, for example through crowdfunding. An example of a project financed by the municipality is Amsterdammers, maak je stad.
Involvement in a project, varying from joint responsibility and cost sharing, to material support by making available space and service s, such as in the case Maker Fairs or the Unusual Suspects Festival. Maker Fairs or the Unusual Suspects Festival. Municipalities can also set up and support a project together, such as Cities for Digital Rights. A good example is the hundreds of commons in Bologna, to which the municipality delegates part of its tasks.
Digital social innovation projects have provided a very wide range of useful software in many areas, including improving communication with citizens and their involvement in policy. Consul was first used in Madrid but has made its way to 33 countries and more than 100 cities and businesses and is used by more than 90 million people. In many cases there is also local supply. An alternative is Citizenlab.
Municipalities should seriously consider setting up or supporting a fab lab. Fab Foundation is helpful in this regard. Another example is the Things Network and the Smart citizen kit.. Both are open tools that enable citizens and entrepreneurs to build an IoT application at low cost. These facilities can also be used to measure noise nuisance, light pollution, or odors with citizens in a neighborhood, without having to install an expensive sensor network.
Municipalities can offer citizens and students targeted programs for training digital skills, or support organizations that can implement them, through a combination of physical and digital means. One of the options is the lie detector program, developed by a non-profit organization that teaches young children to recognize and resist manipulative information on (social) media.
Incubators and accelerators
We mainly find these types of organizations in the world of start-ups, some of which also have a social impact. Targeted guidance programs are also available for young DSI organizations. In the Netherlands this is the Waag Society in Amsterdam. A typical tech for good incubator in the UK is Bethnal Green Ventures. An organization that has also helped the Dutch company Fairphone to grow. In the Netherlands, various startup in residence programs also play a role in the development of DSI organisations.
A digital-social innovative moonshot to gross human happiness
It is sometimes necessary to think ahead and wake up policymakers, putting aside the question of implementation for a while. A good example of this from a digital social innovation perspective is the moonshot that Jan-Willem Wesselink (Future City Foundation), Petra Claessen (BTG/TGG). Michiel van Willigen and Wim Willems (G40) and Leonie van den Beuken (Amsterdam Smart City) have written in the context of 'Missie Nederland' of de Volkskrant. Many DSI organizations can get started with this piece! I'll end with the main points of this:
… not a single Dutch person is digitally literate anymore, instead every Dutch person is digitally skilled.
… every resident of the Netherlands has access to high-quality internet. This means that every home will be connected to fast fixed and mobile internet and every household will be able to purchase devices that allow access. A good laptop is just as important as a good fridge.
… the internet is being used in a new way. Applications (software and hardware) are created from within the users. With the premise that anyone can use them. Programs and the necessary algorithms are written in such a way that they serve society and not the big-tech business community.
… every resident of the Netherlands has a 'self-sovereign identity' with which they can operate and act digitally within the context of their own opportunities.
… new technology has been developed that gives residents and companies the opportunity to think along and decide about and to co-develop and act on the well-being of regions, cities, and villages.
… all Dutch politicians understand digitization and technology.
… the Dutch business community is leading in the development of these solutions.
… all this leads to more well-being and not just more prosperity.
… the internet is ours again.
A more detailed explanation can be found under this link
This evening we invited Zoe Scaman & Rutger van Zuidam to share their insights!
Zoe Scaman is founder @ Bodacious, a strategy studio + building fandoms, creators, brands, blockchain + entertainment: https://zoescaman.substack.com/
Rutger van Zuidam, who's building @OdysseyMomentum, an open Source Web3 Metaverse Stack for Collaboration.
Imagine wordpress for web3.0 where everyone can create & own their own space! https://momentum.odyssey.org/
This post is about the rise of the smart city movement, the different forms it has taken and what its future can be. It is the third edition of the series Better cities: The role of digital technologies.
The term smart cities shows up in the last decade of the 20th century. Most definitions refer to the use of (digital) technology as a tool for empowering cities and citizens, and a key to fuel economic growth and to attract investments. Some observants will add as an instrument to generate large profits.
Barcelona, Ottawa, Brisbane, Amsterdam, Kyoto, and Bangalore belong to the forerunners of cities that flagged themselves as ‘smart’. In 2013 approximately 143 ‘self-appointed’ smart cities existed worldwide. To date, this number has exploded over more than 1000.
