Smart City Amsterdam is a comprehensive initiative aimed at transforming the Dutch capital into a more sustainable, livable, and innovative urban environment through the use of advanced technologies and data-driven solutions. This initiative focuses on areas such as smart mobility, sustainable energy, and digital innovation to improve the quality of life for residents and create a more prosperous and resilient city. This article provides an overview of the Amsterdam smart city projects initiative, its key priorities, and the companies and technologies driving its success.
Is Amsterdam a smart city?
Yes, Amsterdam is considered one of the leading smart cities in the world, with a strong focus on sustainability, innovation, and citizen participation. Here are some examples of evidence and facts that support this claim:
Amsterdam has a comprehensive smart city strategy that includes several key focus areas, such as smart mobility, circular economy, digital connectivity, and citizen participation. The city has set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, increasing renewable energy production, and improving air and water quality.
Amsterdam has a well-developed smart mobility ecosystem, with initiatives such as shared mobility services, smart parking, and electric vehicle infrastructure. The city is also piloting autonomous vehicles and smart traffic management systems to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.
Amsterdam has a thriving startup ecosystem, with several incubators and accelerators that focus on smart city technologies. The city has also established an innovation district called Amsterdam Science Park, which is home to several research institutions and high-tech companies.
Amsterdam is a leader in circular economy initiatives, with programs such as the Amsterdam Smart City Circular Challenge, which encourages startups and entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions for waste reduction and resource management.
Amsterdam has a strong focus on citizen participation and engagement, with initiatives such as the Amsterdam Smart City Lab, which provides a platform for citizens to co-create and test new smart city solutions. The city also uses digital tools and platforms to facilitate citizen feedback and participation in policy-making and decision-making processes.
Amsterdam Smart City is being realized through a partnership among businesses, authorities, research institutions, and the people of Amsterdam (over 70 partners, including CISCO and IBM). This partnership aims to transform the Amsterdam metropolitan area into a smart city with the ultimate goal of reducing CO2 emissions. Amsterdam’s smart city platform connects all of the city’s stakeholders through ‘smart’ collaborations; it brings them together to develop and implement shared ideas and solutions for the city.
Currently, the program comprises 32 projects that encompass innovative ideas and new business models across Amsterdam’s neighborhoods. These projects fall within seven’ areas of interest’: Smart Mobility, Smart Living, Smart Society, Smart Areas, Smart Economy, Big & Open Data, and Infrastructure (water, roads, energy, ICT). They are initially tested on a small scale, and the ones that prove to be effective will be extended to include other areas.
All projects are built around informing citizens, entrepreneurs, and the public sector about their energy consumption and educating them about managing it more prudently. To achieve this, smart devices and wireless meters transmit information over broadband networks helping citizens and organizations of the city to behave more ‘intelligently’ by reducing their energy consumption. Two notable projects of Amsterdam Smart City are the ‘Climate Street’ and the ‘West Orange’ project. They are a commercial and residential area, respectively, where smart and energy-saving technologies were introduced along with smart meters and energy displays to encourage users to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint.
Some examples of companies and initiatives driving the success of the amsterdam smart city initiative include:
- The Amsterdam Smart City Alliance, a network of businesses, government agencies, and research institutions that collaborate on smart city projects and initiatives.
- The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS), a research institute that focuses on developing sustainable and livable cities.
- The Amsterdam Economic Board, a public-private partnership that promotes innovation and economic development in the Amsterdam metropolitan region.
Some interesting facts and statistics related to the amsterdam smart city projects include:
- The city aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 55% by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050.
- Amsterdam has one of the highest rates of cycling in the world, with over 40% of all trips made by bike.
- The city has over 2,000 electric vehicle charging points, making it one of the most EV-friendly cities in Europe.
- Amsterdam was named the European Capital of Innovation in 2016 for its commitment to promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Amsterdam Smart City strategy represents a forward-thinking and ambitious plan to create a more sustainable and livable urban environment. Through the use of advanced technologies and data-driven solutions, the city is working towards a future that is both prosperous and environmentally responsible.
A community approach
Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) describes itself as an innovation platform for a future-proof city. The platform is based upon a rapidly growing community of 400 organizations and more than 5000 individuals, including many startups. Community members have initiated many projects, including internationally renowned ones like Circular Amsterdam and City-zen.
ASC cooperates with Amsterdam Economic Board, which instantiates cooperation between knowledge institutions, companies, and governments.
