Thoughts on the smart city


Over the last few months, I once more had the chance to work on smart city-related topics. (I say once more because it’s been a while since I did a deep dive into the field back with Cognitive Cities Conference in 2011. Ever since I’ve been following the field closely, but not actively contributed much.)

So recently I’ve had several occasions to work on smart city-related things. It’s been exciting to me that these engagements came through different vectors – in one case it was related to prior work in and around politics & e-governance and has a policy angle, in one case the approach was from an #iot angle and focused on connectivity in a wider sense. There might be more, and with a stronger overlap, as the circles in this particular Venn diagram increasingly move closer together.

I hope (and think) that large chunks of these recent projects will be made accessible publicly at some point. For now, it’ll have to stay a bit on the vague end I’m afraid. Once things get published, you’ll find out through the usual channels.

Long story short: I’ve been thinking about smart cities a fair bit. And two major questions have been popping up over and over again.


#openIOT assembly and the city


At the OpenIOT Assembly I just stepped in for Mark Shephard and hosted a group discussion about how to apply the (currently draft status) Internet of Things Bill of Rights to the context of cities.

Just a part of our city session #openiot

We collected the full session notes in a gdoc, but below you’ll find the key points as I tried to summarize and cluster them.

It’s a big topic, or rather a cluster of related topics, and we didn’t find many answers but more questions. That was expected and doesn’t mean the session failed. It does however show that we need to dig deeper into any of the fields listed below, as well as a number of others. It also became clear quite quickly that there are no bodies currently in place to coordinate the efforts and represent user/citizen rights in this context. As Adam pointed out: There is room for a whole group of new NGOs to tackle all these issues.

Please note that this is a work in progress, and that it is my interpretation of what we talked about. It is very likely to be edited heavily both for style and content. If you’d like to get involved, the best way is to a) read on on the OpenIOT Assembly website and b) join the discussion list.

  • Accessibility

    • Data should be accessible to the creators/citizens to create value for all parties, not just the capturing party.
    • We need licenses to be legal/human/machine readable, preferably also with simple to recognize icons, so everybody understands the implications of licensing, privacy etc. Creative Commons model might serve as inspiration.
    • Privacy rules and standards need to adapt to local communities/cultures. Defining interoperable families of rights and permissions is key (Creative Commons model).
    • Licenses and families of licenses shall be designed to be interoperable to allow for regional and cultural adaption, and to allow for layering/stacking of licenses in more complex services.
  • Privacy

    • Privacy rules and standards need to adapt to local communities/cultures. Defining interoperable families of rights and permissions is key (Creative Commons model).
    • Trying to find the balance between the interest of public, citizen and commercial interest, the citizens’ rights enjoy priority over commercial interest. Safeguards for citizens’ rights should allow for maximum public good. The details depend on context (for example medical v transportation data).
    • Information sharing in the public space should be granular, giving the citizen control to go from “private” to “some openness” to “public”. APIs should reflect this.
    • Citizens should be notified when their data is captured, and be able to consent (opt in/opt out) of systems wherever possible, particularly in commercially exploitable contexts.
    • We urge designers to build services with privacy in mind, particularly with later aggregation and combination of other data sets in mind.
  • Portability

    • Citizens own the data they contribute to. They have the right to opt out of commercial use of their data, and can state how they want their data to be used.
    • Users/citizens should always know what data is collected about them, and be allowed to delete the data they contributed to whatever extent is possible.
    • If possible, services should be designed to allow to opt out retroactively after our actions were recorded.
  • Licensing

    • We need licenses to be legal/human/machine readable, preferably also with simple to recognize icons, so everybody understands the implications of the license. Creative Commons model might serve as inspiration.
    • Principle: The citizen as creator of data should be empowered in any way possible.

city session at #openiot

Thanks to the participants – too many to list completely, but I have at least some of the names: Martin Spindler, Erik van der Zee, Marc Pous, Matt Biddulph, Adam Greenfield, Shane Mitchell, Hariharan Rajasekaran, Nick O’Leary. Again, the list is taken from the session notes and likely to grow.

Update: You can now endorse the IoT Bill of Rights, aka Statement of the Open Internet of Things Assembly.

CoCities Salon Amsterdam: Thanks!


De Verdiepening #cocities The Verdieping, Amsterdam

So last night we had our first Cognitive Cities Salon – in Amsterdam. What a great time I had! A big thank you to our kind host Juha van ‘t Zelfde (non-fiction), who did all the heavy lifting, and to our fantastic speakers:

James Burke, Co-founder of VURB Katalin Galayas, Policy Advisor to the City of Amsterdam Kars Alfrink, ‘Chief Agent’ of Hubbub Edwin Gardner, VOLUME Magazine

Kars at #CoCities Kars Alfrink, Hubbub

Announing Cognitive Cities Salon Amsterdam


Cross-posting this from the CoCities blog:

It is our combined pleasure to introduce you to the speakers that will engage the conversation about the future of cities at De Verdieping on the evening of June 30th.

