The city: economically successful and sustainable?

3 min reading time

More than fifty percent of the world’s population lives in large cities. By 2050 that figure will exceed seventy percent. The world’s biggest hundred cities together account for some forty percent of the global economy. But this success has its flipside. How can we ensure that economic vitality can actually enhance the sustainability and liveability of cities?

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There are two streets in Rotterdam and The Hague that are resident at the top of the fifty dirtiest streets in the Netherlands. These are busy and frequently congested traffic arteries where the air quality is a regular cause for concern – the flipside of the economic success of these cities.

Buses and lorries

People quickly point the finger at the harmful emissions of the vans and trucks, but closing such an artery to this commercial traffic would have an enormous effect on the logistics and thus the economy – irrespective of whether such a measure would have the required effect.

An integrated approach

Kees d’Huy, director of Smart Cities at TNO: ‘We are able to gain much better insight into the composition of the local traffic, on the one hand, and the specific environmental situation, on the other. This makes much more effective, less radical interventions possible. From that perspective we aim to work with local authorities, businesses and other stakeholders to take a comprehensive approach to getting these particular streets off the top fifty list. If that works, then the other streets on the list can also be tackled in a similar way.’

Bustling metropolitan regions

Urban density leads to a whole range of problems in terms of public health, environment, accessibility, housing, inconvenience, crime and other aspects. In the metropolitan regions around Amsterdam, Rotterdam-The Hague, Eindhoven and Utrecht, ecosystems are currently developing, according to d’Huy, in which economic innovation targeted through public-private partnerships is aligned with the development of the urban infrastructure.

‘The nice thing is that these regions are able to link their local urgency to the development of new economic activity. As TNO, we are therefore keen to be part of such initiatives. In addition we have a very specific international involvement in large-scale smart urbanisation programmes in, for instance, Singapore and Shenzhen in China.’

Mutually connected

In areas like mobility, energy, environment, health and data processing, TNO produces innovations that transcend the individual subsystems. d’Huy: ‘We are able to model and simulate subsystems well, but we now have the resources to also look at the relationships between them. As in an area development programme in Shenzhen where we are looking at urban accessibility and circulation in combination with air quality and noise in a multimodal approach. In doing so we are, among other things, looking at how the built environment design and infrastructure is associated with the use of various modes of transport, and in which way it has an impact on the quality of the environment.’

Smart City Operating System

In this respect, d’Huy sees a significant role for ICT. ‘The city is a gigantic source of big data and can therefore be measured in all its facets in real time. The City Operating System that we are developing with international partners means that using sensors and models, we can predict developments in the city. The challenge is then to get all that information and insight to citizens, businesses and governors at the right time in the right place and in the right form.’

Close collaboration

It is always a matter of taking concrete steps, in collaboration with local authorities and businesses. d’Huy: ‘In Rotterdam, for example, we do that through making a popular square climate neutral and in Shenzhen comprehensive area development for a whole district.’

3 Perspectives

In tackling the urbanisation issue, TNO has opted to concentrate on three concrete perspectives. This in order to effectively and comprehensively use the knowledge, resources and focus it has to hand.

  1. Sustainable Urban Mobility and Accessibility (SUAM): accessible, healthy and vital cities. How can we keep our cities accessible for people and goods yet stay within the norm for exposure to harmful emissions?
  2. Smart Urban Energy (SUE): innovative solutions for sustainable and affordable energy supply in the urban environment. Sustainable Energy = Space, and space in the city is not only scarce but is also multiple used. How can cities best employ the range of energy-saving measures and, for instance, make a whole city district energy neutral?
  3. Smart Urban Systems (SUS): collaborate on data-controlled cities. Large and small cities embrace ICT as a panacea to solve problems related to liveability, safety and accessibility. Big data, the Internet of Things and sensor technology are taking the magic words. TNO has bundled all the expertise in these domains and fields to concretely advance cities. Combining and sharing data in our Smart City Operating System leads to innovative solutions.
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Kees d' Huy MSc
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