Five smart city tales
In their article Smart Cities as Company Story telling Ola Söderström et al. document how technology companies crafted the smart city as a fictional story that framed the problems of cities in a way these companies can offer to solve. Over time, the story has multiplied, resulting in what I have called the Smart city tales, a series of narratives used by companies and city representatives. I will address with five dominant ones below: The connected city, the entrepreneurial city, the data-driven city, the digital services city and the consumers’ city.
The connected city
On November 4th 2011, the trademark smarter cities was officially registered as belonging to IBM. It marked a period in which this company became the leader of the smart city technology market. Other companies followed fast, attracted by an expected growth of this market by 20% per year from over $300bn in 2015 to over $750bn to date. In the IBM vision cities are systems of systems: Planning and management services, infrastructural services and human services, each to be differentiated further, to be over-sighted and controlled from one central point, such as the iconic control center that IBM has build in Rio de Janeiro (photo above). All systems can be characterized by three 'I's, which are the hard core of any smart city: Being instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.
The corporate smart city
In many cities in the world, emerging and developing countries in the first place, administrators dream about building smart towns from scratch. They envisioned being 'smart' as a major marketing tool for new business development.
Cisco and Gale, an international property development company, became the developers of New Songdo in South Korea. New Songdo was in the first place meant to become a giant business park and to enable a decent corporate lifestyle and business experience for people from abroad on the first place, offering houses filled with technical gadgets, attractive parks, full-featured office space, outstanding connectivity and accessibility.
Quite some other countries took comparable initiatives in order to attract foreign capital and experts to boost economic growth. For example, India, that has planned to build 100 smart cities.
The data driven city
The third narrative is fueled by the collection and refined analyses of data that technology companies ‘tap’ for commercial reasons from citizens’ Internet and mobile phones communication. Google was the first to discover the unlimited opportunities of integrating its huge knowledge of consumer behavior with city data. Sidewalk Labs - legally operating under the umbrella of Alphabet - responded to an open call for a proposal for redevelopment of Quayside, brownfield land around Toronto's old port, and won the competition. Its plans were on par with contemporary urbanist thinking. However, that was not Sidewalk Labs’ first motive. Instead, its interest was ‘ubiquitous sensing’ of city life’, to expand Google’s already massive collection of personalized profiles with real-time geotagged knowledge of where people are, what they are whishing or doing in order to provide them with commercial information.
As could be expected, privacy issues dominated the discussion over the urbanist merits of the plan and most observers believe that therefore the company put the plug out of the project in May 2020. The official reason was investors’ restraint, due to Covid-19.
The consumers’ smart city
The fourth narrative is focusing on rise of urban tech targeted on consumers. Amazon, Uber and Airbnb are forerunners disrupting traditional sectors like retail, taxi and hotel business. They introduced a platform approach that nearly decimated the middleclass in in the US. Others followed, such as bike- and scooter-sharing companies Bird and Lyme, co-working companies like We Work and meal delivery services like Delivero.
City tech embodies the influence of entrepreneurship backed by venture capitalists and at the same time the necessity for city governments to establish a democratic legitimized framework to manage these initiatives.
The smart services city
Thanks to numerous ‘apps’, cities started to offer a wealth of information and services to citizens concerning employment, housing, administration, mobility, health, security and utilities. These apps enable city administrators, transit authorities, utility services and many others to inform citizens better than before. With these apps, citizens also can raise questions or make a request to repair broken street furniture.
Some cities, for instance Barcelona and Madrid, started to use digital technologies to increase public engagement, or to give people a voice in decision making or budgeting.
All aforementioned narratives suggest a tight link between technology and the wellbeing of citizens, symbolizing a new kind of technology-led urban utopia. In essence, each narrative puts available technology in the center and looks for an acceptable rationale to put it into the market. The fifth one witnesses an upcoming change into a more human-centric direction.
An upcoming techlash or a second wave of smart cities
It is unmistakably that business leaders, having in mind a multi-billion smart city technologies-market overstate the proven benefits of technology. Garbage containers with built-in sensors and adaptive street lighting are not that great after all, and the sensors appearing everywhere raise many questions. According to The Economist, it is not surprising that a techlash is underway. As I accentuated in last week’s post, politicians are becoming more critical regarding behemoths like Google, Amazon and Facebook, because of their treatment of sensitive data, their lack of transparency of algorithm-based decision making, their profits and tax evasion and the gig economy in general. Skepticism within the general public is increasing too.
