Using data to keep our cities clean

Posted on: March 13, 2018 by Albert Seubers

Creating and maintaining clean spaces requires a partnership between city services and citizens. Sharing data within communities can make this partnership more effective..

The cleanliness of our streets is central to our experience of day-to-day life in cities – and an important factor in attracting visitors and maintaining a positive image. So, what makes a city clean?

Informed choices

Today’s clean cities promote a healthy environment, with good air quality and no littering. Air quality is highly impacted by traffic and, in some cases, by household heating systems.

With the right information at our fingertips, we can participate in looking after that environment by adjusting our daily routines. For example, using data to make more informed decisions about how and when we travel, or about how we can save on energy to lower our city’s carbon footprint.

Transitioning energy

Energy transition is one important element in creating a cleaner and healthier city. This means reducing levels of pollution from carbon-based energy sources and changing to renewable sources where possible. Energy transition requires not only the availability and accessibility of new energy sources, but also a change in the mindset of citizens to use alternative energy sources and reduce energy use.

Communities of citizens already exist in many cities to invest in renewable energy systems and to buy energy collectively. In parallel, smart-meters that provide real-time feedback on energy consumption help citizens to understand the impacts of their consumption levels.

Increasing sustainability

The City of Grenoble launched a large-scale smart grid between the historic city and the science campus to develop sustainable living solutions. Initially, 500 new-generation smart meters were installed providing information to raise awareness and inform the public. By making this information accessible while respecting the privacy of individuals and protecting their data, the project will enable everyone in the city to get more involved and become more aware.

With air quality already under threat in some places, travel needs to be reduced (especially at peak times), with switching to more sustainable forms of mobility. Cities tend to change their own vehicles to be more electrified or hybrid and public transport is also becoming greener.

Holistic approaches

Data is a powerful weapon against the more visible pollution caused by litter. Sensors that indicate a bin is full create data that enables waste collection services to optimize routes and reduce mileage. However, these services need an incentive to do so that is agreed as part of the contract. Even greater benefits can be realized if trucks only drive at times when they have the least impact on traffic levels, making the contract beneficial for both the city and the contracted partner. At the same time, using the data on whether bins are full or not creates a whole new element of servicing. If people can check at their front door whether the bin is full, this enhances citizens’ experience while also preventing people leaving rubbish next to full bins. In turn, if citizens have this information, there can be tighter enforcement with penalties for those who do leave their rubbish next to a full bin.

These more holistic approaches can be applied to every facet of city life which connects citizens, devices and services. Through these connections, cities can foster a sense of pride and community that further empowers and motivates citizens to take more responsibility for ensuring that their city is clean.

You can read more about our vision for the Data-Driven City and how to harness data for the benefit of everyone in cities in our new opinion paper, MyCity: a Data-Driven City.

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About Albert Seubers
Director Global Strategy IT in Cities and member of the Scientific Community
Albert H Seubers (1959) graduated at Agricultural University Wageningen in 1985. Ever since he worked in IT consultancy focused on governmental topics. He worked for Dutch Telecom implementing the first fiber networks in Netherlands, for CMG as director in the Public Sector Service group, for HP as Public Sector executive before he joined Atos. Since 2011 he is Director Global Strategy IT in Cities for Atos. The Atos MyCity program focusses on the virtuous circle of managing a city on all aspects as safety, citizen services, employment, education, social and health care, transport and traffic, sustainability and governance and economics. Engaging citizens and business communities to create and maintain a sustainable, safe and prosperous city is the key message in Atos MyCity. In his role he works with cities all over the world to help them define their strategy often referred to as a Smart City Strategy or find solutions to support their strategy. Albert is a strong believer in the fact that data is enabler for successfully creating the city of the future.

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