We shouldn’t just let the smart city happen – this white paper starts off a good discussion

white paper smart cities LDEDo we want scanning vehicles to issue parking tickets and report fly-tipping? And what problems would that actually resolve? In the new white paper by Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities, in duo interviews 17 academics and field experts start the discussion that society urgently needs to address. ‘We outsourced the visionary thinking to tech companies.’

WhatsApp neighbourhood watch schemes and doorbell cameras can help solve crimes. ‘Could I carry out digital surveillance too?’, wondered well-known twitter cop Wilco Berenschot. The discussion that he had with sociologist Freek de Haan in the third white paper by Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities – this time with the Centre for BOLD Cities – showed that there is also a flip side to that coin. That flip side naturally concerns privacy but also feelings of fear and anxiety: ‘If a WhatsApp group is strongly focused on a threat, you create a bubble in which your neighbourhood seems unsafe’, says De Haan.

Nine chapters, 17 experts

In nine chapters, 17 field experts and academics show how data and technology can provide opportunities to make cities more liveable. And especially to work on them together with citizens and administrators. Living labs like the ones in Scheveningen and Eindhoven are discussed, for instance, along with the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in decision-making. Did you know that algorithms can be extremely helpful when making government decisions which the population can really be involved in? And that this is already going on?

   AI can make strong voices louder but also bring weaker voices to the fore."

For instance, last spring the National Climate Consultation took place among more than 10,000 Dutch citizens where rather than unearthing the average opinion, an algorithm measures diversity. ‘AI can make strong voices louder but also bring weaker voices to the fore’, innovation consultant Ilyaz Nasrullah and professor of Interactive Intelligence Catholijn Jonker strongly agree.

whitepaper smart cities

Residents in the municipality of Utrechtse Heuvelrug managed to stop smart lampposts being installed. ‘We didn’t go up against the municipal council, we stood with them’, explains Marnix Lamers who was part of the successful resistance. In citizen science – data collection by citizens – it is still disappointing what initiators manage to achieve when they challenge air pollution using their own data, for example. Too often, authorities dismiss the results by saying that measurements are not precise enough.

Municipal council, tech companies & visionary thinking

The municipal council seems to stand back when it comes to making decisions regarding technology in the city. Henk Bouwmans, director of the Dutch Association for Councillors, and Jiska Engelbert, associate professor of (Smart) City Sociology, analyse why that is, what problems it creates and what can be done about it. ‘We outsourced the visionary thinking to tech companies.’

   The first question that should be asked is: what kind of city do we want to live in?"

While camera surveillance and scanning vehicles are becoming more and more commonplace, most of us have other things to think about rather than smart city technology. That is one of the reasons why tech companies have so much power over technology in the public domain. We are still not talking about the objective of technology in a ‘smart’ city enough, points out academic director of the Centre for BOLD Cities, Liesbet van Zoonen. That discussion needs to be had, otherwise we will be caught off guard. ‘In doing so, the first question that should be asked is: what kind of city do we want to live in?’

The Dutch version of the White Paper “This is the real smart city. With lively debate about democracy, data, and technology” can be dowloaded below. The White Paper will be presented during the mini symposium “Paving the way for a truly smart city” on June 22 in The Hague.  


White Paper "Dit is de echte Slimme Stad' (PDF) (4.83 MB)

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