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Six weeks ago, I started a new weekly series answering the question how digitization can contribute to the development of better cities and their surroundings. Technology alone cannot reach this goal. Far-reaching social and economic reforms are needed, also to ensure that the benefits of digitization are shared by everyone.
Below you will find links to the articles published until now:
Part A: Digital technology as a challenge
Part B: Digital instruments and ethics
10. Accessibility, software, digital infrastructure, and data. The quest for ethics
11. Ethical principles and artificial intelligence
12. Ethical principles and applications of digital technology
13. Amsterdam benchmarked
14. ‘Agenda stad’ and digital instruments
Part C: Applications
15. Artificial intelligence abused
16. Government: services and participation
18. Circular economy: Construction
19. Circular economy: Waste
21. Energy transition
23. Smart cities from scratch
Links to the Dutch versions, you will find below:
The year 2021 is coming to an end. Traditionally this is the time of the year to look back, reflect and think about what the next year has in store. This is usually also the moment in which you can read ‘the lists’: the highlights of 2021. Of course we couldn’t stay behind, so we have collected the highlights of this past year for you. We have welcomed a lot of great new community members, read inspiring news and learned more about projects that will make our cities better. Curious?
Here is the list of the posts that were mostly appreciated by you, our community members and visitors:
1. Circular Pavilion is ready for the Floriade!
Floriade is the international horticultural show that is organized in the Netherlands every ten years since 1960. In April 2022 it will take place in Almere. Since the official theme is Growing Green Cities, circularity will place a central role. Read how this evolves in the buildings.
2. Sustainable shirts and skirts
What if our clothes could have less impact on the environment? What we can contribute to a better world wearing them? Anne-Ro Klevant Groen has a goal, philosophy and some impressive activities within Fashion for Good. This month we started introducing community members and this interview immediately hits the top 5 of the year list!
3. Bitter and sweet decisions
Last week, the Netherlands was captivated by discussions, debates and decisions on datacenters. Important for storing the data that we use and need, a burden on the energy grid. How to make decisions? Learn from the experts in this Data Dilemmas webinar we hosted earlier this year.
4. Flexible travels with Amaze
MaaS, a concept talked about a lot. Instead of owning transport, you're just paying for the use of transport which makes streets less crowded and air cleaner. New MaaS initiatives appear in cities. It wouldn't be 2021 if they didn't come with an easy to use app. Amaze was launched this year, what does this look like?
5. Gaming for a better world
Serious gaming isn’t a new concept. It’s a way to show people and the way of working and impact of developments. Lowkey! To understand the need for the energy transition, serious gaming is used as well. But we can do better! There are a lot of possibilities, how do we make sure they have impact? Read the blog written by our colleague Melchior and leave behind your suggestions.
Of course, there is a lot more. You are more than welcome to browse through our website and find all the great initiatives, new projects and people that are part of Amsterdam Smart City. Let’s create better streets, neighbourhoods and cities together!
The Amsterdam Smart City wishes you happy holidays and a smart 2022.
Vind jij het leuk om met verschillende acties tegelijkertijd bezig te zijn? Ben je goed in plannen, een denker én een doener? En ook nog eens heel handig met allerlei programma’s en tools? Amsterdam Economic Board zoekt een Projectmedewerker zoals jij voor 32-40 uur per week. Stuur ons uiterlijk 24 januari je CV en motivatie.
House of Skills is op zoek naar ondersteuning op administratief en organisatorisch vlak. Ben jij een goede Secretaresse, houd je van werken in een hecht team met heel verschillende mensen en zoek je een baan voor 32 uur per week? Reageer dan uiterlijk maandag 17 januari.
Op confronterende, inspirerende en energieke wijze ondervinden deelnemende bedrijven wat de uitdagingen en kansen zijn van vernieuwende businessmodellen met maatschappelijke en ecologische impact. De wereldwijde economie en maatschappij is in transitie en wij hebben hierin een rol te spelen. Maar hoe is de vraag… Met praktische cases wordt duidelijk wat er daadwerkelijk nodig is voor de duurzame groei van een bedrijf en vergroten van de impact op de wereld.
De workshopleider is Nick Stevens.
15.00u - 17.00u
Aanmelden kan via https://go-nh.nl/agenda/
Deze Masterclass is voor startups en innovatieve MKB-bedrijven die zich met hun baanbrekende innovaties in de groeifase bevinden. Zij hebben al tractie door omzet uit klanten en/of pilots. Ondernemers maken kennis met de succesvoorwaarden voor groei. Denk hierbij aan focus op herhaalbaarheid en schaalbaarheid van product/service, businessmodel, team, infrastructuur, verkoop en organisatie.
