Amsterdam: better than ‘smart’

Since November 2016 I am curator of Amsterdam Smart City. I’ve shared impressions and opinions through a series of blog posts, here on Smart City Hub. Until now, I left the question how smart Amsterdam* does actually be? unanswered.

Amsterdam Smart City

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, a foundation that instantiates cooperation between knowledge institutions, companies and governments.

The strategy of Amsterdam Economic Board and ASC in particular demonstrate a strong preference for bottom-up development of urban policy.

Open data

The concept of 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 as well as for protection of the privacy of residents

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 with respect to ​​traffic and transport to interested parties under the motto We the data, you the apps.

From 2015, data with respect to 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.

An impressive product made with this data is the Energy Atlas, containing all information that is required for making district-related energy plans. With this atlas, the municipality wants to stimulate as many initiatives as possible.

What is a ‘smart city’

In a recent article I have distinguished three types of smart cities.

Smart City 1.0 places a strong emphasis on high-quality technological infrastructure, which seamlessly connects computers, sensors, devices and possibly also people. The use of technology is often justified in retrospect with a reference to the value for tackling urban problems.

In Smart City 2.0, urban problems are the starting points for urban policy and there is an open eye for the use of high-quality technological tools. The priorities are usually different than in the case of Smart City 1.0.

Smart city 3.0 promotes initiatives of citizens (individually, in a neighborhood or as part of a network), companies, and (knowledge) institutions. The municipality facilitates the use of ICT and creates the necessary infrastructure.

How ‘smart’ is Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is not an example of Smart City 1.0. There is no emphasis on the broad introduction of a 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.

It can definitely be said that Amsterdam is developing in the direction of Smart City 3.0. The most important irons in the fire are the cooperation between companies, institutions an government, which is strongly encouraged by Amsterdam Economic Board and 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 ‘pilots’, without an immediate follow-up. More attention is also required for open and critical evaluation of projects. Finally, the idea of ​​smart city only lives to a limited extent among the population.

Get acquainted with the exemplary project Virtual Powerplant

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

Amsterdam: smarter than smart

Metropolitan challenges

Assessing Amsterdam from the perspective of being of a smart city leaves one behind with an unsatisfactory feeling. The focus on the role of technology is disregarding many features that differentiate Amsterdam from other cities. In many ways Amsterdam is ‘smarter’ than smart, for instance the way the region is dealing with five major urban challenges and is deploying technology where it is useful.


The Sustainable Amsterdam Agenda (below) was set in 2015 as the starting point for the new college of mayor and aldermen.

Because of its efforts in the field of energy savings (and the use of open data), the municipality – together with Reijka and Valencia – was among the finalists of the Green Digital Charter Award, eventually won by Reijka.

Development of a circular economy

In 2015, the municipality of Amsterdam explored and established opportunities for 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 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 a number of procedures circular assumptions have played an important role.


Amsterdam has an excellent public transport. This 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 of digital technology in the solution of mobility problems is probably only achieved with the arrival of autonomous cars.

Energy transition

As part of the City-zen project, a ‘roadmap’ has recently been presented for the transition to sustainable energy, as alternative for 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 to opt for inclusive growth as a leitmotif. Almost everywhere in the world economic growth and innovation are accompanied by growing social inequality (‘The winner takes all’). This also applies to Amsterdam, albeit to a lesser extent than in many other metropolitan cities. (Duncan McLaren & Julian Agyeman: Sharing Cities: A case for truly smart and sustainable cities, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 2015)

Amsterdam All-Inclusive

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: well-being, prosperity, justice and digital connectivity, together representing a Charter for Inclusive Growth.

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 following the chosen path.

*) Referring at Amsterdam I mean the metropolitan region. When I focus at the city, I use the term municipality.

**) This article was brought to you by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.

Herman van den Bosch


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *