Amsterdam: The Balanced Smart City!


The dutchman David Tuinzing works as an advisor, a teacher and a writer on collaborative urbanism, networked cities, change management, and social & economic development. His career combines academia and practice in consultancy projects, and includes too, the creation of partnerships between sectors, systems, projects and people. With more than 10 years of experience in urban planning and the smart city field, he created a Balanced Smart City model. A model which aims to combine dimensions and actors in the Smart City playing field and to create a relation between them. The model serves as a starting point for a roadmap towards a smart urbanity. Why? Because David has experienced over the years that regularly city stakeholders have only one perspective and give importance to the future of the city. The self-interest comes first, but this issue will not put the common interest forward. A common interest in the future of the city is necessary to make the step towards a smart urbanity, where social, economic and technical city systems/loops are connected. Without a common interest, there is less collaboration, less innovation and less efficiency. David is willing to share some of lessons he experienced while making smarter and more livable cities.


Collaboration is the key for our transition towards a Balanced Smart City. In a balanced smart city, urban planning, together with the potential of technological products and the common social economic agenda of the municipality (and the main city stakeholders), help achieving a balance. So in a balanced smart city there isn’t only a focus on the citizens of the smart city and their bottom up approach, or on the top down decisions and actions from municipalities and the real estate developers, or on a tech driven smart city. In a balanced smart city, all the aspects and values meet with a common goal; a livable city with economic and social prosperity, a breeding ground for innovation and a sense of efficiency by the use of raw materials. The unique identity of the city (district), and the needs of the citizens, both give an important handle towards a common social economic future where tech power, social/economic need and urban planning actions are in balance and tuned.


Let’s come together, right now

The corporate companies with their smart services and product on one side, and the municipalities with their obligation and need for social and economic prosperity on the other side, have both a strong presence in the Smart City dialogue. Together they manage to set the tone of the dialogue over the last years. But according to the model, we realize that there is no balance yet . Just have a look at the smart city events that take place around the world. The (money) power of the tech companies are leading the event agenda’s. And often happens that a subject like citizenship in a smart City is discussed by a big tech company. They really don’t have a clue about citizenship and smart cities, but they are willing to pay the event organization to make themselves the expert. This makes the dialogue towards a mature smart city profession diffuse. Money is leading! On the other hand, there are a lot of studies being carried out with the Smart Cities subject.

A nuanced look at the future of the city often seems not economically viable at first sight. There is no need to change the approach if there is still enough money to earn. Is it a bad thing? Not really if you don’t have a need and curiosity to exploit the potential that the city and its citizens have to offer. It is precisely the collaboration between citizens and the city stakeholders around a shared interest that is priceless. When there is collaboration with the local stakeholders, with the willing to understand the local identity and need, the corporate companies are offered a unique co-creating moment with the users of their technique products and services. It only happens to be a postponement of the validation of the real command for which the tech company has come; delivering technical urban products (networks, sensors, lighting etc.) On the other side, by co-creating with the local (inter-sectoral) stakeholders new products and services are created, and and as a result commitment arises around the use of the services provided by the company. That is also where the specific software (use) meets the hardware (infrastructure). So not where the hardware trying hard to meet the users. Once I was in a panel dialogue and the question from a tech company came forward: why the people not using our fantastic lighting control system, the product is fantastic! That is exactly the point. The product might be fantastic, but it does not meet the specific needs in a district. The people don’t feel ownership.

Municipalities must encourage those co-creating meetings, and add their ambition into the dialogue, together with the main citizens. Smart city companies and the municipalities mustn’t be afraid to play a vulnerable and ignorant role sometimes! Let’s come together! But how can we come together? We tried to make a roadmap, developed after years of (carrying out) projects, by trial and errors.


