The Key to Smart Cities: Collaboration

Analyzing the use of collaboration in organizations like Amsterdam Smart City, Appsterdam, and the CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin

In class we’ve learned the definition of a smart city as a city that uses an advanced data infrastructure and innovative technology to make living more comfortable, more sustainable, and more efficient. Throughout the trip, however, I’ve learned that the key to creating a smart city, more than anything, is collaboration. Innovative ideas do not arise from thin air, and neither does the infrastructure that makes these ideas come to life. Organizations like Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) and Appsterdam, and places like the CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin, take the ideals of smart cities and the concept of collaboration to create smart innovation at a new level.

The open-plan office space and natural lighting of CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin. Rooms host different startup companies with shared spaces in the middle for lounging as well as collaboration.

Before analyzing how these organizations use collaboration, it is important to first define what collaboration is. Simple answer, some may say, it is when two or more entities come together to produce or create something. Yet collaboration in the smart city realm is so much more than this. It is about face-to-face interactions, challenging each other, and creating an environment that will produce one’s best ideas. By utilizing these aspects of collaboration, the ASC public-private partnership, Appsterdam, and the CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin can create a unique solution that satisfies the needs of their smart city.

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Caption: Startup companies, established corporates, and individuals can become a member of the Amsterdam Smart City website in order to connect ideas and collaborate to make Amsterdam a smarter city

Having face-to-face interactions is the key to building an ecosystem of people and companies. Tom van Arman, a curator to Amsterdam Smart City and board member of Appsterdam, a tech-event organizer for the Amsterdam Economic Board (which ASC is within), has been apart of Amsterdam’s movement to bring these interactions to the tech community. Appsterdam provides weekly lectures and bar meet ups, peer support, tech events and more to connect App Makers. Have an idea? Interested in a new topic? Go to a bar next Tuesday night and converse with people who have similar interests. Not only does this inspire new thinking in an informal setting, but can serve as a proof of concept trial in the community by gauging others interests. CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin also shows the value of these interactions by combining new start up companies involved in innovative, sustainable technology into one building with an open-plan office space. Different companies sharing spaces allows individuals to bounce ideas off one another as well as seek advice such as funding for startups.

Caption: Programmers, designers, and business developers gather for an opportunity to solve real issues of smart energy, smart mobility and event experience in the Amsterdam Arena.

The second key to collaboration is competition. Tom van Arman helps organize hack-a-thon events that allow app making teams to enter in a challenge for creating the best app solutions for different urban problems in Amsterdam. A competitive environment is a recipe for the best and most innovative ideas, and better yet, they are coming from the community itself. This allows cities to remain agile and create a smart city solution that fits their structure, culture, and personality. North Carolina attempted to create a smart city event by organizing the Triangle Smart City Summit. The summit, however, consisted of a series of lectures and discussions. While great for educating the community on smart cities and creating the face-to-face interactions, it is missing the competitive environment that fosters the best ideas.

The last key is environment. Visiting CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin, it is clear that employees enjoy their workspace. With the shared spaces amongst the different companies, there is constant intermingling that generates a sense of camaraderie and enhances the flow of information, teamwork, and productivity. More exposure to natural lighting also has huge benefits for workers. A study titled, “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life,” concludes that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life. Compare the natural and open environment of Berlin’s CleanTech Innovation Center to Cary’s Innovation Center – which has individualized offices with dark, artificially lit rooms known to alter one’s circadian rhythm thereby altering sleep and quality of life – and its obvious which environment is more conducive for innovation.

Available office space at the Cary Innovation Center – closed off from other offices as well as a strong lack in natural lighting.

Berlin is ranked the ninth smartest city in Europe by optimizing on the creative energy that flows into the city. CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin helps produce concrete ideas and plans from that creative energy by providing an enjoyable workplace that emphasizes collaboration. Amsterdam is ranked the second smartest city in Europe and is within the top five smartest cities in the world. The public-private partnership ASC plays a large role. Yes, the face-to-face interactions, competition, and beneficial environments through organizations like Appsterdam allow individuals to collaborate, create innovative ideas, and produce startups. What ASC does after that, though, is create an innovation platform for startups, thereby optimizing the bottom up approach to smart cities. They can bring together the app makers with the developers and make these ideas come to life. Understanding what true collaboration is makes cities smarter, more agile, and more able to tackle urban issues. That is why these organizations make Berlin and Amsterdam two leaders on the smart city front.

-Sarah Wotus