Observing the city from a data perspective

Data walk, 30 March 2017, Kop van Zuid, Rotterdam

The Centre for Big, Open and Linked Data (BOLD) Cities organises data walks. During a brief walk, participants learn to see the city from a data perspective. What kind of data will we see? What do we know and think about it? Would we prefer to know more or have more control? The aim is to improve the data literacy of people using the city. In addition, the centre employs participants' input for further research into the use of data. A data walk was organised at the Kop van Zuid in Rotterdam on 30 March 2017. A brief description of it follows.

Participants at the data walk in Rotterdam

Data perspective

A group of six people walk along the jetty at Rijnhaven. ‘Take a good look around, even in places that may seem illogical’, says data guide Luuk Schokker, who is also manager of the Centre for BOLD Cities. ‘What do you observe?’ Alongside a cycle bridge heading towards Hotel New York, there is a pole with a semi-circular black eye underneath it. ‘I can see a camera’, one of the group suddenly says. ‘Probably for security purposes or crime prevention. But that's just a guess. Even we have no idea whose camera it is.’

Camera in Rotterdam

The discussion

On the other side of the bridge, there is a long pole with sensors on it. Again, it is unclear why it is there, what it is detecting and who owns it. The group engages in speculation. ‘Perhaps it's a GSM for cruise ships mooring here. It could belong to the Rotterdam Port Authority. Maybe it's the shipping communication mast.’ The group all agree that it would be good if more information were provided. But one person points out the other side of the coin. It could be that information is not being shared for security reasons. ‘The more people know, the more vulnerable the situation becomes. Unpleasant things can happen’.

paal met sensoren
Pole with sensors


The group walk past various other data storage points. A digital parking ticket machine: time and location registration using number plate recognition. A residential tower with digital nameplates. A TNT employee with a data box. The group members' mobile telephones, giving their location details. The discussion then widens. ‘What about the privacy of personal data? Politicians should play a greater role. There should be better legislation on the collection and use of data.

Parking meter and, on the left, a camera surveillance report

Food for thought

At the end of the walk, the group head home with food for thought. Data centres are major energy consumers and this consumption is increasing all the time, one participant points out. Sending an e-mail uses as much energy as making a cup of tea. Data storage also leaves an environmental footprint.

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities applies data research in contributing to solutions to urban issues. The perspective of city residents features prominently in this. ‘BOLD’ stands for ‘Big, Open and Linked Data’.

More information:
Centre for BOLD Cities
Datawalk with Liesbet van Zoonen
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