The Netherlands - Of putting together a smart country

The Netherlands - Of putting together a smart country

In the Netherlands, more and more cities are focusing on smart city strategies. Some are following an unconventional approach: the mayor of Den Bosch, Jack Mikkers, relies on "teddy bear challenges".

"No city wants to be a dumb city." Jack Mikkers was in a really good mood during the presentation of the National Smart Cities Strategy last year. Although the cornerstones of the program, developed by a group of cities, companies, local governments, and scientific institutes, were first presented. Nevertheless, it was possible to set up a co-creation. The five largest cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and Eindhoven) and 32 medium to larger cities are known for playing a leading role. The aim of the Smart City strategy is to sustainably improve the quality of life in Dutch cities, especially through the use of digital technologies. The focus is on cybersecurity, data protection, interoperability (the interplay of different technologies or systems), hyper-connectivity, digital open-source-infrastructure, finance, and standardization.

Mikkers is former Mayor of Veldhoven, a municipality in the province of North Brabant. He was invited, among others, by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to draft a consolidated Smart City Vision for the Netherlands. Said and done. Today Mikkers is mayor of the city 's-Hertogenbosch, colloquially called Den Bosch. The city, which has about 153,000 inhabitants, is also working on becoming "smart". The conditions for doing so do not seem to be bad: 8,000 companies are based in the city, including those that could provide important technologies in the smart city trend - such as SAP, Siemens or Omron Manufacturing, which develops products for industrial automation.

But what makes' Den Bosch a smart city? That's the question we asked Mikkers at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 in Barcelona where we met up with him.

Mr. Mikkers, what does the smart city strategy of 's-Hertogenbosch look like?
As a city government, we have a responsibility to our citizens, but also to the companies and technological institutes. The responsibility is to solve the challenges in society and provide citizens with the best technologies and solutions. We need technologies to solve problems. But we also have to deal very responsibly with the privacy of the citizens. For example: Do we want to have cameras in every corner of the street? How do we properly use algorithms (to interpret data that shed some light on human behavior)? As a government, we see ourselves as a platform to bring together technology companies, technology institutions, and citizens, as well as the government itself, to solve societal challenges.

Does such a platform already exist? 
Well, this is my goal. We start with small projects - "Innovation Labs". There, citizens, companies, technological institutes, and the government can talk together about problems such as traffic jams or those with the parking - to solve them. I call this "Teddy Bear Challenges". It's not about big words like "sustainability", "resilience" or "intelligent mobility". This is too difficult for some citizens.

But when they talk to them about the parking problem or the congestion on their street - then the teddy bears are challenges. This can be described more abstractly - without tackling the big challenges right away. You have to start with the little things.

What are the biggest challenges in the city? 
Security. We have about 155,000 people in 14 neighborhoods. In three neighborhoods we have a security problem. Sometimes I wonder who the "boss" is in these neighborhoods - the government, the police or individual citizens? At least I do not want it to be single people. I want to make our citizens less vulnerable to such influences.

Is your city working with specific companies to implement smart city technologies? 
Yes. SAP, Signify (Dutch manufacturer of lighting, lighting and electronic components, note) and Heijmans (one of the largest construction companies in the Netherlands, note). We work together and share software and hardware. In order to gain insight into a residential area, we need data. So we bring together the data in a residential area and try to solve the problems there. My goal is also to work with the citizens of these neighborhoods. But first, we have to gain their trust.

Let's get to the national level. What were the cornerstones of the National Smart Cities Strategy? 
The strategy was developed by 140 people with different backgrounds: governments, science, economics and so on. We have done quite a few things. First: standardization. For example, there were 24 different traffic light systems in the Netherlands - all of them were "smart" but there was no common standard. If you want to be attractive to companies as a government, something has to be done here.

Secondly, the Netherlands is a country that enjoys a very high level of trust (international, note) in which values play an important role. So, if such a strategy works in the Netherlands, it can be the same in many other countries around the world. What we implement in smart cities can, to some extent, be exported to other countries. This, in turn, is good for the economic situation. Third, the Netherlands, with 17 million inhabitants, is a small country. There must be a "smart" country - instead of 380 different smart cities.