Who owns the digital city?
8. September 2016
By William Schou
We must define and design the relation between the citizens and data, support new business opportunities by co-creating across the public and private sector with a focus on the citizens. Last but not least we should use the digitization to empower the citizens to interact with their city. These were the key takeaways from the BLOXHUB morning debate ”Who Owns The Digital City”.

The aim of the debate was to explore the potentials and challenges around the enormous amount of data being generated and how to define the ownership of data between the citizens, the public and private sector.

Bloxhub mornings
Hub director of BLOXHUB Torben Klitgaard welcomed a packed room with croissants and coffee to a morning debate about the increasing digitization of our cities.

The relation between me and data
A panel of three experts was invited to clarify the many opportunities and challenges data-driven cities stand before. Martin Brynskov, Associate Professor at Aarhus University, started of by saying that Copenhagen is frontrunner in developing smart cities. He underlined that the good examples are still hard to find, but when looking at liveability in the city globally we are leading in Danish cities.

As for the challenges with digitization he pointed towards the missing ownership of the data as the biggest issue at the moment, and that we simply do not know how to manage it. ”The cities are machines that build data. And it is really important to know how the machine is working. That citizens can use and delete data” says Brynskov and continues ”First thing we need to figure out is the relation between me (the citizen) and the data”.

End users and new business opportunities
Søren Nørgaard Madsen, IoT & Smart City Strategist, Solution Innovation, TDC Group concurred with that assesment and stated that he was hopeful for the future, ”we see possibilities and business opportunities”. The municipalities use data for administration and would like to turn that into new city solutions and services. TDC gets involved with the municipalities in co-creating new services focusing on the citizens. ”It is all about liveability”, Madsen stated.

A good example is the new methods of meassuring quality of air. With a small and simple tool, cities will be able to identify variuos particles in different parts of the cities. Madsen believes most things will be connected within the next two to five years. He firmly believes in the cities rights to own data but at the same time advocates for openness and colllaborations with businesses. But as for the example with the air polution case, the data will still – as the business model looks right now – end up being owned by the private company.

Bloxhub mornings panel
We are at the very beginning of smart cities and the path forward is long, the panel agreed.

Empowering the citizens to act
Liselott Stenfeldt, Team leader & Architect MAA at Alexandra Instituttet, Interactive Spaces Lab pointed out that smart cities are about giving the citizens the power to act. She highlights an example from Austria, where sensors are installed on bicycles together with a spray can. When the bicyclist passes a bump in the road, the sensor reacts. It leaves a physical mark at the concrete place and informs the municipality about the location. ”It empowers people to interact with the city, which makes it a strong example” Stenfeldt says. But how do we collect data and at the same time protect the citizens from being constantly controlled or even surveilled: ”Where are the limits for data?” she asked.

Underlining the challenges of how to go about the development of smart cities, Stenfeldt expressed a more holistic approach ”let’s talk about visions for our lives. Not just the solutions”. Madsen quickly replicated ”vision is good, but we also need to do something”.

Digitization is here to stay
Whether we came much closer to answering the question Who Owns The Digital City? is unclear.
Some of the keywords of the discussion were collaboration and investments. Madsen believes that the Danish tradition of collaborations between the private and the public sector is the key to innovation, also in regards to educating the public about smart city solutions ”everyone needs to know what API is (Application programming interface, ed.).
Stenfeldt was probably the panelist who came closest to answering the main question of the day, by saying ”a place shouldn't have owners, some places should be for all”.

Facts about BLOXHUB mornings:
The first of four scheduled events this fall, under the BLOXHUB Mornings initiative, took place the 23rd of August in The newly opened Copenhagen innovation hub – BLOXHUB. BLOXHUB mornings is a co-created event between the Resident Members of the hub. This event was organized by Danish Design Centre, Danish Architectural Centre, Copenhagen Solutions Lab and The International Federation of Housing and Planning.