The strategy of the Amsterdam Economic Board and ASC, in particular, demonstrate a strong preference for bottom-up development of urban policy.
The concept of the smart city refers to the advanced deployment of technology in urban policy. For this purpose, the municipality of Amsterdam has appointed chief technology and chief information officers. It is exemplary in the field of open data and opts for accessibility, interoperability, and transparency of data and the protection of residents’ privacy.
The Open Data for Transport and Mobility program won the Green Digital City Award in 2012 at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona. Through this program, the municipality makes available all data concerning traffic and transport to interested parties under the motto We the data, you the apps.
Since 2015, data concerning traffic and transport, public space, buildings, health care, environment, permits, and many others can be found on the portal City-Data. It is built with open software, and the source code is available to everyone. To promote data use, Amsterdam collaborates with universities, companies, and institutions in a data lab.
A unique product made with this data is the Energy Atlas, containing all the required information for making district-related energy plans. With this atlas, the municipality wants to stimulate as many initiatives as possible.
How smart is Amsterdam City
Amsterdam is not an example of Smart City 1.0. There is no emphasis on the broad introduction of digital infrastructure. The predicate Smart City 2.0 is eligible neither. In dealing with urban problems, information and communication technology plays a role, but it does not come to the forefront pre-eminently.
Amsterdam is developing in the direction of Smart City 3.0. The most important irons in the fire are the cooperation between companies, institutions, and government, strongly encouraged by Amsterdam Economic Board and the Amsterdam Smart City community.
However, there is still a long way to go. Many projects like the Virtual Powerplant are at an initial stage or are pioneers without an immediate follow-up. More attention is also required for honest and critical evaluation of projects. Finally, the idea of a smart city only lives to a limited extent among the population.
Smart City Amsterdam, Netherlands
3.007 Smart Points
Amsterdam: a bit smarter than smart
Assessing Amsterdam from the perspective of being a smart city leaves one behind with a bad feeling. The focus on the role of technology is disregarding many features that differentiate Amsterdam from other cities. Amsterdam is smarter than smart in many ways, for instance, the way the region is dealing with five major urban challenges and is deploying technology where it is useful.
Development of a circular economy
In 2015, the municipality of Amsterdam explored and established opportunities for a circular economy in Amsterdam Circular: Vision and roadmap for the city and region. On this basis, dozens of projects have started, albeit mostly on a small scale. All projects were evaluated in 2017. The report Amsterdam circular; evaluation and action perspectives concluded that a circular economy is a realistic perspective. The city has also won the World Smart City Award for Circular Economy for this approach – through small-scale initiatives working on metropolitan goals. Meanwhile, the first results in the field of circular construction are visible. In many procedures, circular assumptions have played an important role.
Amsterdam has excellent public transport that makes extensive use of ICT to inform customers and optimize business operations. The national public transport chip card, valid for all forms of public transport, is unique worldwide. With the Smart Mobility program, the municipality wants to strengthen the contribution of (information) technology to tackling traffic problems. However, a substantial breakthrough in digital technology in mobility problems is probably only achieved with the arrival of autonomous cars.
As part of the City-zen project, a ‘roadmap’ has recently been presented for the transition to sustainable energy as an alternative to the use of fossil fuels. It is anticipated that the metropolitan region will no longer have CO2 emissions in 2040 and can meet its own energy needs.
Amsterdam Economic Board has proposed Amsterdam for inclusive growth as a leitmotif. Almost everywhere globally, economic growth and innovation are accompanied by growing social inequality.
Amsterdam All-Inclusive Smart City
An urban policy perspective focused on inclusiveness goes beyond the ambition to be smart. The description I have given elsewhere of inclusiveness is rooted in four perspectives on development and policy: wellbeing, prosperity, justice, and digital connectivity, together representing a Charter for Inclusive Growth.
Charter for inclusive growth
- work and sufficient income
- adequate and affordable housing, education, healthcare, and transportation
- a livable and healthy environment
- protection against extreme events and chronic problems
- lifelong and comprehensive education and development
- circular growth based upon reuse and raw materials
- sustainable energy and respect for nature
- high-quality food, goods, and services
- the disappearance of poverty and extreme wealth
- democracy and self-government
- decreasing differences in income
- respectful cooperation
- sharing and, where possible joint management and commodities
- general availability of ICT and other digital resources
- access to superfast and save internet
- personalized ownership of data
- right to withdraw data
- alignment of technology and data with human interests
The only question that remains is when inclusiveness has been reached. The answer to this question is perhaps never. More important is to place dots on the horizon and, once these are reached, to put new dots again, reflecting new insights and changing priorities of a new generation. The only thing to do now is to follow the chosen path.
