Add a layer of data and technology over a city

WalterInterview with Walter Dresscher (Director the Natural City, Architect, Finalist TedX) about the challenges to develop a successful Smart City project and the relationship between a Smart City and a Circular City.



The biggest challenge is to look beyond the business case ofa project. Companies will always try to sell their products and are not always very interested in added value for human life in cities.” – Walter Dresscher

According to you what is a Smart City and what city in your opinion is the best Smart City in the world?

A smart city is a city that uses available technologies to enable a healthy and high quality life for its inhabitants. The attractiveness of a city is defined by the degree of social and physical interaction that humans can enjoy.

Adding a layer of data and technology over a city can help to measure and analyse the current situation. This information can then be used to identify challenges, and opportunities for improvements. A smart city does not try to predict where technologies might lead us, but takes the lead and identifies what it wants technologies to enable. This means that smart solutions help cities to realize their vision and that they do not shape this vision. The question a city should ask if it wants to be smart is: what is the perfect city we can create with all the technologies we have at our disposal? This demands a utopian way of thinking to create a dot on the horizon, an orientation.

I honestly do not know what the best smart city in the world is. I am not particularly interested in the “smart” part of a city, but in the natural part. Natural in the broad sense of the word: logical, using common sense, healthy. My experience in cities in the world made me particularly enjoy life in Amsterdam. Compared to other cities Amsterdam is calm, clean, healthy and quiet. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement, but life is good in Amsterdam, and that in my opinion is smart.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to develop a successful Smart City project?

The biggest challenge is to look beyond the business case of a project. Companies will always try to sell their products and are not always very interested in added value for human life in cities. The economic parameters are the least interesting when it comes to smart city projects. The goal is not to make money, but to create better living conditions. Companies need to show what their propositions mean for the inhabitants of a city in the long term. This goes beyond efficiency and price reductions.

There is a very big need for new ways of building, new ways of moving and freeing the large amounts of space used for infrastructure and parked cars. Some answers are simple and do not need a lot of data and technology but visionary guidance from decision makers. So the second challenge is how to communicate a vision to your inhabitants to create support for the changes and transitions a city needs.

What is the most important success factor in involving citizens in a Smart City project?

Imagination. Citizens should benefit because the city is theirs. A city provides space for human life, so the humans living in the city are what should drive cities to become smarter. To involve citizens in a project they need to know and see what is in it for them. How can this particular project make their life better? What is the result in their living environment? This demands imagination and the envisioning of the results in public spaces.

What is the relationship between a Smart City and Circular Economy?

The Circular Economy is a complex subject, but is about 1 thing: abolishing the production of waste. A Circular Economy, or Blue Economy should be the goal of every city. There is no need to produce waste, so why are we still producing it? Multiple experimentations have shown that we can organize a city so it produces no more waste and smart technologies can make that goal easier to reach. To abolish waste we need to reinvent the way we produce, use and re-use products. One of the challenges with the Circular Economy is that it demands less economic growth, and that we could be even faced with a shrinking economy in the long run. If we use our stuff longer, and we share the stuff we have, we need less money to have the same quality of life. Smart City projects can enable this peer-to-peer economy and deliver high quality life for more and more people with fewer financial transactions.

Cooperation between private and public sector are very important in creating smart cities. How can cities attract private partners and persuade them to invest?

I do not think that cities should be dependent on the private sector. The city provides companies with work, and so the city is a client of the company. I feel honored to be able to work with city government because I believe that it is in cities that we attend to the most pressing issues of our time. A city should bring citizens, private companies, knowledge institutions and city government together to work on a utopian vision, this can be the orientation for future developments. This vision can be constantly adapted to new insights and technologies. Every year has its own utopian vision, his own version of The Natural City. This can help to create a narrative throughout the years of all the insights and discoveries that can shape and improve our city life. If a city installs a Natural City think-tank this should attract the needed companies to invest and shape the future.

What about the future? What kind of smart/circular cities will we have in 2025?

I do not think we should try to predict the future, we need to shape the future. So your question should be: what kind of smart/circular cities do we want to have? And “we” need to start working on that! That is exactly the subject of my upcoming book. How can utopian thinking help us shape the future by creating a vision of The Natural City? We can wait and see what tomorrow brings, but I think we should work and create our tomorrow. This is why we need to start making the first version of The Natural City that will be the starting point of an ongoing research project where we explore current technologies, project them to the future and design the perfect environment with these technologies. This quest for The Natural City is what drives me in my daily life and work. So what should it be like? Well, I think a smart city is a city where public life can take place in public space that keeps us healthy. A smart city has an extreme efficient transportation system that is quiet, fast and safe. A system that does not dominate public space as it does today. A smart city is a resilient city. A city that can handle its own water flows, a city that generates no waste, a city that does not need to pollute and damage its environments to be able to feed its citizens. A city that is independent of economic whims. All this is already possible. We have the technology and the knowledge to create this city and I call it: The Natural City.

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Circular economy subject will help people realize how important It is to recycle and reuse some waste products. For multiple experimentations have shown that the peopele can organize a city so it produces no more waste and smart technologies can make that goal easier to reach.

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