White paper: we can’t just let smart cities happen
Do we want scan cars that issue parking fines and spot illegally dumped waste? What problems would that actually solve? In duo interviews in a new Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities white paper, 17 researchers and practitioners start the conversation that society desperately needs to have. ‘We’ve outsourced the visionary thinking to tech companies.’
In nine chapters 17 practitioners and researchers show how data and technology present opportunities to make cities more liveable. And above all how citizens and leaders should tackle this together. Living labs like the ones in Scheveningen and Eindhoven are discussed, as is the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in decision-making. Did you know that algorithms can be very useful in ensuring that the public really can participate in government decisions? And that this is already happening? Last spring, for example, saw the National Climate Consultation that involved over 10,000 Dutch citizens and used an algorithm not to find the average opinion but instead to measure diversity. AI can amplify strong voices but can also draw out weaker voices, innovation consultant Ilyaz Nasrullah and Professor of Interactive Intelligence Catholijn Jonker (Leiden University) firmly agree.
Residents from the Utrechtse Heuvelrug municipality were able to prevent smart street lighting from being installed. ‘We weren’t opposing the council but stood alongside it instead’, says Marnix Lamers who was involved in the successful opposition to the plan. And it is still disappointing what citizen sciences initiatives can achieve if they use their own data to raise an issue such as air pollution. Authorities are often too quick to brush the results aside, claiming that the data is too imprecise.
Municipal council, tech companies and visionary thinking
Municipal councils seem to remain on the sidelines in decisions about technology in cities. Henk Bouwmans, Director of the Dutch Association for Councillors, and Jiska Engelbert, Associate Professor of (Smart) City Sociology at the Erasmus School for Social and Behavioural Sciences, are analysing why this is, the problems it causes and what can be done about it. ‘We’ve outsourced the visionary thinking to tech companies.’
While security cameras and scan cars are becoming more commonplace, most of us have other things on our minds than thinking about smart technology in cities. That is one of the reasons why tech companies have so much power over technology in public spaces. Liesbet van Zoonen, the Academic Director of the Centre for BOLD Cities, thinks there has not been enough discussion about the aim of technology in ‘smart’ cities. This conversation needs to be had because otherwise we will be taken by surprise. ‘One question has to be at the forefront: what kind of city do we want to live in?’
The white paper Dit is de échte slimme stad. Met levendig debat over democratie, data en technologie in de smart city will be presented on 22 June at the conference Op (weg) naar de echte slimme stad in The Hague. The following contributed from Leiden University: Bram Klievink (Professor of Digitalisation and Public Policy), Sabrina Huizenga (postdoc, researching new state-citizen relations), Frans Snik (astronomer and founder of Citizen Science Lab) and Catholijn Jonker (Professor of Interactive Intelligence).