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Smart technology will transform Dutch neighbourhood

A programme in the Netherlands is creating a smart neighbourhood as a pilot for how people could live in the future

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Europe: CW Europe: Dutch authorities call temporary halt to datacentre construction

A neighbourhood in the Netherlands is to be transformed in a pilot project to design the urban environment in conjunction with new smart technologies for transport, health and energy.

The locality, in Brandenvoort, will be a testing ground for new products, services and systems through the Brainport Smart District (BSD) project.

BSD director Peter Portheine said: “In cooperation with the Eindhoven University of Technology, we looked at where we could create such a district. We ended up in the Brandenvoort district in Helmond, because it was already largely smart and has space for the construction of 1,500 homes and 12 hectares of business destinations.

“We are striving for a new, smart neighbourhood that does not further burden, pollute or deplete our planet – a neighbourhood that uses technology to add meaning to the lives of the people who use it or go to live in it.”

Portheine has been involved in setting up the BSD programme since the end of 2017. The ambition is to create a sustainable and socially cohesive neighbourhood.

“BSD will not be designed first and built afterwards,” he said. “Instead, design and construction will go hand in hand through step-by-step co-creative development. We are learning on the job and will be able to apply everything we learn directly in the further development of the neighbourhood.”

One of the interesting aspects of BSD are its goals around data. The basic principle is that residents themselves will have control and freedom of choice over their data. At the same time, their generated and anonymised data is needed for companies to test their innovations. Clear rules are being drawn up to ensure compliance with legislation and regulations. The infrastructure needed to make the data flows possible, including datacentres, will be included in the urban development plan.

The BSD Foundation is inviting companies and knowledge institutions to submit proposals for the project.

“Numerous experiments have already been submitted and are now being critically examined by a selection committee,” said Portheine. “The experiments that can actually be carried out must be innovative and add something to the world, but also to our programme. The first experiments, in the field of circular housing, should start by the end of this year.

“Our own office, a circular building with its own energy system, will also be located there. In this way, we will be pushing the edges of innovation, not only in the field of technology, but above all in the field of regulations.

“At the moment, we see that we want more than is actually possible. That is why we are working with various ministries to see how we can make innovative experiments possible. After all, laws and regulations may have to change in order to achieve this. Innovation is, by definition, touching the edges of legislation and regulations. At the moment, this governance is a large part of our work.”

The seven programme lines that guide the BSD projects

  1. Circular and sustainable district: It will be an attractive living environment in which self-sufficiency, co-creation with end-users and sustainable use of natural resources are combined with existing and future technologies. Circularity is crucial in all programme lines.
  2. Resident participation: Developing a new smart district offers great opportunities to improve people’s living environment and use new technology in a meaningful way.
  3. Social and safe district: The ambition is for all residents to join in, get by and get ahead. Social cohesion also contributes to a district that is safe and where people feel safe.
  4. Healthy district: Health and welfare are being promoted by helping each other and by creating a clean, green and attractive outdoor space that encourages people to exercise and interact.
  5. Digital district: Data is needed in order to optimally tailor the district to the residents’ wishes and facilitates different information streams and innovations. The starting point is that residents have control and freedom of choice when it comes to their data.
  6. Mobile district: New technologies such as self-driving cars and new organisations such as “car&ride-sharing” offer opportunities to make travelling more comfortable and reduce its environmental impact.
  7. District with energy: Designing a user-focused energy system, including a “smarter grid” approach, is very important to create an adaptive energy system.

One of the organisations that wants to experiment with residents’ data in the new district is UNSense. The project it wants to launch is intended to research and develop new models in which inhabitants of the district as a whole can benefit directly from data. UNSense wants to investigate what happens when data is used for the benefit of the community.

“The residents remain the owners of their own data at all times,” said Portheine. “They decide whether they want to cooperate with an experiment.”

To guarantee this, a trusted body is currently being formulated that can provide a guarantee for experiments, so that residents can see whether they meet requirements on privacy, property, security and ethical considerations.

Sensors in and around a person’s home can collect valuable information, said Portheine. “When a resident’s energy or water consumption suddenly shows big differences, it says something about the residents,” he said. “This can help older, vulnerable residents to live independently for longer.”

But all kinds of data about how people live can also provide valuable insights. By using data actively and passively to create a picture, organisations and governments can gain insights into the services that residents need and how they can actually be helped, but also where there may be risks.

Portheine expects residents in the neighbourhood to organise themselves in order to exert more influence on, for example, how mobility and energy are organised.

Bad examples to learn from

Citizen participation is an important factor in the development of the smart neighbourhood. Portheine and his team are therefore looking with interest at two cities where the smart city concept has been introduced less successfully.  “In the South Korean city of Busan, a new housing estate with apartments full of sensors and technology has been built from the ground up, but without the participation of citizens,” he said. “But it has now become a kind of tech ghetto where no one wants to live.”

Another example also serves as a lesson for the BSD Foundation – the Sidewalk Toronto initiative in Canada, which was developed by Google owner Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs in collaboration with the City of Toronto.

“Google thought it would be possible to build a district there and so become the owner of all the data from that district,” said Portheine. “But they were sent back to the drawing board by the city council of Toronto in order to give residents more influence.”

The BSD Foundation has reflected on these projects. “That is why we started with governments and knowledge institutions in the first place,” said Portheine. “If you bring in private companies too quickly, there is a risk that the importance of the market will become too great too soon and that the residents will be lost sight of. We want to prevent this from happening.

“At the same time, we want to intensify cooperation with the market in the coming year, and we now have frameworks for that cooperation.”

Portheine said 250 temporary homes of various types and for different target groups will be built over the next three years and the first 10 experiments are under way. “Not every experiment has to be a success, but when the whole system proves itself in a public-private partnership, we speak of a success,” he said. “And when, in six to seven years’ time, some 3,000-4,000 people are enjoying living in the Brainport Smart District, the ultimate goal will have been achieved.”

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