Our world is changing every day. Cities grow, technology develops rapidly, climates shift and our life expectancy rises. As an architect I try to understand what this ever changing world needs and how architecture could be applied to improve our environment. Sustainability is always a key aspect in my studies. In order to make the right decisions it is important to have the relevant information. There is so much information available, we have to choose and filter. Reading the invitation of Platform Economie & Ruimte for the Smart Cities event, I was keen to learn more on how data and information is used by organizations and cities today and how this information could inform smart and sustainable decisions in urban planning and architecture.
Smarter cities are a great example. Every city already generates huge amounts of information, for many different purposes. But too often that information is lost. It’s time to get smart and start using it.
– Neelie Kroes, Vice-President, Commissioner Digital Agenda, European Commission
One of the inspiring speakers at the event was Neelie Kroes. She noted that the Netherlands as an agglomeration of cities can be attractive to businesses when the cities combine their efforts for becoming Smart Cities. She is a little skeptical though, as Smart Cities should not consider their inhabitants ‘dots on the map’. Where does Smart meet the City? Where Digital meets Architecture. Already a lot of Dutch Start-ups have come up with smart solutions. She encourages us to develop more innovations: “Many creatives are too modest, we have to communicate! …Let’s Smart up Cities!”
Signing the Memorandum of Understanding
The cities of Amsterdam, Lyon, Genoa, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Vienna showed their intention and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, as part of the project TRANSFORM. Their aim is to improve their energy strategies. A result of the project is the Energy Atlas. The cities learn from each other, also projects can be scaled up to other cities. A transition from a linear economy to a circular economy is taking place.
The mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, mentioned how Amsterdam has been and is a city of tolerance, trading and inclusiveness. It has always been an international city. As such it can be a source of creativity and cooperation, where technical solutions can arise.
Focus on people
In the upcoming sharing economy one of the best known companies is AirBnB. Molly Turner, urban planner and Director of Public Policy and Civic Partnerships at AirBnB, emphasizes that Smart Cities should focus on people. Cities are originally a sharing platform. People started sharing space, facilities, a community, as it was more efficient to do so. A ‘new industrial revolution’ can take place if we focus on sharing again. Sharing our houses. The impact on cities is also positive: local economies thrive as tourists spread over the city. They want to live like a local, and study shows they spend about 42% in the neighborhood of their accommodation. Critics point to AirBnB as a cause of the growing amount of tourists in Amsterdam, but in general travelling has become more affordable and tourist numbers are growing everywhere. AirBnB can be a tool to manage the tourist flows. The environmental impact of AirBnB is also positive.
Besides sharing, the AirBnB travelers seem more aware of their energy consumption. The total effect compensates for the extra flights that might be undertaken. However, the social impact is most impressive. When hurricane Sandy hit the United States in 2012 it was AirBnB that brought people together. People with space available reached out to people who lost their homes and provided them with a roof over their heads for free. Recently the same could be done in Nepal, where the earthquake destroyed many homes.
Thierry Clément of Veolia also recalls that the concept of a circular economy isn’t something new. It was the industrial revolution that made our economy a linear one. Now we should again move forward. It is about resourcing the world. Even though “it always seems impossible until it’s done“.
Experience Sharing and ‘Hackathons’
Several city spokesmen talked about their efforts on Smart Cities. For instance, the government of Tampere (Finland) acts as an enabler and facilitator for new initiatives. Data is used for smart traffic and to foster energy savings. Gothenburg focusses on an underground waste heat system. The city of London has several areas where Smart projects are set up. Their focus is on public transport and efficient energy as well. The city of Lyon stimulates a global strategy and education of the population to boost innovation. Setting up a Smart City is the most challenging part. It seems most achievable to start small and then scale up the successful projects. To find out what can be done with Smart data, competitions and ‘hackathons’ are organized. New ideas arise when governments work together with Universities and innovation platforms.
Round table Sessions
After a series of talks there was opportunity to speak with participants at the ‘round table sessions’. I joined the Chief Architect of Tallinn on the topic of Life in a digital city – pros and cons of innovative technology in urban context. The city is probably ahead of the Dutch cities. Free Wi-Fi is available in the city center, and city programs involve citizens to collect data and improve the infrastructure of the city. Citizens are asked permission, which has a positive effect on the acceptance of the program. Anyhow, there are three main questions that are generally asked: There is so much data available, what to do with it? How do we make sure the data is accurate? How do we secure this data? It seems useful to make the data publicly available and editable, without delays. So everyone can find new applications for the data, which can run smoothly. Also data can be revised anytime by anyone. But who owns the database? How do we secure the use of data in the future? And what information should be kept private? There is no clear answer yet.
Next I joined the spokesmen of DNV GL – Resilient Infrastructures. In the past I already focused on resilience in urban design. E.g. rainfall, rising sea levels, storms, earthquakes I believe should be taken into account when designing an urban plan or engineering city infrastructures. Smart use of data can support resilient design. But who should take initiative and responsibility? For different cities there are different solutions. A participant from Barcelona told us how the Spanish government is the one who pays when disaster strikes. Therefore the Spanish government is an advocate of resilient design.
Finally I joined the spokesmen of Copenhagen on their Smart City program. They mentioned how they used data in their urban design before the term Smart City was used. After getting the title Smart City, the city set up the Copenhagen solutions lab to create efficiency, sustainable growth and quality of life. A smart program covering the whole city of Copenhagen was not feasible, therefore a small area was chosen to implement the smart approach. Parking solutions, waste and water management, air quality, CO2 emissions are the cases to be tested in the Smart City Street Lab.
It was an inspiring day with presentations of many new developments in technology and architecture/urbanism. It will be interesting to see how programs such as the Copenhagen Solutions lab will evolve and learn how data can really contribute to the topics touched. The main questions of the day however, ‘what can we do?’ and ‘how can we assure our privacy?’ stay. In general the event shows that Smart Cities are still a movement taking shape, even though events like today have been organized several times before. The focus lies on implementing the Smart City approach. In my opinion it is not so much the Smart City title itself that should be the goal, but the results in effectiveness, sustainability and quality of life that can be achieved by using Smart data. I also noticed that the solutions presented are generally sought in energy systems, infrastructure etcetera. Those industries were also mostly represented by the participants, together with city officials. I wonder which opportunities there are when – next to technical innovations – social aspects, such as the ageing problem, and nature or urban green are leading in the development of the Smart Cities. I hope to see more of this in the nearby future. Perhaps the city I live in, Rotterdam, will surprise me soon: their Smart City approach is announced for 2015…
By: Laura Dinkla, Architect at Dinkla Design and Promoter of Sustainability at Platform Economie & Ruimte
Smart City Event
During this event 800+ smart city professionals from over 30 countries share their vision and knowledge with each other. The event contains keynote speeches, interactive round table sessions, inspiring labs, excursions, dinners, breakfast meetings and lots of networking opportunities the Smart City Event is the place to be. Curious? View the program!