Amsterdam smart city projects
Amsterdam introduced the term smart city dates back more than 20 years ago, but a common definition capable of explaining its meaning is still missing. We can find many interpretations in the scholarly literature, which has generated an extremely confusing scenario. However, by considering the comparative analyses proposed in recent studies, despite some differences, these definitions seem to share a similar idea of what smart cities are: urban areas in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) are used as a tool for providing a solution to the multi-faceted problems that limit their sustainable development in social, economic, and environmental terms.
In recent years, transforming ordinary urban environments in smart cities has become a priority for a growing number of local governments and an ambitious aim that they are trying to achieve by launching specific strategies characterized by many different approaches. In a short time, smart cities have become an expanding phenomenon in the real world. According to the data provided by Lee and Hancock, more than 140 urban areas worldwide have launched a smart city strategy before 2013, and at 2014 reported, 240 of the 486 cities with a population above 100,000 inhabitants and belonging to the EU Member States were working in this field before 2014. A growing trend is evident in the number of cases and scholarly literature dealing with smart cities.
However, even if smart city research is growing together with the interest of an ever-broader scientific community, the level of knowledge concerning the possible ways in which smart city strategies can be implemented is very limited. In the literature produced to date, there is an evident lack of explicit and holistic procedures that can guide the actors involved in developing smart city strategies toward successful results. This consideration is valid for any city, whether small, medium, or large, precisely as observed by Kitchin: research on smart cities has four shortcomings an absence of in-depth empirical case studies of specific smart city initiatives and comparative research that contrasts smart city developments in different locales”. Still, they are characterized by a low level of detail and come mainly from the gray literature produced by the corporate sector. Consequently, two relevant research questions call for a quick response: what are the essential steps to consider for developing successful smart city strategies? And how are they organized?
By focusing attention on large cities, one study contributes to filling this knowledge gap. Specifically, the activities undertaken while implementing the successful smart city strategy proposed by the City of Amsterdam have been mapped and organized in a step-by-step roadmap.
This made it possible to obtain:
- A detailed description of the entire development process.
- Useful knowledge to consider in other similar initiatives.
- A possible conceptual framework for supporting future comparative research.
This activity represents an important step towards constructing an empirically valid theory able to explain how to develop smart city strategies in large European cities in the best way possible.
In the case of Amsterdam, the smart city strategy is called the “Amsterdam Smart City program,” and the idea to start this initiative was developed in 2007, thanks to the collaboration between the Amsterdam Innovation Motor and the energy-network operator Liander the municipal administration. Supported by the belief that “ICTs improve the way cities function,” these three organizations have become the initiators of a currently underway strategy and the main driving force behind all the activities that are carried out to guarantee its progressive implementation.
Their decision to transform Amsterdam into a smart city has been supported by political commitment and a clear motivation: the desire to use ICTs to help the city solve its environmental problems and build an urban environment that is “definitely sustainable”. Technology has been identified as “a key enabler to address climate issues”, and the smart city strategy has become an opportunity to achieve the strategic objectives defined by the City of Amsterdam in a faster way. Moreover, despite the change in the municipal administration which occurred in 2010, the municipality’s commitment to the use of information technologies for promoting environmental sustainability has remained stable over time and emerged in many policy documents.
After clarifying the motivation for launching the smart city strategy, the three initiators have acquired full responsibility for its development, starting from the planning phase. The planning activities started in 2008 and have been implemented by a specific team composed of various working groups belonging to each founding organization. For example, the Climate Office of the municipality of Amsterdam and the ICT Cluster of the Amsterdam Innovation Motor, both established in 2008. The first is part of the Physical Planning Department. It has the task of undertaking projects and initiatives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Amsterdam’s city. The second, instead, formed the core of the ICT activities in the AIM and was responsible for generating and managing new projects linked to this sector. Since 2013, when the AIM and the KennisKring Amsterdam (Amsterdam Knowledge Network Foundation) were merged to become the Amsterdam Economic Board, this working group has been included in the new ICT/e-Science Cluster.
Different activities have been conducted during the planning phase. First of all, Amsterdam’s smart city strategy has been correctly included within the strategic framework of the city and aligned with its priorities for intervention, with particular reference to the need to contrast climate change through a significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. This framework represents the result of the convergence of several strategies proposed at the local and European levels to address the problems reported in the initial motivation.
