Amsterdam shows where ‘digital city planning’ is headed

October 5, 2022

With leading initiatives on smart mobility, reduce waste, artificial intelligenceand After, amsterdam The town hall has a worldwide reputation as a leader in public sector innovation.

This is why the Bloomberg City Lab summit will take place in Amsterdam next week. It’s the place for mayors around the world, urban innovators, business leaders, urban experts, artists and activists to learn, share and be inspired to find new ways to tackle challenges. the most difficult in their cities.

Amsterdam is also known as a city on the digital frontier. In fact, the city employs employees whose primary responsibility is to spot new technologies that will impact the city and create opportunities to serve residents in new ways. A big goal is to create new opportunities for residents to participate in decision-making, while protect their digital rights. Another is to discover new ways to protect vulnerable residents. For example, a city ​​collaboration with the World Enabled group uses AI to scan Google Street View images to identify accessibility barriers such as broken sidewalks that need fixing.

Bruno Avila

Bruno Ávila Eça de Matos, head of the city’s new digital innovation team.

Among those leading the digital charge at Amsterdam City Hall is Bruno Ávila Eça de Matos. With a background in technology and urban design, Ávila believes he is the first city official in the world to hold the title of “digital urban planner”. He is also the head of the city’s new digital innovation team, one of six such i-teams. recently funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Being a digital urban planner, says Ávila, means using increasingly common tools like 3D modeling and advanced geographic information systems and finding new ways to engage residents with them. “Being in this role is, for me, an honor and also a challenge,” he says. “Shaping this new function requires reinventing how urban planning and urban design can benefit from technology.

To begin with, Ávila and the i-team are focusing their efforts on a neighborhood called Zuidoost. It is one of the largest and most diverse neighborhoods in Amsterdam. There are also higher poverty rates and fewer economic opportunities than in other parts of Amsterdam. About two-thirds of the 90,000 inhabitants are migrants and 35% of the population is under 35 years old.

Over a period of three years, the i-team will partner with other stakeholders to improve housing, public space and digital infrastructure in Zuidoost. Promoting the use of digital tools in urban planning is their first priority, addressing issues such as equality in the housing market. Housing prices are skyrocketing in Amsterdam. And although Zuidoost has the highest concentration of rent-controlled social housing in the city, the population is expected to increase by 38% in the coming years, which will put increasing pressure on housing availability and prices. .

Ávila says he and his team are taking a three-pronged approach to addressing these challenges. First, they are redoubling their efforts to use human-centered design, an innovation approach that allows city leaders to research, design and prototype solutions alongside residents. This allows the team to focus on solving the issues that matter to the residents and not just chasing flashy tech for its own sake. “We have time to really find the specific need of the residents before proposing a technical solution,” says Ávila.

An idea they are exploring – creating a “digital twin” or virtual replica of the neighborhood – could be used to help residents envision change before it happens, building their capacity to participate meaningfully in the development process.

“There are many possibilities for a digital twin,” says Ávila. “This can make it easier for citizens to contribute to discussions and participate in processes with the same information that government has.”

The second objective of the i-team is to find new ways to better involve other stakeholders. Ávila uses a common cross-sector collaboration framework in Amsterdam—the “quadruple helix– which draws on the unique expertise of government, universities, the private sector and residents to solve problems. “We believe that a beautiful innovation ecosystem brings these groups of actors together,” he says.

Third, i-team members bring different skills and orientations to the job. In addition to Ávila, the Amsterdam i-team includes professionals with knowledge of data science, service design and urban innovation; additional support on communications and software development is provided by the city’s innovation department. The diversity of the team and allowing them to think differently is part of what will help new ideas flow, says Ávila.

“Something I’m learning is how to create a protected ecosystem that fosters innovation in our team,” says Ávila. “We have to take risks, and within a municipality, that can be difficult to do. So we have to create this space where we feel safe to share ideas and where all ideas are welcome.