Nevertheless, a second wave of smart cities is upcoming. The first wave lacked openess for the ethics of urban technology and the governance of urban development. The second wave excels in ethical considerations and intentions to preserve privacy. Intentions alone are insufficient, politics will also have to break the monopolies of Big Tech
Besides, in order to gain trust in the general public, city governors must discuss the city’s real challenges with residents, (knowledge) institutions, and other stakeholder before committing to whatever technology. Governance comes prior to technology. As Francesca Bria, former chief technology officer of Barcelona said: We are reversing the smart city paradigm. Instead of starting from technology and extracting all the data we can before thinking about how to use it, we started aligning the tech agenda with the agenda of the city.
Apart from Barcelona, this also happens in cities such as Amsterdam, Boston, Portland and the Polish city of Lublin. The question is no longer which problems technology is going to solve, but which exactly are these problems, who is trusted to define them, which are their causes, whose intersts are involved, who is most affected, and which ones must be solved most urgently. Only after answering these questions, the discussion can be extended to the contribution of (digital) technology. In a next contribution, I explore digital social innovation, as a contribution to a revised smart city concept.
This post is a brief summary of my article Humane by choice. Smart by default: 39 building blocks for cities in the future. Published in the Journal of the American Institution of Engineers and Technology, June 2020. You will fine a copy of this article below:
MEET THE NEXT GENERATION OF IMPACT ENTREPRENEURS
Get inspired by early-stage impact entrepreneurs during the Pitch Event of the Impact Hub Business Model Challenge #21! These ambitious entrepreneurs will share their business cases with an audience of Impact Hub members, experts and potential partners.
And you are invited! After every pitch, you can support the entrepreneurs with their next steps by giving them feedback and providing them with valuable contacts. At the end of the program you will also help to decide, together with our jury, which startup deserves a special prize!
This pitch event will be held online.
This event takes place during the Impact Hub Collaboration Day.
16.00-16.10: Welcome and introduction to BMC
16.10-17.00: Listen to 9 fresh pitches, meet the entrepreneurs here!
17.00-17.15 Keynote by BMC#20 winner: Plant Based Fashion
17.15-17.30: Winner announcement
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS MODEL CHALLENGE (BMC)?
In our three-month BMC incubator, we help impact entrepreneurs unlock the potential of their innovative ideas, and turn these ideas for a better world into scalable business models!
Next months, I will post a weekly contribution answering the question how digital technologies can contribute to the development of better cities. Here's what to expect from these posts:
According to the WEF Global Risk Report, anyone committed to the contribution of digital technology to solving the problems facing society should realize that technology and the underlying business model itself is one of those problems. The last thing to do is uncritically follow those who see only the blessings of technology. Some of their prophecies will send shivers down your spine, like this one from tech company Siemens: In a few decades, cities will have countless autonomous, intelligently functioning IT systems that are perfectly aware of users' habits and energy consumption and provide optimal service. The aim of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources through autonomous IT systems. The company precisely articulates the fear expressed by Lewis Mumford who wrote in his seminal book The Myth of the Machine: Emerging new mega-techniques create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation in which man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal. This was in 1967, before anyone could even think about the impact of digital technology.
Fortunately, there are of governments, companies and institutions committed to developing and adopting technology to address the challenges the world faces: Energy transition and other impacts of climate change, pressure on mobility, setting up a circular economy; making society inclusive and improving the liveability of cities. However, technology alone cannot reach these goals. Far-reaching social and economic reforms are needed, also to ensure that the benefits of digitization are shared by everyone.
I join those who 'believe' in the potential of digital technology for society, if done in a responsible and value-driven way, but also are skeptical whether this will happen indeed. This ambivalence will not have escaped the notice of those familiar with my previous publications. In my first ebook Smart city tales (2018) I explored the use and abuse of technology in so-called smart cities. In the second ebook Cities of the future, always humane, smart if helpful (2020) I presented the problems of contemporary cities, collected possible solutions and mapped out which digital techniques can contribute. The conclusion was that humane cities are still a long way off.
