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How stupid can smart be?

  • STIR Foundation, Eindhoven, Netherlands


[Full text:] This essay begins by reflecting on the fact that the city of Eindhoven has been declared the 'smartest city in the world' at a time when, paradoxically, it was suffering from major problems, including crime and air pollution. What could be lacking from such a model so that it has the potential to overlook important issues and become almost-paradoxically-'stupid'? How can we go beyond such an approach? This essay proposes a new model, coined 'Sustainocracy', based around core values, citizen science and community engagement. This model was developed out of the AiREAS project, which has improved awareness and facilitated action on air pollution in Eindhoven and other cities in Europe.
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
Reflections, Issue 17
Jean-Paul Close
Founder, City of Tomorrow
STIR Foundation
Abstract: This essay begins by reflecting on the fact that the city of Eindhoven has been declared the
‘smartest city in the world’ at a time when, paradoxically, it was suffering from major problems,
including crime and air pollution. What could be lacking from such a model so that it has the potential
to overlook important issues and become almost paradoxically ‘stupid’? How can we go beyond
such an approach? This essay proposes a new model, coined ‘Sustainocracy’, based around core
values, citizen science and community engagement. This model was developed out of the AiREAS
project, which has improved awareness and facilitated action on air pollution in Eindhoven and other
cities in Europe.
Keywords: smart city, citizen science, community engagement, sustainocracy.
It may be questionable to use the term ‘stupid’ in a scientifically oriented article, however we use
the emotional opposite ‘smart’ all the time in our modern discourse about city and regional
development. What does it mean? During an encounter in Dresden (Germany), representatives of
12 countries and 18 universities reflected about experimenting with smartness. I was invited to
present the case of sustainocratic processes in Eindhoven (Netherlands) as they are being
incorporated in CITIMAP, a venture covering six European cities. My presentation was done in
collaboration with the University of Aachen (Germany) and ISSeP of Liege (Belgium).
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
1. Smart is relative
Citizens of Eindhoven (Netherlands) arrived at the question of what smart really is when their
region was declared ‘smartest of the world’
in 2011. The paradox of smart and stupid was
relevant. An analysis of the situation of this town that same year revealed that it had been
declared the most criminal city of the Netherlands, it was located in the centre of the highest
human exposure to air pollution of North West Europe, and the effects of climate change
positioned the town in a region of having to deal with much more than wet feet
. Why then was
Eindhoven the smartest region of the world? Smarter than neighboring Helmond or Breda? Or
European cities like London, Barcelona or Stockholm? Or in the world Shanghai, New York or
Johannesburg? What defines the Smartness of a city?
Apparently the criteria for smartness in this case were the amount of patents registered as
average per citizen, which was about 10 times (!) higher than anywhere else, together with
something about the education systems in use. The public question arose on what we use all
those patents and education for if in the end the community suffers criminality, sickness and
dramatic environmental threats? How stupid can smartness be? Isn’t human wit best used to
serve the core values of the community, such as health and safety, through social interaction, use
of modern technological instruments and awareness driven innovation? If those patents only
serve the economic wealth of shareholders of business enterprises located in Eindhoven, why
aren’t they then declared the ‘smartest’ rather than the city or region? A city has to take care of
its citizens in terms of wellness, quality of life and sustainable progress. Instead it claimed
smartness produced by others. Is this smart? From a political economic perspective, maybe, and
with large question marks due to the high costs of remedial actions and bureaucracy to address
the consequences of such focus on stupid smartness. From a humanitarian and evolutionary
perspective, it is not smart at all.
2. Smart is not relative
Due to a convergence of circumstances a group of citizens had mobilized in the Netherlands to
redefine their own cultural and societal focus. The country had evolved into a care-taking
hierarchy over the population. It had developed social securities in return for legally structured
money contributions through taxes, insurance and pension schemes. A dual society has appeared.
The care-taking hierarchy in need for ever growing large amounts of funding and the care-
receiving community that has to finance it, no matter how, that had grown reluctant to take
responsibility itself. Originally, back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s this post-war policy looked perfect
to deal with the challenges at the time. The population concentrates on consuming and
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
governance makes sure it remains consuming by taxing and creating remedial services. This way
of dealing with society was considered to be the best option to keep peace.
Now, after 30 to 50 years, many people were suffering the consequences of these choices and
became drop outs of a system that had grown more speculative and manipulative than
supportive. Money driven realities are only smart when they serve the entire community but
become stupid when serving just a few at the expense of everyone else, no matter how intelligent
those speculative structures define themselves. Within the hierarchies of political care, financial
abuse had grown out of proportion. Change was needed but difficult to achieve in a system of
mutual dependence and financial steering.
Citizens grouped in the STIR Foundation and defined the core values for human wellness
development and evolution of themselves and their community, referred to as the City of
Tomorrow. These core values are:
Health: We have reached a point of awareness in which our global and local health
perspectives are in jeopardy due to pollution, manipulation, climate change and
mismanagement of our resources. In nature everything is always healthy, whatever is not
disappears, including humankind. Healthcare does not remediate lack of health, it repairs
Safety: Without safety, not just in the sense of physical integrity but also respect for each
other and our environment, a community cannot exist. Only with safety a community
enters the self-aware dynamics of co-creation to achieve common values, else individuals
concentrate on their self-interest and survival.
Regional self-resilience: A community develops its main needs together and locally
without dependency of others. Dependency from external supply chains makes a
community vulnerable. Only when one produces sufficient abundance the option of
exchange arises with others and other communities.
Awareness: one can buy knowledge, not awareness. One can buy healthcare, not health.