15:00 – 16:30
Aanmelden kan via https://go-nh.nl/agenda/
Ben jij ondernemer in de textielbranche en benieuwd naar circulaire business kansen voor jouw bedrijf?
In februari 2022 organiseert de CIRCO HUB Noord-Holland een track omtrent textiel hergebruik & recycling waarin je onder begeleiding concrete stappen zet in het (her)ontwikkelen van nieuwe, circulaire producten, diensten of businessmodellen.
Meer weten en circulaire kansen ontdekken? Neem dan snel een kijkje en meld je aan voor deze driedaagse CIRCO Track.
CIRCO Hub Noord-Holland bestaat uit Impact Hub Amsterdam, Noorderwind, Stichting Circulair West en Natuur en Milieufederatie Noord-Holland en draagt bij aan het verspreiden van kennis over circulair ontwerpen en ondernemen. Door het aanbieden van verschillende CIRCO Tracks helpen we MKB in diverse sectoren om nieuwe circulaire ondernemingskansen te ontwikkelen.
You're invited the No Waste Challenge 2021 Demo Day organized by What Design Can Do & Impact Hub Amsterdam!
About this event
After taking part in the half-year Development Programme, 16 winning teams of the No Waste Challenge will present their project, business case, their ambitions and their biggest needs moving forward, such as funding to scale-up, strategic partners, launching customers and specific expertise.
Get to meet these amazing creative entrepreneurs and enter in conversations with them in different breakouts. We promise you, you’ll leave the digital space inspired and engaged!
RESERVE YOUR (ONLINE) SPOT HERE!
The No Waste Challenge called on creative entrepreneurs and designers all over the world to submit innovative, design driven solutions to the catastrophic waste issues the world is facing. From the more than 1400 entries, an international jury of design and climate experts selected the most professional, promising creative startups that submitted the most impactful and feasible design driven innovations to join the challenge’s development programme.
AMS Institute and SmartHubs are happy to announce the third episode of their webinar series on Mobility for the City of Tomorrow on 24 February from 14:00-15:00 (CET).
How to make smart mobility hubs work for everyone? The why of citizen engagement
There are quite some challenges for cities and other stakeholders to make mobility solutions well-tailored for everyone. It starts with finding suitable methods to engage and actively involve different user groups, such as citizens. Subsequently, they have to identify individual user needs with the traveller and co-create transport solutions for the traveller.
With citizen engagement, we try to provide the silent majority with an opportunity to raise their voice. If the SmartHubs project engages the citizen, the city-citizen relation will improve.
Marc Boijens and Laurens van Roozendaal will share some use cases and methods, actively involving the audience.
AMS Institute and SmartHubs are happy to announce the second episode of their webinar series on Mobility for the City of Tomorrow on 3 February from 14:00-15:00 (CET).
Decision support systems for locating smart mobility hubs
With the growing use of shared mobility modes comes the need to regulate and organize them into hub access points that offer several modes together. But there's a challenge. How should these hubs be located in a city so that they contribute to mobility sustainability and positively impact its urban fabric?
With that in mind, the SmartHubs project has been developing a decision support tool to help find the best potential areas for installing shared mobility hubs. It comprises a multi-criteria approach that integrates several objectives into the same overall potential score, providing cities with a geographical picture of where they should prioritize their investments.
Gonçalo Homem de Almeida Rodriguez Correia and Miquel Martí Casanovas will explain the method behind the decision support tool, using the city of Amsterdam as an example.
AMS Institute and SmartHubs are happy to announce the first episode of their webinar series on Mobility for the City of Tomorrow on 20 January from 14:00-15:00 (CET).
How to build the right ecosystem to make smart mobility hubs work?
An ecosystem consists of many parties, and it's beneficial for incremental innovation if there, somehow, is a connection between them. But what if your innovation is disruptive and an entire ecosystem has to undergo a transition? How do you find the right partners for your envisioned ecosystem? How can you create a common goal that is equally beneficial for all partners?
SmartHubs are not about technology but about creating an ecosystem with a solid value proposition and the right business models.
Marc Boijens and Laurens van Roozendaal will tell you more about how they tackle the challenges they encounter in the SmartHubs project.
On December 14 2021, we had a very special demo day. Of course, it was the last of the year. As the Amsterdam Smart City core team, we are very proud of all the collaborations our partners and community started and that's why we wanted to highlight a few of them. To give the demoday a typical Christmas vibe, the pitchers had a 'gift' for the participants: their lessons learned that everyone could benefit from. And the participants had a gift in return: answers to the questions of the pitchers. In short, a demo day with new projects, questioning and sharing insights!
