Amsterdam, The Netherlands
smart city technology
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in Chapter 8
8 re:Designing Urbanity

Luckily, there are innovations coming from the world of information and communications technologies (ICTs) that offer the possibility of surpassing conventional monitoring limitations. The use of ICTs to guide urban planning and governance via the use of algorithmic software to analyse ‘big’ data obtained from sensors deployed throughout the urban environment is part of the so-called ‘Smart City' urban imaginary. The Smart City is considered by some technology companies, policymakers and researchers as the next critical urban infrastructure paradigm to make our cities more responsive, agile and resilient to future crisis.

However, Van Timmeren and Henriquez (2015)434 assert the Smart City urban development model (as it is presently conceived) is based on the assumption that it is possible to distill societal complexity through simplified, standardized computer models and use historically correlative data to generate useful public policy based on those predictions. They are part of a growing chorus of scholars(Hollands, 2015),(Kitchin, 2015),(Shelton, Zook, & Wiig, 2015),(Söderström, Paasche, & Klauser, 2014) who criticize the Smart City for actually stifling innovation by emphasizing proprietary software, being non-democratic and monopolistic in character, market-led instead of citizen-focused and reducing individual autonomy through indiscriminate tracking.

That being said, ‘smart’ sensor technology has been shown to be beneficial in improving the sustainability and efficiency of transportation, energy and water networks. ICTs can also potentially afford institutions, companies, civil society and citizens with similar goals and aspirations the means of organizing and acting accordingly. But if such systems are not inclusive, people might start to feel that it is useless to take action.

Several AMS Institute projects are building on the opportunities of cross-fertilization between conventional urban (technology) domains with ICT technologies, often involving ‘smart’ sensing and the introduction of real-time digital feedback between citizens and urban professionals as a means to improve their understanding and response to urban environmental conditions. As part project Roboat(Ratti, C., Rus, D., Whittle, A., Frenchman, D. 2016 Roboat programme. AMS Institute, Amsterdam. MIT Sensible City Lab. Boston/Amsterdam), AMS Institute and MIT are working on deploying a fleet of autonomous boats that will explore Amsterdam’s 1000 kilometres of canals to monitor and map air and water quality in real time.

At present, there aren’t reliable sources of information about the intensity of rainfall and the impacts of storm events within cities as weather stations and Doppler radar tend to be located outside of urban environments in order eliminate microclimatic effects(Oke et al., 2004). AMS Institute’s RainSense(Koole et al., 2016) set out to survey this unexplored territory by making use of crowdsourcing data, social sensing and low-cost sensor networks. To make social sensing possible, researchers developed a Social Weather app that collected microwave link data from GSM antennas and combined it with databases from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and amateur personal weather stations.

After testing the system with over 300 participants during the summer of 2015, the experiment provided detailed data and feedback that was used by the municipality, WaterNet (the local water utility), citizens and tourists. The project has since transformed into the Amsterdam Atmospheric Monitoring Supersite (AAMS) (Holtslag, 2016) . Here, The sensing techniques developed in Rain Sense are used to extended Amsterdam’s already fairly developed network of metrological stations to measure a broader scope of variables, including wind speed, wind variability (turbulence), precipitation, energy, water vapour and carbon fluxes.

Citizens as Sensors(van der Meulen & van Houten, 2017) is currently investigating how the public reviews water quality within the city. AMS researchers were curious if self-monitoring makes citizens more familiar with the water system in their neighbourhood, how household water quality testing compared to measurements of professionals, and what kind of information about water quality would affect users’ domestic usage. Finally, Realcool Amsterdam(Lenzholzer, 2016) is an ongoing project that aims to provide urban design professionals with prototypes of water bodies and their capacity to cool the urban environment.