As pointed out by Joke van Antwerpen, Director of the Amsterdam Innovation Motor, “Amsterdam Smart City is closely linked to the New Amsterdam Climate program, which states clear climate goals for the city of Amsterdam and encourages change in the energy consumption of citizens”. This program focuses attention on a specific goal to achieve and a long-term vision to realize: “in recent years it has become urgently clear that we must find an answer to the climate problem. Together with many other parties in our city, the city executive of Amsterdam wants to face this challenge. We have committed ourselves to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40 % in 2025. In this way, Amsterdam can be turned into “one of the most sustainable cities in the world” by 2025.
The smart city strategy has been aligned with the objectives, priorities, and vision proposed in the New Amsterdam Climate program. The strategy, indeed, looks forward to 2025, and its ultimate goals are:
- to support the reduction of energy wastage and carbon-dioxide emissions in the metropolitan area of Amsterdam;
- to promote sustainable economic growth based on technological innovation, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by ICTs and changing citizens’ behaviors to induce more sustainable lifestyles.
Moreover, the analysis of carbon-dioxide emissions included in the New Amsterdam Climate program has been used to select the fields of action, which correspond to “the largest CO2 emitters in the city”: living spaces; working spaces; mobility; and public spaces. These fields “are estimated to account for a third of the city’s emissions each”.
To achieve these goals, a specific approach has been defined based on the continuous and constant development of ICT-based projects. Each project and the technological solutions which characterize it are tested during an initial pilot phase. At the end of the test period, the results obtained are analyzed, and the best initiatives are considered for a subsequent implementation phase on a large scale. Furthermore, four key principles have been selected for guiding the development of both the strategy and individual projects:
- Collective effort: a highly collaborative approach is considered fundamental for achieving results. For this reason, cooperation between the public and private sectors is constantly stimulated and supported in every project, together with the involvement of citizens (Public-Private-People Partnership);
- Economic viability: only the most advantageous projects can be considered for potential large-scale implementation;
- Tech push/pull demand: the action against climate change has to be supported through technological innovation and the stimulation of behavioral change;
- Knowledge dissemination: sharing and spreading the knowledge acquired during the path towards the smart city transformation is considered an action of crucial importance.
To ensure the high involvement of citizens during projects and stimulate a change in their behavior, a Living Lab methodology has been chosen. In this way, technological solutions can be tested in a real-life environment through the active involvement of the city’s inhabitants. As suggested by Joost Brinkman, Manager of the Amsterdam Smart City program between 2009 and 2011, “the essence of the Amsterdam approach is that Living Labs are being used for the projects. Involving citizens is essential since the tested technologies are useless without acceptance and experience”. This choice is consistent with the objectives of the strategy and its key principles.
Another important activity that has been carried out during the planning phase is the definition of a new organization able to ensure the proper implementation of projects, which is described as an “open platform that unites public and private parties and acts independently”. This organization has been called Amsterdam Smart City and is structured as a foundation. Moreover, it has been split into various working groups with specific roles and responsibilities: Focus Group; Sponsor Group; Communication Group, Project Group, and Work Group.
All the groups have been activated during the third phase and are composed mainly of representatives from the AIM, Liander, and other external consultants. These include Accenture, which is one of the world’s largest consulting firms in the fields of ICTs. As reported by Joke van Antwerpen: “we chose Accenture for its innovative thinking in helping city authorities and utilities come together in responding to climate change challenges, as well as its expertise in smart-grid and smart-metering technologies”. Along with Accenture, the independent research institute TNO has been selected as a strategic partner, but to play a different role: “to make sure that the research results would be recorded, underpinned, and shared based on a rigid scientific foundation”.
Finally, the procedure leading to the production, selection, and implementation of project ideas has been precisely defined, together with a methodology for monitoring and evaluating the results of projects. Both are discussed in the next sections.
Development of Projects phase
Amsterdam’s smart city strategy is based on the continuous development of ICT-based projects that enable the introduction of new applications, services, devices, and technological infrastructures within the city in the short and medium-term. To ensure their proper coordination and implementation, the Amsterdam Smart City Foundation has been activated. In this way, the strategy has moved “from the holistic view [of the planning phase] to concrete projects”.
