Interview with Ger Baron

“A smart city is in general I would say a city that provides all the services and the quality it’s citizens need. The focus of cities is a bit different nowadays. What citizens need is not only a road or a building any more, it’s also about communication infrastructure.”

Interview with Ger Baron

 Video-interiew with Ger Baron, Program & Cluster Manager, Amsterdam Economic Board. 

Transcription of the interview

There’s no such thing as a smart city. A smart city is in general I would say a city that provides all the services and the quality it’s citizens need. The focus of cities is a bit different nowadays. What citizens need is not only a road or a building any more, it’s also about communication infrastructure. We want to be connected to the internet, have access to information, information how we can go to work as quickly as possible, have information about health care, how to generate our energy locally. The need of people is changing, so I think a smart city is basically the same city as we used to have, only integrated with communication infrastructures, still providing the quality of life people want.

It’s about sharing things. Sharing information was the reason why 400 years ago Amsterdam became the richest city in the world. We were sharing information about cargo and trade and we had the first stock exchange and the first news paper. So it was basically open data as we would call it nowadays. So the principles of a smart city, of Amsterdam, have not been changed, but nowadays we implement fibre to the home, broadband infrastructures, we provide people with online information on their devices, about traffic. We make sure energy can be generated locally with solar panels or you can put your vehicle to the grid and all these types of things. So the DNA of the city didn’t really change, but new infrastructures give us the opportunity to improve services and quality of life.

The biggest challenge to develop a smart city is not to be in your room and get a white board, draw on it and think of what a smart city should look like. Creating a smart city is about involving people, stakeholders, everybody in the city to develop the city and it’s about transformation. Once you start to see the city as a city in transformation transforming to new purposes and office buildings going to living areas or a living area for students is changing to a living area for elderly people or the other way around. The real challenge is to continuously look at the city in transformation and not think you can make a plan for the next 20 years, because I think that’s where it goes wrong for most cities to do that.

When you look at the relation between the public and the private sector, I think at the moment we see that you need leadership from the public sector, but real innovation comes from the private sector. So the challenges is to get incentives in the right place, making sure you have incentives for people who are involved in the mobility business to reduce the amount of kilometres people travel, to make sure you have incentives in the energy business of companies who sell less energy or renewable energy instead of more energy and energy made of coals. So the private sector has a big role in this and I think the collaboration with the government is key to make sure incentives will be in the right place.

Smart cities are another local thing. Although the execution is local and there are loads of people in the whole world, public sector, private sector, citizens, we have the same issues and challenges. I think that’s why it’s great to organise events around this theme and it’s also great that the smart city event this year isn’t only about presentations, people telling us what’s the right way to go, showing a brilliant business case or their greenfield house with no strings attached. The smart city event 2014 will be about interaction, learning from each other and making a next step together.

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