Written by Manon den Dunnen, inhabitant of the City of Amsterdam
Recently I attended a smart citizen meeting in Amsterdam. It focused on the changing relationship between government and citizens now that the latter have the power to generate their own data. As sensors become cheaper we see more citizens installing their own sensors to get better informed about their environment. One example comes from the frustrated citizens of Groningen, a region in the north of the Netherlands. They suffer from earthquakes due to the gas extraction. Because the government refused to publish the necessary data, it was impossible to objectively show the increase in both the quantity and these verity of quakes. It led them to install their own sensor network creating open data that did not only benefit themselves, but also journalists and government.
A second example stems from citizens living around Schiphol Airport. Despite numerous complaints about noise pollution, the government refused to install a good measuring system. The inconvenience was calculated based on flight details because, they argued, measuring would not be possible. In 2004 after suffering from noise pollution for a long time, citizens started to install microphones on their own roof. Their data initiative was embraced and reinforced by several municipalities. Members of Parliament started asking questions and thus the problem could no longer be denied.
In both cases citizens forced the government to listen to them through the use of their own sensors. The second case showed as well that the norm setting tendency of the government is leading them away from problem solving. A smart city should not only be about the technical data provided by the sensor or about maintaining standards and setting up new norms.
People differ in the way they experience their environment, smart measuring can contribute to customized solutions. In the case of Schiphol Airport it did not necessarily mean that they had to fly less. Spreading flights differently both in time and location made all the difference.
At the moment promoters and citizens seem to have different objectives. The smart citizen initiative for air quality presented at the meeting and an earlier one in Amsterdam are pushed by technology and not by relevance. Apparently because the technology for measuring the relevant particulates is still too expensive. The initiatives are still very useful within the meaning of experimenting with the application of technology, but as long as no data is generated that is relevant for citizens they should not be presented as smart citizen projects. The inevitable disappointment can lead to reluctance among citizens to participate in the future.
About Manon den Dunnen
Manon specializes on the digital transformation of society. She is fascinated by the way digitization facilitates new concepts like the sharing economy, a more efficient use of resources, transparency and local online communities. But above all she is a citizen of Amsterdam which she experiences as a smart city full of inspiration, innovation and initiative! For the Amsterdam Smart City Event she writes a series of 4 blogs sharing her findings.