What you are reading now is the first post (Read the Dutch version here) in a new series that focuses on digital technology itself. In the first part of this series, I discuss the demands that can be placed on the design of digital technology for the sake of better cities. In the second part, I apply these requirements to a broad range of technologies. The integration of digital technology into urban policies will be discussed in part three.
I foresee the publication of about 20 articles. The link below opens a preliminary overview of their topics. I will take the liberty of adapting this plan to the actuality and advancing insight.
I am a fourth year student at UC Berkeley studying data science and sustainable design. I currently live in Berkeley, California but am taking some time off to live in Amsterdam from January 2022 - May 2022. I am interested in volunteer/part-time work opportunities in data analytics for smart cities, given Amsterdam's impressive internet of things ecosystem. I am a motivated, hard worker with the ability to learn new things quickly, and am curious about many topics. Please let me know if there are any positions that are open to a person in my position, thank you!
Metabolic is looking for a Marketing Manager!
They will help in increasing the reach and impact of Metabolic's work by putting the right content in front of the right people in collaboration with the digital communications manager.
If you are keen to contribute to a sustainable economy, check out this opportunity. Or if you know someone who fits the bill, kindly share with them.
In the recent past, the value of startups in Amsterdam Delta (Amsterdam metropolitan region) has taken a giant leap. In 2015, Amsterdam startups were valued at $11.1 billion. Today, Europe's number 3 ecosystem is worth $83.3 billion. The extraordinary success stories of Adyen and Takeaway have been a major contributor to this success, but its base is much broader. On the annually published Global Startup Ecosystem ranking Amsterdam Delta rose from the 19th place in 2015 to 12th place in 2020. Everyone was curious about the 2021 ranking. Well, as the table shows, Amsterdam Delta has been overtaken by Paris and Tokyo, but only lost one place due to a significant drop in Stockholm.
The value of rankings is easily overestimated. However, the value of startups should not be underestimated. More than 30% of the 4000 startups in the Netherlands are located in the Amsterdam metropolitan region. Together, the Dutch startups have created more than 100,000 jobs and are responsible for 60% of the annual job growth.
Globally, 2020 and 2021 were amazing years for startups as the pandemic fueled technology. According to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021, Internet capacity increased by 35% and global broadband traffic by 51%. Consumers bought 30% more food online. Global venture capital funding nearly doubled to $288 billion in the first half of 2021, compared to the first half of 2020. Startups have benefited from the explosive technology market, supported by significant government support. Following China and the US, the European Union has been generous to startups, and the same goes for its member states. The Dutch government offers tax credits to innovative companies and environmentally friendly investments. The city of Amsterdam promotes startups that support inclusive growth and diversity, for example by subsidizing female entrepreneurs.
The Amsterdam Delta startup ecosystem can be characterized as vibrant. Still other ecosystems in the world are growing faster, including those in some European cities. In the global top ten emerging ecosystems, we find Copenhagen in second place and Barcelona, Madrid, and Zurich in places 5, 8 and 9.
To detect possible vulnerabilities in the Amsterdam Delta startup ecosystem, analyzing of success factors of the 30 highest-ranked ecosystems in the report is informative. In terms of performance, Amsterdam's composite score is in a middle position (6 out of 10 points). In terms of funding, the position is good (8). In terms of market reach, the overall score is satisfactory (7): The Amsterdam Delta startups are primarily focused on global markets and score low on the local market. Like most European ecosystems, Amsterdam Delta scores excellent (9) in connectedness, which is related to its strength on the global market. In terms of talent, the overall score is satisfactory (7), but the components differ considerably. The quality of technology students and graduates is good, but their number is insufficient, resulting in high salary costs. The scalability of the Amsterdam startup ecosystem is also insufficient, due to a lack of experience, which keeps many startups small. The overall knowledge success is assessed as poor (1) because the number of life science patents is disappointing.
When assessing the success factors, it should be considered that the population of Amsterdam Delta is about 10% of the population of London, and in this perspective the need to improve the global 13th place is not urgent. On the contrary, understanding why the Amsterdam Delta is performing so well is more relevant than looking for opportunities to improve it.
The explanation of Amsterdam's success has its roots in the fundamental strength of the Netherlands as a whole, which has at least ten other vibrant startup ecosystems. Against this background, one might be curious about the Global Startup Ecosystem ranking of the Randstad, including Eindhoven as a whole. According to the report, the strength of the Netherlands is its well-educated population, international orientation and English proficiency, excellent infrastructure, an 'extremely high quality of life' and business-friendly laws. Amsterdam is also the headquarters of many international companies, a large pool of potential startup founders.