Responsible Sensing Lab and Drones
Hidde Kamst of the City of Amsterdam tells the participants about the Responsible Sensing Lab, a collaboration between the municipality and AMS Institute. This Lab works on the implementation of (social) values in technology in the city. Cameras and sensors in public space can put values such as privacy and anonymity under pressure. The Responsible Sensing Lab researches and designs alternatives. This also applies to the subject of Responsible Drones. A group of civil servants, companies and knowledge institutions worked on a vision on the responsible use of drones. The subjects 'proportionality', 'communications' and 'rules of the game' were discussed.
Hidde’s lessons learned: behind the scenes there are many parties working on drones, but the involvement of residents and civil society is low. It is important to change this because drones can have a big impact on our society. In addition, it is a complex topic where more research is needed. Hidde's request for help 'How do you convey the urgency of a subject that is important, but not yet urgent?' was very recognizable for the participants. A selection of their ideas: repeat the urgency over and over again, visualize the urgency, use storytelling and name the risks.
Shuttercam and Measuring Public Space
Pitch 2 had a big link with Hidde's story. Tom van Arman does various sensing projects on the Marineterrein, also covered by the Responsible Sensing Lab. An example is the Shuttercam, a camera that citizens can put on or off. In this way they can have an influence on the technology in the city. We start Tom's pitch with a question to the participants. Do they find it important that we measure a lot and collect data to improve the city or would they rather see more privacy for residents? A question that provokes discussion.
Tom has been engaged in measuring and testing in the public space for years, with an important role for public values. That's why he learned a lot of lessons: make sure you take the time to get legislation in order, take vandalism into account, do everything you can to make your work understandable for citizens. And a very nice one to remember: a hot camera attracts many insects. They block the image or get into the devices. One of the best tips he got from the participants: let passers-by write down what they see. That way you can get great feedback.
Braking energy and Pilot OV E-hub
André Simonse from Firan (Alliander) introduced us to the 'braking energy' issue, or as it is now is called: the OV E-hub pilot. This started as a search with partners such as AMS Institute, Arcadis, the City of Amsterdam, the
VRA and Alliander. Now the process evolved into a collaboration between Strukton Rail, Hedgehog Applications and Firan. Big cities can no longer cope with the increasing demand for sustainable energy. This makes it more difficult to access mobility hubs, such as stations, to provide electricity. It is therefore important to use existing energy smartly.
The lessons learned in this pitch were about taking action. Although talking is important for ideation and understanding and trusting each other, the art is to work together on a targeted plan for implementation. André's request for help was on how to organize political support. Willem from the City of Amsterdam wants to be part of the initiative and can help to achieve official support.
Social side of hubs
Willem van Heijningen of the City of Amsterdam took the floor to tell us more about its hub mission. A hub can organize mobility in an effective way. Together with others, he is looking how Q-park Europarking in the center of Amsterdam can be transformed to a hub. Think of shared mobility, charging cars and logistics, while preserving the monumental character of the city. Hearing the word ‘hub’, many people will think of a place to connect different forms of mobility. But it is also about energy. At some point, vehicles, vessels or even drones will come by. Since we want to get rid of fossil fuels, a hub will also become the place where these forms of mobility are charged. The success or failure of hubs is all in the hands of people. It depends on their behavior whether hubs will be useful. Until now, they have got too little attention. T
his is where Willem could use some help: What is needed to bring the social aspect of hubs further? How does the hub prove its effectiveness towards humans? A selection of the answers from the group: investigating the needs of the residents, connect with existing social initiatives in the city, involve local entrepreneurs.
Else Veldman and Hans Roeland Poolman from AMS Institute took us on a tour to their Southeast Energy Lab. This is a collaboration to accelerate sustainability in the southeast of Amsterdam through practical research, meetings and concrete projects. One of the current projects is the LIFE project, an open platform to plan energy supply and demand in a smarter, inclusive way. An enormous ambition that is driven by partners such as Johan Cruijff ArenA, Alliander, Spectral, CoForce and the Utrecht University. AMS Institute is committed to ensuring this platform is not only a technical contribution to the energy transition, but also provides social value to the inhabitants of South-East.
Hans and Else asked the network to think about the latter. The result was a tidal wave of tips to involve residents: co-develop communication strategies such as storytelling and visualization, pay attention to the result, the dream, show what it means to participate in the process, and above all, invest time.
New narrative for the energy transition
The last pitch was about the New Narrative where Kennisland and What Design Can Do on behalf of RES Noord-Holland have been working on. Dave van Loon from Kennisland told us that a new story about the energy transition is being developed to move away from the negative image, people's concerns and to give a new impulse to the energy transition. This narrative is based on a design thinking process. Subsequently, the organizations developed building blocks to focus on:
- a shared sense of urgency
- a positive future perspective
- inspiration by concrete and recognizable examples and success stories
- a sense of pride
- a way to take of action
Dave's request for help was for a reflection on this process. And the reactions were praising. On the one hand, the feedback focused on how to make the story as concrete as possible for the target groups and on the other hand on reaching the masses, while incorporating those who are left behind.