The collaboration between citizens and the city stakeholders around a shared interest is priceless


Roadmap towards Smart Urbanity

As explained in the balanced smart city model, the idea of how the future of the (smart) city must look like is definitely not set by the spatial consultant, real estate developer, corporate (tech) company or the municipality on their own! Nowadays, the future of the city is the result of collaboration between citizens and experts from different backgrounds around a shared ambition. This common approach is in the first place important for the sustainability of the plans. The experts go on from project to project, and the citizens & entrepreneurs remain in their beloved city with sense for the city (citisense). It is their future, they must own it and take care of it with pride!

The ambition of the Smart City Kitchen is creating meaningful urban communities as a key factor for cities which are in a Smart and Circular transition! The communities, the collaboration and the commitment of the stakeholders to their shared future are the fundament towards the smart and circular urbanity. Technical products and real estate programs (places and spaces) do facilitate the common ambition. Why? We want to create city programs and services that contribute to the social economic ambition of the municipality, and the stakeholders, and this is, mostly, and abstract of the unique identity of the city/district.


The framework of the roadmap is set by:

I. The unique identity of the urban area as the core of the development,

II. The involvement and commitment of the citizens, municipality, urban planners & entrepreneurs (stakeholders) around the future of their “own” environment.

III. Collaboration between different stakeholders and sectors around a shared future! When new stakeholders and networks meet around a shared ambition/need, new connections are created, and so are new programs, products and solutions. This holistic approach leads to a new smart urbanity, where (tech, social and economic) systems and loops can be connected.


The identity of an area is priceless

Do cities have unique identities? And, like people, can cities have an identity crisis? Yes! Cities have their own unique DNA. And yes, a lot of cities have an identity crisis. Just have a look at the inner cities. The shops are often the usual, which makes the look and feel redeemable. A unique identity gives social economic strength. More important: the direct environment and the identity of an area gives rise to various stakeholders in the city/district to meet. How can we work together, from everyone’s own strength, to strengthen the direct living environment and identity? While defining the identity, stories can be told about the (city) district. Stories that can stress the unique qualities and themes of the district. People and companies want to be unique, and so they want to live and work in a unique environment. It makes them proud!


Like people, cities can have an identity crisis


The identity of Amsterdam

It is not that difficult to make clear that identity can give direction to successful urban programs. Just take Amsterdam in The Netherlands as an example. Amsterdam is built on a place where many water streams meet (rivers, and the sea). Water was and is still a subject of great importance for the economy of the city. Water made the Dutch people travel the seas, discover new continents, it gave them interest in other cultures (and their people and products). The first stock exchange was founded in Amsterdam and the products from abroad where transported to the city of Amsterdam by the canals. Still today you can see the impact of water for the economic prosperity in the city and in The Netherlands in common. Water gave the little country importance on a world scale. The dutch are still open to discover and innovate (Amsterdam is ranked top 5 city worldwide for innovation and start-ups), the city still attracts a lot of foreign people and businesses (177 different nationalities living in it). The human scale of the canals, and the open mind still attracts social and economic prosperity. Amsterdam and the Netherland without water is unthinkable!


Common future

The unique identity of the city/district forms the fundament to set a common future for the district. What are the core values of the identity of the city? What is the districtsts guiding idea that gives direction to the social economic future? This guiding idea is certainly not a blueprint. The Smart City Kitchen believed that the time we develop our cities and buildings only by (spatial and tech) blueprints, and in a linear process, that it lays behind us. We are working nowadays with holistic processes. Besides we are not talking about the city as blueprint anymore, we do try to see the different values in relation to each other (Balanced City). So, not the hyperfocus on real estate values or the economic values. These are the most likely to focus on, because you can quantify them. But we raise the importance of the social, marketing, ecological & cultural values too. Values which can’t be quantified on first glance easily, but become important within the holistic common future approach towards a livable smart city! To make sure all the values are considered, the right stakeholders must be involved in the process towards Smart Urbanity, as the balanced smart city model appointed.


Amsterdam's canals


Development and investment strategy

What kind of programs and products can we develop? Which programs do add value towards the shared future and which programs can wait (prioritize)? When are the programs (going to be) executed (0-1 year, 1-2 years, 2-5 years)? Who are leading those programs (ambassadors), and How will the business cases be developed and executed? And last but not least, How can technology products and spatial intervention help to reach the set ambition?