In a next post, I will focus on Amsterdam's policy towards startups and evaluate whether a higher ranking is within reach or whether more qualitative objectives are preferable, taken into account the considerations in a former post on the Amsterdam Smart City website.
I will regularly share ‘snapshots’ of the challenge of bringing socially and ecologically sustainable cities closer using technology if useful. These posts represent findings, updates, and additions to my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.
Barcelona is one of the oldest examples of a city that deploys technology as part of its government. Sensor networks have been producing an array of data on transport, energy usage, noise levels, irrigation, and many other topics without having much impact on the life of citizens or solving the underlying problems.
In 2015, Francesca Bria, chief technology, together with mayor Ada Colau started to reverse the smart city paradigm: Instead of starting from technology and extracting all the data we started aligning the tech agenda with the agenda of the city, she said.
One of the first challenges was using technology to increase ordinary citizen’s impact on policy. A group of civic-minded coders and cryptographers created a brand-new participatory platform, Decidem (which means We Decide in Catalan). For more information watch the video below.
Spain offers more inspiring examples. The city of Madrid has also created a participatory citizen platform, not for chance called Decide Madrid, which is in many respects comparable with Decidem, as this short video demonstrates.
The most important features of both platforms are:
Active participation in policy making
Citizens are stimulated to suggest ideas, debating them, and vote. In Barcelona, more than 40.000 citizens have suggested proposals, which form 70% of the agenda of the city administration. The most frequently mentioned concerns are affordable housing, clean energy, air quality and the public space.
The Municipal Action Plan of Barcelona includes almost 7,000 proposals from citizens. Decidem enables citizens to monitor the state of implementation of each of them to increase citizen’s engagement.
Decide Madrid and Decidem emphasize the value of being informed as starting point for deliberation. Citizens can start discussions on their own and participate in threaded discussions started by others.
As soon as citizens feel informed and have exchanged opinions voting can start. Both Decide Madrid as Decidemhave a space where citizens can make proposals and seeks support. Proposals that reach enough support are prepared for voting. These votes generally are advising the city council.
Decide Madrid enables citizens amendment legislative texts. The public is allowed to commend any part of it and to suggest alternatives. This also might result in discussions and the suggestions are used to improve the formulations.
Decidem and Decide Madrid are also data portals that show data that have been collected in the city, partly on citizens themselves. Decidem has the intention, because of its participation in the European project Decode to enable citizens to control the use of data of their own for specific purposes.
As not every citizen has a computer or is skilled to use the Internet platforms, both cities combine virtual discussions and discussion in a physical space.
It is not only the traditional rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid that has inspired the development of two comparable systems, independently from each other. It is also the fact that the Spanish people had to fight for democracy until rather recently. Democratic institutions that have long existed in many other countries had to be reinvented, but with a 20th-century twist.
The community of Madrid has developed Decide Madrid together with CONSUL, a Madrid-based company. CONSUL enables cities to develop citizen participation on the Internet quickly and save. The package is very comprehensive. The software and its use are free. CONSUL can be adjusted by each organization to meet its own needs. As a result, Consul is in use in 130 cities and organizations in 33 countries (see the map above) and reaches out around 90 million citizens worldwide.
In contrast with e-Estonia, the topic of a former post, the footing of Decidem and Decide Madrid is enabling citizens to make their voice heard and to participate in decision-making. Both cities offer excellent examples of e-governance. e-Governance reflects the mutual communication between municipal authorities and citizens using digital tools to align decision making with the needs and wants of citizens. Instead, the intention of e-Estonia is to improve the efficiency of the operation of the state. Both aims are complementary.
I will regularly share ‘snapshots’ of the challenge of bringing socially and ecologically sustainable cities closer using technology if useful. These posts represent findings, updates, and additions to my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.
How do we deal with digital technology? Ars Electronica 2021 is looking for answers. The festival for art, technology and society offers hundreds of online sessions on September 8-12, consisting of talks, workshops, conferences, exhibitions, concerts and tours.
Since its first edition in 1979, the Ars Electronica Festival has been held in Linz, Austria. This year is a hybrid edition for the second time in its history. Ars Electronica can be visited both on site in Linz and remotely in the 'gardens', consisting of over 120 locations worldwide.