The next demoday will take in place in February or March. Do you have a nice story to tell or would you like to join as audience? You are more than welcome! Drop a line below to let us know!
The Creative Industry Program's main objective is to enhance creative skills in all segments of the industry, stimulating the emergence of new business opportunities, in addition to offering business representation, professional education and technology for various creative sectors.
The Program works in the development of industries through forums, and through the articulation of a network that includes universities, development agencies, government and private initiative, and creative networks. Internationally, the Creative Industry Program is a reference for countries and international organizations.
Based on the needs and opportunities identified in the economic context, the Program works to develop innovative skills, in order to create a favorable environment for business.
The Creative Industry Program seeks to develop the potential of creative entrepreneurship networks, in addition to promoting distribution through communication channels.
to know more
Send us an email to email@example.com
The 9th episode of the series Building sustainable cities: the contribution of digital technology deals with guidelines and related ethical principles that apply to the design and application of digital technology.
One thing that keeps me awake at night is the speed at which artificial intelligence is developing and the lack of rules for its development and application said Aleksandra Mojsilović, director of IBM Science for Social Good. The European Union has a strong focus on regulations to ensure that technology is people-oriented, ensures a fair and competitive digital economy and contributes to an open, democratic and sustainable society. This relates to more than legal frameworks, also to political choices, ethical principles, and the responsibilities of the profession. This is what this post is about.
Politicians are ultimately responsible for the development, selection, application and use of (digital) technology. In this respect, a distinction must be made between:
• Coordination of digital instruments and the vision on the development of the city.
• Drawing up policy guidelines for digitization in general.
• Recognizing related ethical principles next to these policy guidelines.
• Creating the conditions for democratic oversight of the application of digital technology.
• Make an appeal to the responsibilities of the ICT professional group.
Guidelines for digitization policy
In the previous post I emphasized that the digital agenda must result from the urban policy agenda and that digital instruments and other policy instruments must be seen in mutual relation.
Below are five additional guidelines for digitization policy formulated by the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. 36 cities are involved in this initiative, including Apeldoorn, as the only Dutch municipality. The cities involved will elaborate these guidelines soon. In the meantime, I have listed some examples.
Equity, inclusiveness, and social impact
• Enabling every household to use the Internet.
• Making information and communication technology (ICT) and digital communication with government accessible to all, including the physically/mentally disabled, the elderly and immigrants with limited command of the local language.
• Assessing the impact of current digital technology on citizens and anticipating the future impact of this policy.
• Facilitating regular education and institutions for continuous learning to offer easily accessible programs to develop digital literacy.
• Challenging neighborhoods and community initiatives to explore the supportive role of digital devices in their communication and actions.
Security and resilience
• Developing a broadly supported vision on Internet security and its consequences.
• Mandatory compliance with rules and standards (for instance regarding IoT) to protect digital systems against cyberthreats.
• Becoming resilient regarding cybercrime by developing back-up systems that seamless take over services eventually.
• Building resilience against misuse of digital communication, especially bullying, intimidation and threats.
• Reducing the multitude of technology platforms and standards, to limit entry points for cyber attackers.
Privacy and transparency
• The right to move and stay in cities without being digitally surveilled, except in case of law enforcement with legal means.
• Establishing rules in a democratic manner for the collection of data from citizens in the public space.
• Minimalist collection of data by cities to enable services.
• Citizens' right to control their own data and to decide which ones are shared and under which circumstances.
• Using privacy impact assessment as a method for identifying, evaluating, and addressing privacy risks by companies, organizations, and the city itself.
Openness and interoperability
• Providing depersonalized data from as many as possible organizations to citizens and organizations as a reliable evidence base to support policy and to create open markets for interchangeable technology.
• Public registration of devices, their ownership, and their aim.
• Choosing adequate data architecture, including standards, agreements, and norms to enable reuse of digital technology and to avoid lock-ins.
Operational and financial sustainability
• Ensuring a safe and well-functioning Internet
• The coordinated approach ('dig once') of constructing and maintenance of digital infrastructure, including Wi-Fi, wired technologies and Internet of Things (IoT).
• Exploring first, whether the city can develop and manage required technology by itself, before turning to commercial parties.
• Cities, companies, and knowledge institutions share data and cooperate in a precompetitive way at innovations for mutual benefit.
• Digital solutions are feasible: Results are achieved within an agreed time, with an agreed budget.
The guidelines formulated above partly converge with the ethical principles that underlie digitization according to the Rathenau Institute. Below, I will summarize these principles.