James Burke, Co-founder of VURB Katalin Galayas, Policy Advisor to the City of Amsterdam Kars Alfrink, ‘Chief Agent’ of Hubbub Edwin Gardner, VOLUME Magazine

The four of them will present their thoughts on urbanity, technology and how we are in the middle of it all. But the Salons are not intended to give only the speakers the stage. While sometimes it is important to only receive curated information, we are very much hoping for a lively debate at the event. Be challenged by the speakers, but also do your best to challenge them.

More details here.

Travel updates


Just a few brief notes: It looks like I’m going to be traveling a fair bit over the next couple of weeks. If you’d like to meet up, here are some good occasions:

Concretely, that’s London FRI-SUN (17-19 June) for Interesting 2011, Zurich MON-FRI (20-24 June, pending) for a client gig, Amsterdam WED-FRI (29 June-1 July) for Cognitive Cities Salon Amsterdam (updates on the CoCities Salon best via Twitter).

I’m really excited about those trips. (Please note that they might still change a fair bit.) If you’re around, feel free to ping me.

Dispatch from the road: NYC


NYC grit

As I’m sitting here in our temporary HQ, a lovely little apartment in the East Village, and it’s pouring down like there is no tomorrow, my mind is buzzing. It’s been a few quite intense weeks, and no end in sight. For weeks, my mental horizon (planning-wise) was Cognitive Cities (CoCities). Naively, I thought things might slow down a little after that. Of course this turned out to be complete nonsense, and instead the followup and our current trip to NYC and Austin for SXSW is just as intense, in a very different way. Exactly one year ago, Igor and I were on basically the same trip – first NYC, then Austin – but over the course of this one year, everything changed. Igor was here for his former employer, I was here as a freelancer. It was here that we first thought that working together might be a great opportunity, and from here that we first started the conversation between Igor, Johannes and myself that eventually (and rather quickly really) led to our starting a company together. And here we are, one year later and just about five months into this new adventure, a week after putting together a conference that hit quite a nerve, or so it seems, judging by the feedback we’ve been getting from the participants and speakers. (Maybe everybody’s just being very polite – but I certainly hope everybody truly enjoyed themselves and took away something for themselves.) Of course our secret agenda for coming to New York is to get some decent beans (Ninth Street ftw!). But in between, we also do a bit of work (hard to believe, huh?) and have the pleasure of meeting some fantastic people. So the last 24 hours already brought us a barcamp (Transportation Camp) and a number of great conversations – many of which bring us back to CoCities, and what we’re planning next. And that’s a kind of a big question, right? There are so many options: same event next year/bigger event/same event but different topic/smaller events/going more commercial/going less commercial (hah!)/going somewhere else/etc etc etc. Personally, I feel more concrete ideas emerging, but overall we haven’t really even had the chance to talk this over with the whole CoCities crew. During these conversations I’ve been learning something, though. (Many things actually, but let me focus on this aspect for the time being.) And that is how much CoCities helps us as a company: We’ve been working a lot under NDAs recently, so we cannot really talk about most our client projects. CoCities gives us something public, widely and openly out there, a manifestation of what we’ve been thinking about. It has, to some degree, become a focal point of our energy, but also of the way we’re perceived as a company and a team. To some degree that was to be expected, but the scope keeps surprising me. And so I can only hope that this conversations keeps going, and that more opportunities for collaboration will emerge from all of this, whatever shape they may take. We’ll be meeting many more people over the next few days in NYC and then head over to SXSW, where – if anything – it’ll get more intense. So for the time being, things won’t slow down. But that’s really ok. Because the way things are going now, I could keep going. Although after SXSW, a good night’s sleep might be in order. So keep those ideas for collaboration coming – let’s bounce ideas and see where we can take it from here.

Cities – where civilization happens


Future Perspectives TN2020: Ben Hammersley from KS12 on Vimeo.

While I’m still processing the Cognitive Cities weekend (which will hopefully result in some blog posts here), I’d like to share this video interview that Gabriel/KS12 shot with the fantastic Ben Hammersley, who kindly moderated the conference.

“Cities, the place where the things that make us human happen. Civilization by definition is cities. That’s where civilization happens.”


Update (3 Mar 2011): Some thoughts and links to photos, videos etc over at Third Wave.