What is it about?
This year's topic has arisen from the rapid digital transformation of recent decades, making the digital world an ever-expanding part of our social habitat. But, there are issues to be dealt with. How can we 'fix' the digital world, get to grips with our problems, and what will it take to restore the balance?
- Tech developers
- Media art lovers
- Anyone interested
GO!-NH Workshop Innovatieversneller (Lean Startup)
Een intensieve en hands-on workshop waarin de mindset, skillset en toolset wordt geleerd van het versneld innoveren. We gebruiken een playbook, een gestructureerd proces en best practices uit de markt en uit jullie eigen praktijk; om zo de risico’s aanzienlijk te verminderen en de kans op succes te vergroten.
Aansluitend op de werksessie maak je kennis met het GO!-NH programma en ondernemers (oud deelnemers van GO!-NH) die met baanbrekende innovaties en vernieuwende businessmodellen de markt veroveren. Zij vertellen over hun ervaringen, leermomenten en successen van hun innovaties en ondernemingen.
Tijdens de Masterclasses en introductiebijeenkomsten kom je meer te weten over GO!-NH en leer je wat de verschillen tussen de 3 programma’s (Accelerator, Growth en Scale). Vaak zijn de bijeenkomsten aansluitend aan één van onze masterclasses of events.
Aanmelden kan via de website van GO!-NH: https://go-nh.nl/programmas/academy-21/
Het GO!-NH Scale traject is speciaal gericht op startups, scale-ups en MKB’ers die goed ontwikkeld zijn in hun huidige markt en klaar zijn om hun innovatie op te schalen naar nieuwe markten of gebieden. In dit GO!-NH Scale traject ga jij ontdekken welke nieuwe markten je gaat aanboren en wat je daarvoor moet ondernemen. We bereiden de organisatie voor om daadwerkelijk flinke groeisprongen te gaan maken, door het uitwerken van een goede ‘go-to-market’ strategie en individuele begeleiding door experts.
Het GO!-NH Scale programma duurt 6 maanden. De inschrijving sluit zondag 5 september 23.59u.
Meer informatie via https://go-nh.nl/programmas/scale-21/
Eet jij content als ontbijt, lunch en diner? Weet je hoe je het netwerk van de Amsterdam Economic Board kunt aanspreken en activeren? Schrijf je sterke social posts in foutloos Nederlands en beheers je de Engelse taal op een goed niveau? Heeft Google Analytics geen geheimen voor je en maak je graag deel uit van een enthousiast en betrokken communicatieteam?
De Board heeft een vacature voor een krachtige Online Contentspecialist per september voor 32 uur per week. Reageer voor 30 juli en we gaan graag met je in gesprek.
Note van ASC: Wil je net iets meer weten? Laat het Jet weten in de comments.
Vanaf september 2021 hebben wij een stageplek voor een initiatiefrijke, meewerkende stagiair(e). Heb jij zin in een stage binnen het strategie-team waar je verschillende partijen leert kennen en je onderzoek doet naar innovatie voor een slimme, groene en gezonde toekomst van de Metropool Amsterdam? Dan zoeken we jou!
Het strategie-team van de Amsterdam Economic Board doet onderzoek naar drie maatschappelijke transities in de regio: Energie, Circulair en Digitaal. We werken met toekomstscenario’s en organiseren kennissessies om het gesprek over de toekomst van de economie te voeren met ons netwerk. Daarnaast verbinden we kennisinstellingen, overheden en bedrijven in de regio op strategisch niveau en stimuleren we innovatieve samenwerking tussen hen.
Klinkt dat als een uitdaging die jou goed ligt: Lees dan alles over deze stage-vacature.
Ben je bezig met een opleiding op het gebied van Communicatie en de organisatie van Events? Zoek je een leuke stage op een uitdagende plek op het Marineterrein in Amsterdam? Bij de Amsterdam Economic Board werk je mee aan een leefbare omgeving in de Amsterdamse metropoolregio. In ons team krijg je veel mogelijkheden om te leren, je verder te ontwikkelen en je netwerk te vergroten. Grijp deze kans aan en reageer op deze vacature.
