By Jan Peelen
Advisor Infrastructure & the Environment
Royal Netherlands Embassy, Washington, D.C.


A group of 50 representatives of Dutch cities and companies visited Austin, Texas, last week to showcase their expertise and meet with US counterparts at NIST’s Global City Team Challenge and the Austin Smart City Innovation Summit.

The visit was a great success. The Dutch projects received great exposure and the existing transatlantic collaboration on smart cities between US and the Netherlands was strengthened through face-to-face meetings.

From smart design to smart cities

As a Dutch urban planner, I always worked on “smart designs,” creating a spatial design that offered the best results for the city and its residents by combining or separating functions and adding the right facilities (parks, public transportation, etc.).

The concept of smart cities adds a whole other dimension to this principle of “good urban planning.” It incorporates the use of technology and information and communications technology to enhance the performance of the build environment (for example, more energy efficient buildings through the uses of sensors) and the services provided by cities (e.g. more efficient waste management).

This also opens up a whole new range of possibilities on sustainability (energy reduction, smart grids, and new ways to produce sustainable energy), economy (sharing economy), and interaction between residents and public agencies (more direct and interactive).

Cities around the world are discovering the potential benefits of using more technology-based solutions in their urban planning and daily operations, and are on the lookout for new systems that can support them.

However, implementing smart city large projects is not that easy. Most existing smart city applications are still in the pilot phase or tailor made for a specific situation. This makes it difficult to develop a real market for this type of product.

Government officials also have to learn how they can evaluate projects and want to handle some of the side effects of smart city applications, like privacy versus surveillance, cyber security, or how to incorporate ride sharing (Uber, Lyft) in their existing transportation policies.

The meeting in Austin aimed to offer a platform to discuss all these issues. There was an expo where companies could present their solutions and ample workshops and discussion panels on the development, implementation and regulation of smart city applications.

The Netherlands: Leading through collaboration

The Netherlands is often credited for being on the forefront of the smart city movement because it has already deployed a lot of smart city applications on a large scale (monitored highways, national transportation card, etc.).

The Dutch teams that participated in Austin successfully lived up to that reputation. Public-private teams from Amsterdam, Brainport Eindhoven, the Hague and Utrecht showcased some of their work on transportation, energy, big data and security. Next to the quality of the projects, it was the smooth collaboration between public and private parties in all projects that seemed to attract a lot of attention of the American counterparts.

The Dutch preference for working together does not stop at the border. Dutch cities are actively collaborating with several cities in the US, Italy and Indonesia to promote sharing successful smart city solutions. During the Austin event, representatives of these cities met to discuss how they want to develop this collaboration.