• Citizens' right to dispose of their own (digital) data, collected by the government, companies and other organizations.
• Limitation of the data to be collected to those are functionally necessary (privacy by design), which also prevents improper use.
• Data collection in the domestic environment only after personal permission and in the public environment only after consent by the municipal council.
• The right to decide about information to be received.
• The right to reject or consent to independent decision making by digital devices in the home.
• No filtering of information except in case of instructions by democratically elected bodies.
• Ensuring protection of personal data and against identity theft through encryption and biometric recognition.
• Preventing unwanted manipulation of devices by unauthorized persons.
• Providing adequate warnings against risks by providers of virtual reality software.
• Securing exchange of data
• Ensuring public participation in policy development related to digitization
• Providing transparency of decision-making through algorithms and opportunity to influence these decisions by human interventions.
• Decisions taken by autonomous systems always include an explanation of the underlying considerations and provide the option to appeal against this decision.
• Using robotics technology mainly in routinely, dangerous, and dirty work, preferably under supervision of human actors.
• Informing human actors collaborating with robots of the foundations of their operation and the possibilities to influence them.
• Ensuring equal opportunities, accessibility, and benefits for all when applying digital systems
• If autonomous systems are used to assess personal situations, the result is always checked for its fairness, certainty, and comprehensibility for the receiving party.
• In the case of autonomous analysis of human behavior, the motives on which an assessment has taken place can be checked by human intervention.
• Employees in the gig economy have an employment contract or an income as self-employed in accordance with legal standards.
• The possibility of updating software if equipment still is usable, even if certain functionalities are no longer available.
• Companies may not use their monopoly position to antagonize other companies.
• Ensuring equal opportunities, accessibility, and benefits for all when applying digital systems.
The above guidelines and ethical principles partly overlap. Nevertheless, I have not combined them as they represent different frames of reference that are often referred to separately. The principles for digitization policy are particularly suitable for the assessment of digitization policy. The ethical principles are especially useful when assessing different technologies. That is why I will use the latter in the following episodes.
In discussing the digitalization strategy of Amsterdam and other municipalities in later episodes, I will use a composite list of criteria, based on both the above guidelines and ethical principles. This list, titled 'Principles for a socially responsible digitization policy' can already be viewed HERE.
Currently, many municipalities still lack sufficient competencies to supervise the implementation and application of the guidelines and principles mentioned above. Moreover, they are involved as a party themselves. Therefore, setting up an independent advisory body for this purpose is desirable. In the US, almost every city now has a committee for public oversight of digitization. These committees are strongly focused on the role of the police, in particular practices related to facial recognition and predictive policing.
Several cities in the Netherlands have installed an ethics committee. A good initiative. I would also have such a committee supervise the aforementioned policy guidelines and not just the ethical principles. According to Bart Wernaart, lecturer in Moral Design Strategy at Fontys University of applied sciences, such a committee must be involved in digitization policy at an early stage, and it should also learn from mistakes in the field of digitization in the past.
The latter is especially necessary because, as the Dutch Data Protection Authority writes, the identity of an ethically responsible city is, is not set in stone. The best way to connect ethical principles and practice is to debate and questions the implications of policy in practice.
Experts’ own responsibility
A mature professional group has its own ethical principles, is monitoring their implementation, and sanctioning discordant members. In this respect, the medical world is most advanced. As far as I know, the ICT profession has not yet formulated its own ethical principles. This has been done, for example, by the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in the field of artificial intelligence. Sarah Hamid: Data scientists are generally concerned more with the abstract score metric of their models than the direct and indirect impact it can have on the world. However, experts often understand the unforeseen implications of government policy earlier than politicians. Hamid addresses the implications for professional action: If computer scientists really hoped to make a positive impact on the world, then they would need to start asking better questions. The road to technology implementation by governments is paved with failures. Professionals have often seen this coming, but have rarely warned, afraid of losing an assignment. Self-confident professionals must therefore say 'no' much more often to a job description. Hamid: Refusal is an essential practice for anyone who hopes to design sociotechnical systems in the service of justice and the public good. This even might result in a better relationship with the client and more successful projects.
Establishing policy guidelines and ethical principles for municipal digitization requires a critical municipal council and an ethics committee with relevant expertise. But it also needs professionals who carry out the assignment and enter the debate if necessary.
The link below opens a preliminary overview of the already published and upcoming articles in the series Building sustainable cities: the contribution of digital technology. Click HERE for the Dutch version.
