AMS A learning city for all

‘Since 2008, humankind has become completely urbanized, the internet has gone fully mobile and the web no longer concerns virtual, but physical places instead.’ This was a clear starting point for the discussion on the AMS-related theme of Intelligent cities. It was posited by Anthony Townsend, who received the TU Delft honorary doctorate on TU Delft’s Foundation Day on Friday, 9 January 2015.

According to Townsend (New York University), intelligent cities are places where digital technology is used to address age-old urban problems. Such problems are rarely technological in nature, but rather ‘wicked problems’ of a social, economic or ecological nature.

All too often, the use of smart technology in cities becomes a goal in itself. In his Foundation Day lecture, Arjan van Timmeren (AMS Principal Investigator, TU Delft) describes this technological solutionism as ‘ubikquity’ – the complete faith in the power of ICT to provide ready-made solutions for complex social problems.

‘Illuminated cities’:

  • Use technology to improve the processes of democracy and decentralised administration
  • Support individual and collective autonomy and facilitate participation in urban planning
  • Safeguard the urban populace’s privacy and protect their data from exploitation by market parties.

 More inclusive
Cities like Masdar City (Abu Dhabi) and Songdo (South Korea) are proof that a technologically intelligent city is feasible. But doesn’t making it compulsory to log in to networks lead to exclusion by definition? In a state of ‘ubikquity’, growing inequality and fragmentation are real dangers.

Songdo: Van Timmeren thinks this is an extremely expensive representation of a top-down dream.

Townsend believes that the challenge is to make existing cities smart and inclusive. He calls this ‘re-wiring’ – reconnecting all the wires. He thinks inclusiveness can be furthered by open information architecture, interpretable models and a focus on ethics in applied sciences education programmes.

New science
According to Townsend, the intelligent city will no longer be the playground of ICT multinationals. These cities will be in the hands of the smart urban populace. He says this will require a new kind of digital master plan and a new type of urban science.

The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, a joint initiative of TU Delft, Wageningen University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was mentioned frequently during the Foundation Day lecture. During the morning programme, young researchers demonstrated various examples of innovative solutions at the interface of urban development and social data under the leadership of AMS Principal investigators Andy van den Dobbelsteen and Geert-Jan Houben.

Townsend stressed the importance of education in the development of smart and inclusive cities. How will this be organised? What do students need to learn and how will knowledge be shared?
With Amsterdam as a testing ground, AMS is in a unique position to discover the answers to these questions. Van Timmeren concludes: ‘To be an engineer it’s not enough to be an engineer’.

See also:

Videos and presentations of the 2015 Foundation Day
– Anthony Townsend’s blog on the Foundation Day: A Skunkworks for A Smart City

Author: Jorick Beijer


Anthony Townsend is a Senior Research Scientist with New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. He is the author of the book Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia (2013).

Arjan van Timmeren is Professor of Environmental Technology & Design at TU Delft and Lead Principal Investigator with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions. He presented the book ‘Ubikquity & the Illuminative City. From Smart to Intelligent Urban Environments during the Foundation Day’.