Universiteit Leiden

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‘We are researching digitalisation in the city’

Liesbet van Zoonen is Director of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities. The Centre was founded in 2016 and has made a name for itself with such innovations as data walks and the ‘Your Neighbourhood – Your Data’ game and conducts research together with the Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the municipalities of Rotterdam and The Hague.

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE) Centre for BOLD Cities uses data research to help find solutions to urban challenges. The perspective of city dwellers and governors are central here. BOLD stands for Big Open and Linked Data. Liesbet van Zoonen: ‘Many of the major developments in society are happening in cities, and this is also the domain of the Centre for BOLD Cities. We are researching the effects of digitalisation and the rapid rise of data use in cities. We are doing this for, by and with citizens and governors. We often focus on social challenges and thus fit within the themes of Digital and Inclusive Society.’

A say in digitalisation

‘Goal 11 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is sustainable cities and communities. That is our field. We translate sustainable into lasting solutions that are guaranteed and embedded in society. Digitalisation and datafication are taking place out of sight of most people. That is true for both citizens and governors. Academia can play a role in generating awareness of the impact of these developments and have a say in the debate on what is effective and desirable with regard to smart cities.’

Privacy and ethical issues in smart cities

‘Important developments for our centre are the increasing influence of technology in our society and the new issues associated with this. In a city, you see this immediately with the arrival of Uber and Airbnb, but it is also taking place behind the scenes: municipalities that want to reduce costs in the social sector and are seeking IT solutions for this, but are struggling with transparency, privacy and ethical issues. Another development that is relevant to our centre is the drop in social cohesion in the city. There is an increasing cultural and economic divide, when the city can actually be a connecting factor, particularly with such a large range of migration backgrounds.’  

We don’t just limit ourselves to the region

‘We want to attract more young researchers who conduct joint research. We therefore want to expand our network in the faculties of the three universities. This is also because we are going to focus more on teaching, with a new minor, for example, which is a combination of modules in the field of data, science, social sciences and ethics. We don’t just limit ourselves to the region when it comes to collaboration: I am also coordinator of the Digital Cities & Communities theme in the Association of Universities The Netherlands (VSNU) Digital Society programme. This will lead to a national network of other universities. This also applies to the ‘Making Smart Cities Shared’ project that we are currently working on with a number of institutes.’

This article previously appeared in the autumn magazine [in Dutch]  of the LDE partnership.

Photo: www.quotecatalog.com via Flickr

Research lines of the LDE Centre for BOLD Cities

  1. For citizens and governors: using data and digital technologies for vulnerable citizens in cities
  2. By citizens and governors: improving new forms of participation and governance in cities
  3. By citizens and governors: developing urban data literacy and democratic legitimation
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