To select and implement projects, the foundation uses the procedure defined during the planning phase. Each potential project starts with a Concept Development Phase, during which the project idea is explored in detail. Ideas can be developed by the Amsterdam Smart City Foundation or submitted by external entities. Mainly considering feasibility, costs, and CO2 reduction potential, the Focus Group has the task of approving or rejecting the proposal. If approved, the foundation identifies the most appropriate project partners and invites them to participate, collecting their applications. Once the working group is in place, the Execution Phase begins. In this second phase, the roles and responsibilities of the various partners are specified in a Project Initiation Document, which has to be signed by each of them. The project management activities have to be carried out by one of the partners. The foundation, instead, works transversally by providing support, monitoring, and general planning of all the project activities.
Projects are funded by several companies and governmental organizations that are involved in their implementation. The Amsterdam Smart City Foundation is assured of obtaining commitment and resources from a partner by signing an agreement in which the collaboration details are specified. The signature of the agreements and the Project Initiation Document by the working group’s members allow a project to be started according to the priorities established by the foundation with an overall action plan.
The development of projects is an activity that has continued to grow over time. Sixteen projects have been concluded between 2009 and 2011, but there are now more than 70. This growth has occurred in parallel with the increasing number of new public and private organizations interested in actively supporting Amsterdam’s smart city strategy. In 2011, there were about 70 active partners, and over the years, the number has increased to more than 160. These include grid operators and utilities, governmental organizations, housing corporations, universities, financial institutions, telecom and ICT companies, transport and waste management companies, and technology startups.
Monitoring and Evaluation phase
The monitoring of progress and the evaluation of results are performed periodically, thanks to the collaboration between the Amsterdam Smart City Foundation and the project partners. These activities are carried out using the procedure established during the planning phase and allow to: establish if the actions taken have produced a positive result; review the distance to the final target in terms of CO2 emissions reduction, and select which projects should be developed at the urban or regional level. All the results achieved through the individual projects in the period 2009– 2011 have been published in a single report distributed through the initiative’s website. This report includes the value cases of each project. It has also been used to present a comprehensive assessment of the work done concerning the overall objectives of the strategy.
The value case is an expanded business case used to estimate the potential for saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions offered by the technological solutions used in a project. They are based on four indicators:
- energy-saving, per unit, in the pilot: depends on the pilot, a unit could be a household, a company, a school, or something else;
- the total reduction of CO2 emissions: this expresses the total CO2 emissions in tons that the pilot prevented;
- realistic scaling up: the amount of CO2 in tons that will be prevented if the pilot were to be done in the whole of Amsterdam [considering] less than optimistic assumptions;
- maximum scaling up same as realistic scaling up, but this time with somewhat more naive assumptions, such as that everyone would participate in any given measure.
Suppositions represent the expectations regarding “how effectively the implemented systems will work” and are usually defined by considering the data acquired during the pilot phase.
Moreover, it is important to note that Amsterdam’s smart city strategy is managed with a dynamic approach. The various stages are never definitively closed but are subjected to a continuous process of review and adjustment aimed at improving the structure and functioning of the strategy. For example, the fields of action have been changed four years after the beginning of the initiative. They have now increased from four to seven: smart mobility, smart living, smart society, big and open data, smart areas, smart economy, and infrastructures.
In the case of Amsterdam, all gained knowledge and learnings are shared broadly. Knowledge sharing represents a transversal and continuous activity that the Amsterdam Smart City Foundation carries out from the beginning of Phase 3. The aim is to inform and “to get free publicity” and encourage the creation of new alliances.
Conference events are one of the main communication tools used to spread the knowledge associated with the strategy and promote the work. Indeed, the Amsterdam Smart City Foundation has participated in more than 50 national and international conferences. During these conferences, the features of Amsterdam’s smart city strategy have been described in-depth, namely: objectives; priorities for action; strategic principles; financial strategy; planning of activities; stakeholders; and results achieved with projects. These data and information are also disseminated with the continual production of articles, news, press releases, and reports. These informative documents are incorporated mainly into a single web platform dedicated to the smart city strategy. This interactive portal has been developed between 2009 and 2010 and has continuously improved, expanded, and updated over the years.
What is more, the following means are also used: a newsletter service; presentations and guided tours for organizations that express an interest in becoming partners of the initiative; meetings with all the partners; competitions, meetings, and workshops organized to stimulate the active participation of citizens, as well as international conferences such as the Smart City Event, which is now in its fifth edition; social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter; and finally, a dedicated YouTube channel used to release new videos periodically.