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Leiden, Delft and Erasmus to apply ‘big data’ for urban issues

The new inter-university centre set up by Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam is to apply ‘big data’ research for urban issues.

Big, Open and Linked Data

The name of the centre contains the word ‘BOLD’, standing for ‘Big, Open and Linked Data’. The metropolis around the Centre, including the major cities of The Hague and Rotterdam, will constitute both an important living lab and a collaborative area. 

There is a long list of concrete issues that wil be examined, ranging from traffic flows, the quality of schools in different neighbourhoods, the influence of the neighbourhood on residents’ health and the usefulness of social media during major cultural events, to the interaction between citizens, the opportunities for businesses to settle here, energy usage and air quality. Ethical dilemmas will be key to the work of the Centre. The Centre for BOLD Cities will be a virtual network organisation with physical points of contact in the three universities. It will carry out research and develop teaching programmes and will also act as an advisory, research and discussion partner for government bodies, businesses and citizens. 

Liesbet van Zoonen, Erasmus Universiteit

‘Urban big data explosion’

‘BOLD Cities’ is an initiative of twelve university researchers. The lead scientist, Liesbet van Zoonen, Professor of Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, explained the importance of the Centre: ‘There are two important developments. One is that cities are growing in importance, which means that issues relating to urbanisation are also becoming more important. And the second is that cities are making increasing use of all the available data that is generated in the city. They are also putting more data in the public domain so that it is available for the city’s residents. This really does represent an urban big data explosion.'  

Data Science

One of the cornerstones of the centre is data science, a new field that is developing fast, including at the three universities. Leiden, for example, has recently established the Leiden Centre of Data Science. Analytical methods that are developed decentrally complement one another and  the Centre for BOLD Cities brings together the different analytical resources. Jaap van den Herik is Professor of Law and Information Technology at Leiden University and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Leiden centre. ‘Bold cities  call for bold predictions,’ he says. ‘And they are the result of successful research in data science.’

Gideon Shimshon, Centre for Innovation


Gideon Shimshon, Director of the Centre for Innovation, at Leiden University, stresses that the Centre for BOLD Cities is more than a club of scientists: ‘BOLD Cities is also a do-tank where scientists, citizens, companies and government bodies work together on data-driven solutions for urban issues. Co-creation is a key theme here: for example, through our development and test work we explore how new data flows can help us to achieve more peaceful societies. And how we can safeguard the ethical principles of data usage so that we create a positive social impact in the city. From Big Data to Big Impact, but without Big Brother.’  

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