It’s all about the money: A Smart RESILIO Blue-Green Roof might sound a little pricey. But is money all what counts? Are these roofs affordable? In this third part of the RESILIO blue-green roofs movie sequence we explain to you the overall value and benefits for the society and how to approach these in a financial matter. Maybe we have to broaden our view on how we assign value to an object and use these outcomes as a solution for financing. Daniel van den Buuse, PhD and Hans de Moel tell us all.
As in the rest of the Netherlands, the number of electric cars (EVs) at Schiphol will only increase in the coming years. Whereas Royal Schiphol Group currently has 400 EV charge points, we expect to grow rapidly towards 10,000 charge points over the next few years. We cannot achieve this growth alone. That is why we are looking for a partner who can help us manage this growth with smart technology. Can you help us? Check the link below to the tender on Negometrix
De jeugd heeft de toekomst en wil een bijdrage leveren aan een duurzamere maatschappij. Ze snappen dat een integrale aanpak en vergaande samenwerking tussen overheden en organisaties uit de energiesector, mobiliteit, gebouwde omgeving en industrie nodig is om de doelen uit het Klimaatakkoord te realiseren.
Binnen het Nationale Energietraineeship werkt op dit moment een groep jonge ambitieuze talenten iedere vrijdag samen aan projecten. Ze leren op deze manier over grenzen kijken, grenzen van organisaties, grenzen van rollen en functies, hun eigen grenzen. Samen vormen ze een netwerk over de gehele keten.
Hier vind u een overzicht van de projecten waar ze mee bezig zijn. Wilt u een talentvolle trainee inzetten op uw eigen projecten? Kijk dan verder!
The eighth episode in the series Better cities - The contribution of digital technology provides a frame to seamlessly integrate the contribution of (digital) technology into urban policy. The Dutch versions of this and already published posts are here.
From the very first publication on smart cities (1992) to the present day, the solution of urban problems has been mentioned as a motive for the application of (digital) technology. However, this relationship is anything but obvious. Think of the discriminatory effect of the use of artificial intelligence by the police in the US – to which I will come back later – and of the misery it has caused in the allowance affair (toelagenaffaire) in the Netherlands.
The choice and application of (digital) technology is therefore part of a careful and democratic process, in which priorities are set and resources are weighed up. See also the article by Jan-Willem Wesselink and Hans Dekker: Smart city enhances quality of life and puts citizen first (p.15). Below, I propose a frame for such a process, on which I will built in the next five posts.
My proposal is an iterative process in which three clusters of activities can be distinguished:
• Developing a vision of the city
• The development and choice of objectives
• The instrumentation of the objectives
Vision of the city
The starting point for a democratic urban policy is a broadly supported vision of the city and its development. Citizens and other stakeholders must be able to identify with this vision and their voice must have been heard. The vision of the city is the result of a multitude of opposing or abrasive insights, wishes and interests. Balancing the power differences between parties involved is a precondition for making the city more just, inclusive, and democratic and the residents happier.
The concept of a donut economy is the best framework I know of for developing a vision of such a city. It has been elaborated by British economist Kate Raworth in a report entitled A Safe and Just Space for Humanity. The report takes the simultaneous application of social and environmental sustainability as principles for policy.
If you look at a doughnut, you see a small circle in the middle and a larger circle on the outside. The small circle represents 12 principles of social sustainability (basic needs). These principles are in line with the UN's development goals. The larger circle represents 9 principles of the earth’ long-term self-sustaining capacity. A table with both types of principles can be viewed here. Human activities in cities must not overshoot its ecological ceiling, thus harming the self-sustainable capacity of that entity. At the same time, these activities must not shortfall the social foundation of that city, harming its long-term well-being. Between both circles, a safe and just space for humanity - now and in the future - is created. These principles relate to both the city itself and its impact on the rest of the world. Based on these principles, the city can determine in which areas it falls short; think of housing, gender equality and it overshoots the ecological ceiling, for instance, in case of greenhouse gas emissions.
Amsterdam went through this process, together with Kate Raworth. During interactive sessions, a city donut has been created. Citizens from seven different neighborhoods, civil servants and politicians took part in this. The Amsterdam city donut is worth exploring closely.
The urban donut provides a broad vision of urban development, in particular because of the reference to both social and ecological principles and its global footprint. The first version is certainly no final version. It is obvious how Amsterdam has struggled with the description of the impact of the international dimension.
The formulation of desired objectives
Politicians and citizens will mention the most important bottlenecks within their city, even without the city donut. For Amsterdam these are themes like the waste problem, the climate transition, reduction of car use, affordable housing, and inclusion. The Amsterdam donut invites to look at these problems from multiple perspectives: A wide range of social implications, the ecological impact, and the international dimension. This lays the foundation for the formulation of objectives.
Five steps can be distinguished in the formulation of objectives:
• Determine where the most important bottlenecks are located for each of the selected themes, partly based on the city donut (problem analysis), for example insufficient greenery in the neighborhoods.