If new program ideas arise, you need to prioritize the initiatives. Does it suits to the common future, or is it not a top priority to invest in (time/money)? Besides, the arise of new programs/products which are valuable for the district, the collaboration between sectors and stakeholders can also help adjusting the own business strategy. Often, new business strategies and perspectives are made by the contributing companies/municipalities, because stakeholders are faced in the process with the question: what do you need in 5-10 years time? How can you, as a company, add value to the district, and how can the district help you, as a company, to achieve your ambitions? The same applies for the municipality: how can the district contribute to achieve the social/economic ambition of the city? To answer that question, you need to connect more scale levels, and understand the cohesion between those scale levels (level: district - city - region - country). For example: without a clear ambition for the city as a whole, you can’t address the specific contribution of the district to the long term municipality ambition.

Another great advantage of the focused work towards a common goal, it is that attracts new entrepreneurs. It is Often heard: “If this is the ambition for the city district, and if there is already an environment where we work together (Governance), then I like to join with my business and be part of the shared future and success!.”


Water was and is still of great importance for the economy of Amsterdam


Connect Urban Systems and loop - the step towards smart urbanity

By working together, the trust in the collaborative partners is growing. Trust and a common focus is essential to strengthen the collaboration, by sharing (private) information and data. By sharing data and information, a huge step is taken towards connecting the urban systems. By connecting urban systems on a social, economic and technical way, you are starting to get a smarter urbanity. Also here, the smart urbanity comes step by step, initiative to initiative. After months and years, all the little steps together form a powerful urban ecosystem. An ecosystem with a clear unique meaning for a city and a country. But mostly for the livability of the citizens, with citisense.


Community - collective intelligence

By working together the community is growing. On a By working together the community is growing. On a day to day base, the members of the community can work together around shared needs in the district. How can we solve existing problems, and how can tech/places or spaces help? When there is addressed a day to day need, like safety, health, mobility, energy etc. you can start a dialogue with professional (tech) partners. How can we solve the need by working together, what kind of new products can we add to help etc… New business cases are created. A (digital) platform can help to get an overview in the ongoing needs, actions etc. Not always products and tech is the solution of the need. Sometimes people just want to meet, talk and laugh!


Hardware meets software

When the future becomes clear, the municipality can make the choice of which kind of infrastructure (hardware) can be introduced. Of course there is often a legacy of “old” infrastructures. But for sure now you can make a targeted choice. Let the tech product be a result of the future ambitions, programs and projects. Dare to co-create with the important stakeholders, have an eye for the different values in the district and interests of the stakeholders. Discuss about the short term and long term business cases that we be formed around the new infrastructures. Who owns the infrastructure and from which point external stakeholders can connect to it with applications?

What does the infrastructure need to achieve? Set the goals you want to achieve and make it measurable, but don’t make everything measurable.


Global ambition - Local need

The City of Amsterdam is a leading Smart City. For a few years Amsterdam has become a smart living lab. A group of corporate companies and the Municipality of Amsterdam form the Amsterdam Smart City, set by the Economic Board of Amsterdam. Also start-up businesses are connected to the Smart City living lab since a few years the AMS Institute has landed in Amsterdam. The AMS institute is an ambitious scientific institute. In this institute science, education, government, business partners and societal organizations are working tightly together to create solutions for the complex challenges of a metropolitan region like Amsterdam is facing. Now and in the future.

Collaboration is key for the transition towards a Balanced Smart City

Isn’t that an ideal situation? Yes, for sure a lot of positive smart initiatives take place in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, this is created by working on a day to day urban development projects in Amsterdam. The urban planners and the bottom up initiatives and needs are set by its citizens and entrepreneurs, which is the reason why Amsterdam Smart City exists. The project is described as an academia and corporate thing, but they don’t see what it can add to their challenges. To become a balanced smart city, those streams must meet on a way. The roadmap can help because of the holistic approach.


succes factors


Showcase - Amstelkwartier Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city which is made up of different areas. Each one of the areas makes a contribution to the city. As it happens in the case of the Amstelkwartier. It is precisely the diversity of city districts and it citizens, which ensures that Amsterdam is a unique metropolis.


