Can IOT create a Smart City?

A report on Thingscon in Eindhoven by Iskander Smit, Innovation director, co-organiser Thingscon Amsterdam.

A workshop by Scott Smith at the VPRO Medialab and a Meet up at Keukenconfessies.

‘Can IoT create a smart society?’, was the provoking central question for the fourth edition of Thingscon Salon, a series of events organised by the team of Thingscon Amsterdam. We had both a workshop moderated by Changeist (Thingclash) as a meetup with cases and presentations to look into this question.

The backgrounds of the question is the observation that the thinking on the smart city is often all focused on an efficient infrastructure, on making the living in the city better by removing friction. Smart cities are often ‘designed’ from a top-down system view. Thinking on the true nature of cities however is the organic structure where bottom-up connections between different levels of user of the city key. This was also the message by our closing keynote at the last Thingscon Amsterdam by Ross Atkin who coined this with the term Clever City.

To reflect on this question we invited a mix of projects and thinkers that try to approach the smart city from an individual citizen level. All with different starting point. As Rob van Kranenburg concluded at the end of the evening, it was great to see how we all shifted from vision for the futures to projects in the now.

In the introduction of the evening I used the project of the Civic City as example. In that project we put focus on the process to involve the citizens in a neighbourhood. Thinking and making together with the people of Woensel-West in Eindhoven gave the insight that building a social structure in a neighbourhood is the main drive for the citizens.

The project of Staat van Eindhoven was presented later and has the same objectives to dive deep in the neighbourhoods and gather the motivations of the citizens living in the city. With DATAStudio a long running project (in Woensel-Noord) is set up for gathering the data on a hyper local level and translate this to insights for stakeholders like urban designers. Aim to make the best operation system for the city.

The Talks

Thingscon Salon 4 – DATAStudio Klaas Kuitenbrouwer from ThingsConAMS

Human values is what should inspire the development of services that run on the Things Network, Lorna Goulden argues. She is one of the initiators of The Things Network Eindhoven. Starting with building the network for making connecting services and products in the city gives possibilities for new initiatives. Lorna stresses that we need to start with a new kind of value-driven design for creating the services.

Thingscon Salon #4 – The Things Network Eindhoven – Lorna Goulden from ThingsConAMS

In the Thingclash workshop the participants dove into the consequences of the things becoming connected. If you flip a context of a connected thing it can turn out to be not so logical at all to have things connected. The context is the experience. Some of the observations is the situation complexity that emerges quickly. Boundaries are easily crossed. Especially in a city context lots of different interests have to live together.

Thingscon Salon 4- Thingclash workshop recap from ThingsConAMS

Removing the complexity is what Peter van Waart from Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and Creating010 aims to achieve with their new initiative called OnsBlok. If you are able to bake yourself a apple pie, it should be possible to make your own smart city. The kit they want to develop should make a connection between the top-down and bottom-up offering a hands-on solution for the one citizen. The idea was emerged from several projects with students in the neighbourhoods.

Dries de Roeck from Studio Dott in Antwerp and involved in the C3PO European research project on creating a design platform for stakeholders busy with the new cities and using culturing probing to involve stakeholders. Doing the research is one thing, making it into actionable projects is not easy.

As final speaker Frank Kresin of Waag Society Smart Citizen Lab gave an overview of the path they walked towards a participating culture for cities. People want to be empowered to take agency in their city. A hacking spirit. The work with the smart citizen kit learned that sensing is not the same as acting. But citizens love to do it.

Smart Citizens Making Sense from Frank Kresin

It was an interesting mix of approaches but one thing became clear. After the first wave of smart city culture based on the optimization drivers we see some serious projects that are taking a different approach. If we follow this route we might get towards a more humane smart city. Back to Rob van Kranenburg in his final reflections; it is good to see that we are now really doing stuff to realise this. Connecting the insights and making it into real results is the best approach. So yes, by making a internet of things that is sensible to the relation of things and humans we can create a smart society.

Check also this report on the e52 website and the writeup of the workshop on Thingclash. I also captured tweets here.