Last year, during the Month of the AAI in November, the Centre of Expertise Applied Artificial Intelligence (AUAS - Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) presented the Dutch Applied AI Award for the first time. This year we are back for a second edition. The award is part of the Computable Awards and is for suppliers of AI solutions, start-ups in the AI field and good examples of the implementation of AI.
This award is jointly organized with AUAS, Computable and podcast De Dataloog . You can nominate an individual or organisation, based on a project you think has stood out in the past 12 months. The projects may have been particularly successful, innovative or extensive.
You can nominate until 16 August 2021
The winner will be announced on 2 November 2021 during a spectacular show in the Jaarbeurs Utrecht. Last year, healthcare platform DEARhealth won the Dutch Applied AI award. Who will walk away with the prize this year? 🙌🏻
About the Computable Awards
This will be the 16th year in a row that Computable will present the Computable Awards in November 2021. These prizes are awarded to companies, projects and individuals who, according to Computable readers, have clearly distinguished themselves in the past year.
An independent jury of experts will select five nominees for each award from the nominated parties. The ranking by the jury and the number of votes from Computable readers each determine half of which nominee will receive the award in November. The number of times a party is nominated for a nomination does not play a role, but the quality of the substantiation and information about the project mentioned does.
Build your knowledge & skills on the Living Lab approach during the online AMS Summer School 2021.
You will learn to understand what a Living Lab is and when it can be of value to start one. You’ll also gain hands-on knowledge on what is needed to have a successful start, and how to deal with issues such as stakeholder involvement and citizen empowerment.
The Summer school will challenge you to work with a new mindset, build a new network of professionals and academia. It gives you the opportunity to be a part of the next steps towards the future of one of Amsterdam’s key projects.
During the Summer school, we will help you solve the real-world challenge you bring with your team.
What can you expect?
During the week you will work in a team of 5 participants on a pre-defined real-life case. The Urban Living Lab Summer School consists of lectures, online co-working sessions, trainings, and real-world interventions. It will tap into theoretical frameworks of Living Lab methodology, process tools to help deliver a plan of approach and deploy teamwork on a real-life case. It will focus on your own learning goals for reinventing cities of tomorrow. The mix of participants - academic researchers, public professionals, and company innovation managers, with at least 5 years of experience - generates new insights and perspectives on the challenges by co-creating solutions together.
Cases we'll work on
• Case 1 – Circularity at IJburg 2
• Case 2a – Mobility hubs: area-oriented approach ‘Jordaan’ & ‘Westelijke Grachtengordel’ Amsterdam
• Case 2b - Exploration of mobility hub development at ‘Appeltjesmarkt/Europarking’ location, Amsterdam
During the week
In the week of 16 August you can expect a full-time online program running from Monday to Friday from 9:00-17:00. We expect you to be present to get the most out of it, also be there for your team. Every day you will attend inspirational lectures, participate in workshops, get personal coaching and work with your group on your case. All classes, materials and discussions will be in English.
PhD student: € 500
Senior researcher € 900
Professional € 2000
The application deadline is July 16, so make sure to apply on time.
Note from ASC: Have a question? Let’s hear it in the comments!
About ten years ago, technology companies started to provide cities with technology, luring them with the predicate ‘smart(er)’, a registered trademark of IBM. At that time Cisco's vice-president of strategy Inder Sidhudescribed the company’s ‘smart city play’ as its biggest opportunity, a 39,5 billion dollar-market. During the years, that followed, the prospects rocketed: The consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan estimated the global smart city technology market to be worth $1.56 trillion by 2020.
The persistent policy of technology companies to suggest a tight link between technology and the wellbeing of the citizens, angers me. Every euro these companies are chasing at, is citizens’ tax money. What has been accomplished until now is disappointing, as I documented in the IET Journal. According to The Economist it is not surprising that a ‘techlash’ is underway: Many have had it with the monopolistic dominance of behemoths like Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like, because of their treatment of sensitive data, the lack of transparency and accountability of algorithm-based decision making and the huge profits they make from it.
Regaining public control
However, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater and see how digital innovation can be harnessed for the Good of all citizens. Regaining public control demands four institutional actions at city level.
1. Practicing governance
Before even thinking about digitalization, a city must convert into best practices of governance. Governance goes beyond elections and enforcing the law. An essential characteristic is that all citizens can trust that government represents their will and protects their interests. Therefore, it is necessary to go beyond formal democratic procedures and contact stakeholders directly, enable forms of participatory budgeting and deploy deliberative polling.
