This post was written by Tuna Tasan-Kok.
UGoveRN Excursion to Enschede: Unveiling the Tech Behind Shaping Urban Identity
Enschede, a charming city in the eastern Netherlands, was the location of our 2023 annual UGoveRN study day, offering a captivating excursion that provided a glimpse into the role of technology in shaping urban identity or, perhaps more accurately, crafting a fresh narrative through the city’s public spaces. While many smart city initiatives predominantly focus on marketing and retail, our journey through Enschede revealed a different facet of innovation, one that delves deep into the essence of a city’s character, seamlessly blending retail with a technological narrative that beckons visitors to say, “This is the place to be.”. Dr. Igor Pessoa Tempels (University of Twente) and Dr. Sara Özogul (University of Groningen) took us around to experience this form of entrepreneurial governance through placemaking.
Smart City or Smart Square?
Smart city initiatives have often been linked to marketing strategies and enhancing retail experiences. However, in Enschede, we unearthed a deeper layer of this concept. The city’s commitment to redefining its urban identity is intricately intertwined with technology. A perfect example of this is the Station Square, which features tech-inspired art and a DJ booth to create a more interactive public space. The city even advertised a technology festival on the top of ‘drugs and AI’ (see images below).
The Watchful Eye: Surveillance and Safety Cameras
One of the most visible manifestations of technology in Enschede is its extensive network of surveillance and safety cameras. These devices contribute to a heightened sense of security and play a pivotal role in data collection at the same time. They serve as the silent sentinels of Enschede’s public spaces, vigilantly observing and giving the message of ensuring the safety of its residents and visitors. The purpose and function of CCTV cameras in policymaking, as well as their potential targeting of specific groups, naturally continue to be subjects of debate.
The Tech Hub: Environmental Data and City Marketing
Our journey led us to City Hall, where we anticipated finding a ‘Data Skyline’: a model that, according to information available online, transforms the somewhat abstract concept of a ‘smart city’ into a tangible representation by visualizing real-time data collected in Enschede. The underlying idea behind the Data Skyline is that this visualization could serve as a valuable tool for civil servants, administrators, and residents. However, upon our arrival, not only was there no sign of the Data Skyline, but the individuals working at City Hall also seemed unaware of its existence or what we were referring to. This situation prompted us to ponder how we can bridge the gap between technology and the people it is intended to benefit, as well as the numerous unfulfilled promises that technology often brings.
The Interactive Square: Data-Driven Engagement
A sizable screen captured our attention at the heart of Enschede’s Hendrik Jan van Heekplein. What set it apart was its visual allure and the data it presented. Through the utilization of Wi-Fi technology, Enschede collects real-time data about the square’s visitors, enabling targeted content delivery to specific groups via a massive screen. While using technology may seem like a well-established place-marketing strategy for Enschede, it simultaneously functions as an effective marketing strategy by enabling retailers to access collected data for promoting their products.
Conclusion: Technology for Whom?
A question reverberating throughout our excursion was, “For whom is this technology intended?” As we delved into the city’s innovative initiatives, we contemplated whether these advancements genuinely benefit all residents or if certain groups inadvertently get left behind. Enschede’s technology-driven approach to shaping its urban identity underscores the city’s commitment to progress. From surveillance cameras ensuring safety to data-driven engagement in the market square, the city harnesses the power of technology in multifaceted ways. Nevertheless, as we discovered, the challenge lies in ensuring that these innovations are accessible and advantageous to all residents.
The UGoveRN excursion to Enschede provided us with a journey through the intersection of technology and urban life. It left us with a profound admiration for the city’s innovative spirit and a call to action to ensure that technology serves the entire community. The highlight of the day was the captivating lecture by Ringo Ossewarde, Associate Professor in Governance, Society & Technology at the Public Administration Department of the University of Twente on the topic of Algorithmic Governance. As we departed from the picturesque campus of the University of Twente, we carried with us a wealth of fresh ideas and profound reflections on the governance of technology-driven cities.