One can buy protection, not safety. Core values are hence shared responsibilities that are
not part of democratic choices or political economic battles. They are the fundament of
all life and progress. This deeper understanding demands community leadership to
sustain harmony through permanent innovative change that assures the core values at all
times by taking responsibility together in an ever changing environment.
Basic needs: food, water, air, energy. These tangibles can be bought through financial
systems, making communities vulnerable to manipulation, shortages and speculation.
Whatever can be produced and shared within the community through symbiotic
interaction with nature and use of knowledge or technology does not have to be bought
and therefore reduces dependencies and enhances sustainable progress.
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
Such core human values do not only apply to the human beings but also to all life that exists on
Earth. They are therefore as much human values as natural values requiring an intense
relationship with our environment. We as humans are not dominant, we are part of it all and
through our wit and creativity have excellent and even better changes than our fellow species to
anticipate, survive and even evolve in all circumstances, including our own awareness
breakthroughs. Within those core values we do not have a choice. Smart is necessarily and
irrevocably related to the core values, everything else brings us into trouble as we see abundantly
across the world today.
3. City of Tomorrow
A (city) community that leads itself by these core values is coined a Sustainocracy and involves as
much local government, innovative entrepreneurship, socially-oriented science and citizens. They
do not debate the direction of the community but define their priorities together to achieve
sustainable human progress through measuring the core values. The City of Tomorrow is healthy,
with healthy people and a healthy, productive relationship with its environment. Sustainocracy
the ‘new smart’ and citizen’s engagement the new economy for sustainable progress. The city of
Eindhoven became the living lab for such initiative when citizens invited government, science and
innovative entrepreneurship to join local AiREAS, a multidisciplinary and sustainocratic City of
Tomorrow movement that focuses on co-creation of a healthy city through the measurement of
air quality, civilian health and human dynamics (mobility and lifestyle).
The core value of Health becomes predominant in policy making, scientific research, innovative
entrepreneurship and citizen’s science, yet can only be achieved through proactive interaction of
all areas together. AiREAS establishes the optimum independent environment for this where
executives, policy makers, scientists and citizens unite to interact purpose and results driven on
the basis of equality rather than in the traditional hierarchy. AiREAS uses the three steps and a
cyclic process defined by Sustainocracy, in which each participant represents itself and its self-
interests, always within the context of the purpose driven and multidisciplinary commitment to
assuring and developing quality of life.
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
Cyclic three step approach used in AiREAS
Step 1 (Look!): In order to achieve expected results in air quality and citizen’s health we need data
to see to what extend citizens are affected by pollution and how. The context to produce
measurement is therefore necessary and needs to be determined in order to focus intelligence
gathering for engagement into social innovation (step 3). In Eindhoven no measurement system
was available at all. It was decided that for citizen’s involvement a fine maze, real-time, low-cost
network would be needed that measures as many polluting elements as close as possible to the
daily open space activities of the people. If people know their exposure they could be stimulated
to take corrective actions themselves and together.
Step 2 (Think!): By the end of 2013 the scientifically defined network had become operational,
and had helped develop a lot of insights into the cultural and behavioural patterns of the city’s
population in contributing and getting exposed to air pollution, from ultrafine particles to larger
pollutants, including gases such as ozone and NOx. But these data are only relevant when
connected to information on the effects on individual health, and their relationship with other
data streams, such as weather, traffic, cultural rituals, lifestyle, personal health issues and the
whereabouts of individuals in town. In the field of interpretation, a large area of investigation and
experimentation appears that places extra demands on step 1, the measurement system.
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
Step 3 (Act!): Still with the improvement of health and air quality in mind all kinds of social and
technological innovations could be developed and introduced through persuasive techniques. We
used the intelligence provided by the all the combined data streams and research areas to
determine unique tools and mechanisms to involve citizens into three levels of engagement:
1. No engagement: people are reluctant to change their worldviews while operating their
daily activities in a particular paradigm. If there is no perceived need to engage then
people don’t and won’t. Here we also find the “silent majority”, the massive amount of
people who do what everyone else does in a mentality of progress through the least
possible effort. They may engage but if so they do this as followers of a (new)
mainstream, unaware of their choices.
2. Passive engagement: citizens acknowledge the issue to be dealt with and adjust some of
their daily decisions to benefit themselves from the knowhow, without necessarily
contributing to the overall challenge.
3. Active engagement: here the civilians start contributing to the reduction of pollution by
adjusting their lifestyle and daily choices. These citizens form the core of emerging
markets to which new entrepreneurship engages. This entrepreneurship is often even
initiated by these pioneers. Eventually they form the “positive example” to which the
other citizens relate and gradually engage as followers of the emerging trends.
The learning process connects step 3 again with step 1 as a positive spiral dynamics that
generates both new technological and scientific impulses for measurement and interpretation
techniques as well as entirely new civilian awareness, business development and new economic
waves for progress. AiREAS was recognized by external analysts as a peer 4 regional development
structure, an awareness driven eco-system. It also received the European VINCI Innovation
4. Other regions
Many other regions of the world showed interest and started to visit Eindhoven to see how this
works. Their remark was often “if it exists, we want it too”. Even though they may not coincide in
the priority of air quality and human health they all have strong issues to deal with related to
combinations within the list of core values. Sustainocratic processes are equally relevant when
regional leadership demands action in favour of local cohesion, co-creation and regional harmonic
progress by avoiding or eliminating risks and dependencies. CITIMAP was initiated by ISSeP in
Liege (Belgium) and involves six cities and multiple co-creation partners of the North Western
region of Europe. They all want to be genuinely smart.
University of Westminster Jean-Paul Close November 2016
The paper should be referenced as follows:
Close, J. (2016). How stupid can smart be? in Joss, S. (ed.), International Eco-Cities Initiative
Reflections Series, Issue 17. University of Westminster. Online:
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.