Aligning views of political parties and needs and wants of citizens takes time and a lot of effort. The outcome might be a common vision on the solution of a city’s problems and the realisation of its ambitions, and a consecutive political agenda including the use of tools, digital ones included.
2. Strengthening executive governmental power
Lack of cooperation within the departmental urban organizations prevents not only an adequate diagnosis of urban problems but also the establishment of a comprehensive package of policy instruments, including legislation, infrastructure, communication, finance and technology. Instead, decisions are made from within individual silos, resulting in fragmented and ineffective policies. Required is a problem-oriented organization instead of a departmental one and a mayor that oversees the internal coherence of the policy.
3. Level playing field with technology companies
Cities must increase their knowledge in the field of digitization, artificial intelligence in particular. Besides, but they should only work with companies that comply with ethical codes as formulated in the comprehensivemanual, Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, drafted by the influential Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)
Expertise at city level must come from a Chief Technology Officer who aligns technological knowledge with insight in urban problems and will discuss with company representatives on equal foot. Digitalisation must be part of all policy areas, therefore delegating responsibility to one alderman is a bad idea. Moreover, an alderman is not an adequate discussion partner for tech companies.
4. Approving and supporting local initiatives
Decentralization of decision-making and delegating responsibility for the execution of parts of the policy to citizen’s groups or other stakeholders helps to become a thriving city. Groups of citizens, start-ups or other local companies can invoke the right of challenge and might compete with established companies or organizations.
In summary: steps towards seamless integration of digitalization in citizen-orientated policy
1. Define together with citizens a vision on the development of the city, based on a few central goals such as sustainable prosperity, inclusive growth, humanity or - simply - happiness.
2. Make an inventory of what citizens and other stakeholders feel as the most urgent issues (problems and ambitions).
3. Find out how these issues are related and rephrase them if desirable.
4. Deepen insight in these issues, based on available data and data to be collected by experts or citizens themselves.
5. Assess ways to address these issues, their pros and cons and how they align with the already formulated vision.
6. Make sure that digital technology has been explored as part of the collected solutions.
7. Investigate which legal, organizational, personnel and financial barriers may arise in the application of potential solutions and how to address them.
8. Investigate undesired effects of digital techniques, in particular long-term dependence ('lock-in') on commercial parties.
9. Formulate clear actions within the defined directions for dealing with the issues to be addressed. Involve as many expert fellow citizens as possible in this.
10. Make a timetable, calculate costs, and indicate when realization of the stated goals should be observable.
11. Involve citizens, non-governmental and other organizations in the implementation of the actions and make agreements about this.
12. At all stages of the process, seek support from those who are directly involved and the elected democratic bodies.
13. Act with full openness to all citizens.
I can't agree more than with the words of Léan Doody (smart city expert Arup Group): I don't necessarily think 'smart' is something to strive for in itself. Unlike sustainability or resilience, 'smart' is not a normative concept…. The technology must be a tool to deliver a sustainable city. As a result, you can only talk about technological solutions if you understand which problems must be solved, whether these problems are rooted in the perceptions of stakeholders and how they relate to other policy instruments.
Op 17 juni is het tijd voor de 6e online editie van de Amsterdam Donut Coalitie Meetup. Tijdens de online meetup delen we updates en leren we elkaar kennen. Deze keer krijgen jullie de kans om meer te komen weten over donut bedrijven en donut kunst.
Wanneer: donderdag 17 juni
Hoe laat: 14:00 - 15.00 uur
14.00 Welkom & check-in
14.05 Wat is de Amsterdam Donut Coalitie
14.15 Donut thema's
14.30 Break-out sessies over donut kunst & donut bedrijven
14.50 Recap & volgende stappen
Wat kun je verwachten?
• Ga in gesprek met Willem van Winden (HvA) & Andre Knol (Innomics) over donut bedrijven;
• Stel je vragen over donut kunst aan Matthijs ten Berge & Anne Nigten van de Amsterdamse Hogeschool van de Kunsten.
Wil je een steentje bijdragen aan de transitie naar een sociaal rechtvaardige en ecologisch veilige maatschappij? Meld je aan via het formulier, dan sturen we je de zoom link een week van tevoren. We kijken uit naar jullie komst!
Stay up to date
Get notified about new updates, opportunities or events that match your interests.