Economic values are important, but also the social, marketing, ecological & cultural ones


What makes the Amstelkwartier unique in the city of Amsterdam? The uniqueness stems from the rich history of the area, its location in the city and the current residents and business owners in the area. The Amstelkwartier is a new living and working area in the city of Amsterdam. The first outlines of a new inner city area are clearly visible. The form of beautiful buildings, a mix of urban programs and a high-quality public space with park Somer Lust in particular. It is the Amstelkwartier where the city really makes contact with the Amstel River and the rural green land.

It is important to subscribe the unique qualities of the area, its DNA, along with parties. Its is as important to develop a degree of pride and ownership! We are the Amstelkwartier!

Together with the main Amstelkwartier stakeholders, and the municipality of Amsterdam, we have formulated the distinctive area themes (identity) for Amstelkwartier:

I. Water (swim spot, triathlon, water taxi, water museum)

II. History (Rembrandt paint spot, art route, storytelling)

III. Circularity (compost project, Energy exchange, water loops,

IV. City meets the green rural area

V. Day to day need (Safety, shops, health, etc.)


Each of the above topics is loaded into urban programs

The programs give visibility to the unique identity of the Amstelkwartier. Of course there are also day to day programs needed to make the area liveable. By working together the districts community is growing and so is the will to collaborate and share data and information!


The local programs meet the smart city ambitions

Finally, after all the theories, models and roadmaps, now it is time to explain where the Amstelkwartier district becomes a smart urbanity. For now, it is interesting to address some concrete projects where tech is added to the need. The community of the Amstelkwartier does meet in relation to a shared program or need.

All the projects do contribute to the ambition set by the municipality of Amsterdam and also to the ambition set by the local stakeholders.


The projects do contribute to parts of the Amsterdam smart city program:

1. LESS Waste (Circular city of Amsterdam) - compost and plastic project

2. LESS CO2 Pollution (liveable city) - e-mobility and Energy Exchange

3. Water management (Nederland Waterland) (swim spot and water museum)

4. The connected city: where social/technical/economic needs and systems are connected. An efficient city is not always nice to live and work in... It takes three to tango!



An innovative living building 

– shaped by nature and driven by ingenuity


Is it possible that hotel guests can eat fruits and vegetables directly from a sustainable greenhouse on the roof of their hotel? Yes! And is it possible that a hotel is not only built in a circular and smart technical way but can also play a key role in the social and economic Amste¬lkwartier society? Yes! At the hotel in the Ams¬telkwartier this is the most natural thing in the world. On the 22nd floor of the hotel there will be an ultimate urban farming project, where ci¬tizens, farmers and visitors can meet. 


Physical loops 

The ambition of the building is creating a li¬ving building where the four cycles of energy, water, waste and materials are matched in the best way possible. Besides the innovative ener¬gy management systems and the use of circular materials (carpets, concrete, furniture etc.). The most iconic role is undoubtedly reserved for the greenhouse. The use of the latest technologies and materials, combined with a clever design makes a recirculating production system possi¬ble: water, waste and nutrients from food waste from the hotel restaurants will be recycled. 

The hotel has been awarded LEED Platinum status -an internationally recognized sustainabi¬lity standard- and is the first hotel to achieve this rating in Europe. 


Social-economic loops 

The hotel wants to make impact by closing the social and economic loops in the Amstelkwar¬tier too. That’s why the hotel was in 2015 the initiator of the Amstelkwartier community. Nowadays the community, with entrepreneurs, real estate developers, artists, municipality and citizens, is proud and full of expectation about the upcoming spot. The hotel is a place to meet, to work, to learn and for joy! All together the community has the ambition to make the Ams¬telkwartier a distinctive circular area in Amster¬dam. The hotel is the icon of the district.


 By David Tuinzing

 Founder of The Smart City Kitchen

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