• Collect data on the existing situation about these bottlenecks. For example, the fact that working-class neighborhoods have four times fewer trees per hectare than middle-class neighborhoods.
• Make provisional choices about the desired improvement of these bottlenecks. For example, doubling the number of trees in five years.
• Formulate the way in which the gap between existing and desired situation can be bridged. For example, replacing parking spaces with trees or facade vegetation.
• Formulate (provisional) objectives.
This process also takes place together with stakeholders. More than 100 people were involved in the development of the circular economy plans in Amsterdam, mainly representatives of the municipalities, companies, and knowledge institutions.
Prioritizing objectives and their instrumentation
Given the provisional objectives, the search can begin for available and desirable resources, varying from information, legal measures, reorganization to (digital) techniques. The expected effectiveness, desired coherence, acceptability, and costs must be considered. With this knowledge, the goals can be formulated definitively and prioritized. It is also desirable to distinguish a short-term and long-term perspective to enable the development of innovative solutions.
The inventory, selection and ethical assessment of resources and the related fine-tuning of the objectives is best done in the first instance by teams representing different disciplines, including expertise in the field of digital technology, followed of course by democratic sanctioning.
My preference is to transfer the instrumentation process to an 'Urban Development and Innovation Department', modeled on the Majors Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) in Boston. Changing teams can be put together from this office, which is strongly branched out with the other departments. In this way, the coherence between the individual goals and action points and the input of scientific research can be safeguarded. According to Ben Green, the author of the book The smart enough city and who has worked in MONUM for years, it has been shown time and again that the effect of technological innovation is enhanced when it is combined with other forms of innovation, such as social innovation.
From vision to action points: Overview
Below I give an overview of the most important building blocks for arriving at a vision and developing action points based on this vision:
1. The process from vision to action points is both linear and iterative. Distinguishing between the phases of vision development, formulating objectives and instrumentation is useful, but these phases influence each other mutually and eventually form a networked process.
2. Urban problems are always complicated, full of internal contradictions and complex. There are therefore seldom single solutions.
3. The mayor (and therefore not a separate alderman) is primarily responsible for coherence within the policy agenda, including the use of (digital) technology. This preferably translates into the structure of the municipal organization, for example an 'Urban Development and Innovation Department'.
4. Formulating a vision, objectives and their instrumentation is part of a democratic process. Both elected representatives and stakeholders play an important role in this.
5. Because of their complexity and coherence, the content of the policy agenda usually transcends the direct interests of the stakeholders, but they must experience that their problems are being addressed too.
6. Ultimately, each city chooses a series of related actions to arrive at an effective, efficient, and supported solution to its problems. The choice of these actions, especially when it comes to (digital) techniques, can always be explained as a function of the addressing problems.
7. The use of technology fits seamlessly into the urban agenda, instead of (re)framing problems to match tempting technologies.
8. Implementation is at least as important as grand plans, but without a vision, concrete plans lose their legitimacy and support.
9. In the search for support for solutions and the implementation of plans, there is collaboration with stakeholders, and they can be given the authority and resources to tackle problems and experiment themselves (‘right to challenge’).
10. In many urban problems, addressing the harmful effects of previously used technologies (varying from greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution to diseases of affluence) is a necessary starting point.
Back to digital technology
(Digital) technology is here to stay and it is developing at a rapid pace. Sometimes you wish it would slow down. It is very regrettable that not democratically elected governments, but Big Tech is the driving force behind the development of technology and that its development is therefore primarily motivated by commercial interests. This calls for resistance against Big Tech's monopoly and for reticence towards their products. By contrast, companies working on technological developments that support a sustainable urban agenda deserve all the support.
In my e-book Cities of the Future. Humane as a choice. Smart where that helps, I performed the exercise described in this post based on current knowledge about urban policy and urban developments. This has led to the identification of 13 themes and 75 action points, where possible with references to potentially useful technology. You can download the e-book here.
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The seventh edition of the series Better cities. The contribution of digital technology is about forecasts, trends and signals regarding the role of technology in the development of cities, as seen by Cornell University's Future of Urban Tech-project. The Dutch versions of this and other already published posts are here.
A source of new insights
Technology has changed the planet for better and for worse. Will this change continue, and which direction will dominate? To answer this question, scientists at the Jacobs Institute at Cornell University in New York developed a horizon scan, named The Future of Urban Tech. At first, they made a content analysis of hundreds of recent scientific publications, from which they distilled 217 signals. These signals were grouped into 49 trends, full of contradictions. Each trend is tagged with an indication of time frame, probability, and societal impact. In the end, they modeled six forecasts. These describe dominant directions for change.
