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3. Share Experiences

“A lot of people see Amsterdam as ahead but we learn as much from other cities as they learn from us,” says Vermast. He gives the example of India, where so much focus is on sanitation, so that the country has built up a lot of expertise. Amsterdam works closely with cities such as Charlotte, Dubai, Dublin and Quito.

It has a well-structured programme whereby it can host visits on a wide range of areas. “What we have found is that lots of people have tried to find the solution,” says Vermast. However, one reason he believes Amsterdam is so popular for presentations and visits is that it is happy to share its failures and disappointments, as well as its successes.

4. A Level Playing Field

A role of government should be to create a fair environment for everyone. For instance, Amsterdam was the first city in the world to charge a tourist tax on Airbnb and it is very strict in enforcing the rule that properties cannot be let for more than 60 days in the year.

With Uber, the city has engaged with the company, particularly to promote electric vehicles. In September, together with Dutch financial institution, LeasePlan, Nissan and energy company, Nuon, Uber launched an expansion of electric vehicles available through the Uber app in the city. The target is to have over 200 electric cars available through the app by the end of 2018 and the current phase of the roll-out will provide useful information about the current charging infrastructure in Amsterdam and the battery capacity of the vehicles for this sort of use.

5. Be Inclusive

The concept of a level playing field also applies to citizens. Smart cities are often about physical nuisances, such as congestion. While it is very annoying to have to spend an extra 15 minutes in traffic, says Vermast, what about the people who can’t afford to travel? “Poverty and social inclusion are among our main priorities.”

For instance, there is currently a pilot to try to tackle personal debt at an early stage. Now, if someone doesn’t pay their rent for three months in a row, the city council is alerted that there might be a problem and a worker is sent to visit. In the past, the city often only engaged when someone was evicted, which clearly has a major impact on the individuals as well as cost implications for the council.

It is early days and there are issues to be resolved around privacy, but there is also a pilot to use big data to try to identify domestic violence within households.

Amsterdam Smart City also engages with homeless people and one response was to put in charging points for mobile phones at tram stops, based on feedback that many homeless people carry mobile phones but have nowhere to charge them. Of course, the initiative also benefits residents and tourists, and there are now moves to add WIFI.

After “ten years on the road”, Vermast is not keen on still using the words “Smart City”. Arguably, acting smartly should just be part and parcel of a city’s operations. Nevertheless, Amsterdam’s achievements set it apart from most other cities in the world to date and that’s not just luck. It looked to develop a strong governance model from the start that allowed it to move onto a long-term sustainable footing that also had the benefit of removing many of the traditional inhibitors to innovation of local government.


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