Eindhovenaars variously say they want a safe smart city, a clean smart city, a climate-neutral smart city, a smart recycling city, a social smart city, a smart mobility city – just to name a few popular flavours.
Every type of smart city is a response to a particular problem and specialises in its own kind of applied smartness. All the variants rely on the use of digital technology, but they differ in many large and small ways. This is because different issues call for different methods of organisation.
In the safe smart city, citizen behaviour is monitored live in at least some public spaces via cameras and sensors, so that immediate action can be taken if trouble arises. On Stratumseind in Eindhoven, for instance, the lighting can be modified and police can be alerted. One increasingly common method for creating a safe smart city is predictive policing, in which databases with the times, locations and demographic aspects of various crimes and misdemeanours are maintained to enable the identification of patterns and more effective preventative action. Meanwhile, in the smart recycling city, energy, water, goods and materials streams are monitored in an effort to minimise waste. Municipalities like San Francisco and Capannori, Italy, the global frontrunner, have demonstrated that the use of smart technologies enables the reuse of up to 90 per cent of existing waste as raw material. (The remaining 10 per cent is harder to deal with and can be rendered reusable only if certain industrial production processes are overhauled.) Smart mobility cities are currently investing in driverless electric buses, which permit flexibility in timetables and routes without sacrificing reliability. Cities including Enschede, Breda and Brussels are planning experiments with these buses. And climate-neutral smart cities use and distribute solar and wind energy and install smart electricity meters in homes so that locally generated electricity can be fed into the grid. All the major cities and many other towns in the Netherlands are experimenting with it.
How can they be brought together?
It's easy to see how the climate-neutral smart city and the smart recycling city can complement each other. They share many common goals and some technical aspects. But the climate-neutral smart city and the safe smart city, for example, work in very different and at times even conflicting ways. In the “Internet of Things”, objects such as rubbish bins, park benches, refrigerators, clothes and cars send and receive information over the Internet. This means various individual and urban processes can be harmonised, but it also means these items can be hacked. With respect to this issue, it is useful to keep abreast of papers written for the professional security community, since they give a good indication of threats. For example, as cars – driverless or not – increasingly fall under the control of computers, they are becoming more vulnerable to hackers and viruses.
In an existing city, with all its organisational, historical and other complexities, smart-city plans do not emanate from a single central point. Each type of smartness has its own stakeholders with their own interests and their own roles with respect to the problem and its smart solutions. They do, of course, overlap geographically and connect via the Internet. It is therefore important to determine the conditions under which the various types of smart city can best enhance each other. Though there is great potential, dangers also exist, and not all of them have been thought through sufficiently. Introducing new interconnected technologies may make things smarter, but it certainly doesn't make them simpler.
A news article quotes Jorrit de Jong, academic director of Harvard University's Innovations in Government programme, on four main dangers: smart cities can be hacked; algorithms can cross ethical boundaries; companies can gain too much influence over public affairs; and, last but not least, governments often fail at managing complex IT programmes – which, of course, include smart-city projects.
The development of smart solutions requires that a range of different types of knowledge and experience be brought together. Applications can then be tested against various scenarios, not only those based on the assumptions of the parties whose agendas are most visible. The mapping of Eindhoven shows that Strijp-S is the only part of town where high-tech activity, design, Living Labs and residential spaces coexist. It is here that the most favourable conditions seem to exist for developing a smart city that involves all parties. In other areas of Eindhoven, the respective networks of high-tech businesses and of other users of the city, with their particular needs, overlap much less. Different tactics must thus be used there to ensure parties are equally involved in developing the smart city.
Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, 12 January 2016