Readers can use the site in their own way. I started from the 17 sectors such as built environment, logistics, mobility, and energy and explored the related trends. It is also possible to start top-down with one of the six forecasts and examine its plausibility considering the related trends and signals. I will show below that each of the forecasts is challenging and invites further reading.
Content selection is supported by dynamic graphics, which connect all signals, trends and forecasts and enable the reader to see their interrelationships. Just start scrolling, unleash your curiosity and decide after some explorations how to proceed more systematically.
The website briefly describes each of the forecasts, trends, and signals. Each signal reflects the content of a handful of (popular) scientific publications, which are briefly summarized. Read the articles that intrigue you or limit yourself to the summary.
Take the time to explore this site as you will encounter many new insights and opinions. The link to the project is at the end of this article.
Below I will explain some aspects of the content of the project, followed by some caveats.
The forecasts reflect the multiplicity of views in contemporary scientific literature, stimulating readers to form a judgment. The wording of the forecasts is reproduced in abbreviated form below.
1. All buildings, houses, means of transport, infrastructure, but also trees and parks will be connected with sensors and cameras and form one web.
Many buildings, buses, trains, and roads are already equipped with digital detection, but they are not linked yet up at city scale. The next decade will change this, which will, for example, mean a breakthrough in the management of energy flows, but also raise questions regarding privacy.
2. Cities will use advanced biotechnology to take livability to new heights.
Growing understanding of human dependence on nature will lead to mapping the physical-biological world as well as its threats and its blessings to humans. City authorities will equip trees, parks, and waterways with sensors to measure and control the vitality of ecosystems.
3. Resilient corridors will mitigate the impact of climate change, but citizens will be prepared for the inevitable shocks to come.
Cities will reduce CO2 emissions but also prepare for the inevitable consequences of climate change. Political and financial centers of power will be concentrated in places where the impact of climate change can be controlled by technical means.
4. Artificial neural networks provide advanced forms of machine learning with unparalleled predictive capabilities that will bring order to the chaos of urban life.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence will become inscrutable black boxes that make decisions without giving explanations. The ultimate questions are whether the machines to which we outsource our decisions can still be controlled themselves and whether the impact of spontaneous encounters and human ideas disappears if computers produce the best solutions after all?
5. New Screen Deal that redistributes the risks and benefits of urban technology.
“Everything remote” – learning, healthcare, work, and entertainment – is becoming the new normal. The predictive power of AI will lead to conflicts over the concentration of wealth and power that digital platforms cause. But on the other hand, new stakeholders will focus on equity.
6. A global supply chain for city-building technologies will 'crack the code of the city'.
In the smart cities-movement there is a tension between top-down and bottom-up, between proprietary versus open and between Big Tech and Makers. A new urban innovation industry will take dominance but will be more attuned to societal concerns. Governments, in turn, will have a clearer picture of the problems that the industry needs to solve. A public-private structure for investments and governance is indispensable to counter the power of Big Tech.
A few notes
As mentioned, each of the six forecasts is based on trends. Nine trends, in the case of the latest forecast mentioned above. Each trend is illustrated by a handful of signals, documented by various publications. One of the nine trends supporting the latter forecast is “Regional clustering from enterprises to ecosystems”, for example New York, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam. This refers to the growing power of local technology hubs, supported by regional capital and involving governments, start-ups, knowledge institutions and citizens. This concentration could even lead to a new “space race” between cities instead of countries. However, the underlying signals show that this "trend" is more open-ended and uncertain than its description warrants.
I went through many publications documenting the signals and concluded that "trends" essentially map the bandwidth within developments within a domain will occur. To me, this does not detract from the value of the exercise, because the more doubts there are about the future and the more insights we have into the forces that shape it, the more opportunities we have to influence the future.
As the six forecasts must match the open nature of the trends, I have reformulated each of these forecasts as pairs of conflicting directions for development.
1. The commercial or political interests behind urban technology versus the well-being and privacy of citizens.
2. The struggle between 'Big Tech' versus (supra)national political over leadership over technological development.
3. The infusion of technology into all domains of society versus acceptance of unpredictable outcomes of human interactions resulting from creativity, inner motives, and intuitive decisions.
4. Controlling nature through biotechnology versus restoring a balance between humans and natural ecosystems.
5. The concentration of power, political influence, and wealth through control over technology versus open licensing that allows technology to be used for the benefit of the entire world population.
6. Autonomous decision-making through machine learning and artificial intelligence versus the primacy of democratic and decentralized decision-making over the application of technology.
Studying the Future of Urban Tech-project has been a rich and thought-provoking learning experience and has helped fueling the insights underlying this series.
You can find the Future of Urban Tech project behind the link below:
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