Elke den Ouden – Fellow and Ambassador at Eindhoven University of Technology





An experienced innovation expert who is focused on bringing shared value with innovative solutions. A Fellow and Ambassador of Innovation Space at Eindhoven University of Technology; Elke’s current focus is on smart lighting and smart city solutions for public spaces. She works to contribute to meaningful applications of new technologies to increase quality of life in cities.


As an expert in Smart City development, what would be your number one criterion for creating a smart city and society? 

Focus on added value for people in the city. Too many smart city projects focus on technology and data collection. Innovations are meaningless without a clear link with needs and opportunities to improve lives of people. The ‘People’ in this sense includes a wide range, e.g. citizens, entrepreneurs, visitors, people working for companies or in civil services, shopkeepers or restaurant owners. 

The base of your place of work in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, is already a city that is famous for its technology and has its own ‘Smart Society Programme’; what do you think have been some of the successes of the programme so far? And how are you involved?

The examples that have been successful are also starting from the desired impact rather than the technology. Technology is considered an enabler, to the aim. The most famous example is of ‘Stratumseind’, a pub street where a.o. dynamic lighting scenarios are used to de-escalate aggressive behavior and improve the atmosphere in the street. From the university we are involved in the research part of this project. 

In 2017 Eindhoven showcased the potential for smart lighting to promote urban walking by lighting certain walking routes at the GLOW festival and using it for wayfinding. What other ways do you think smart city initiatives can promote sustainable behaviours from a cities’ citizens?

Smart technologies can help to nudge people to more sustainable behavior. An example of a project my colleagues are currently working is to research the impact of the colour temperature of lighting on the perceived temperature in a room. If people perceive the rook as cooler with cool white lighting (bluish) and warmer with a warmer white lighting (yellowish), this means we can save energy on heating and climate control.

Your home country, The Netherlands, is often heralded as a global leader in urban sustainability, what do you think has been the key to its success and what areas do you think it could improve?

One of the things that are natural for the Dutch is cycling, almost everybody owns a bike, and many people have even two or more at their disposal. We have the advantage of being a ‘flat’ country and our city development has already included very good cycling infrastructures since decades. Nevertheless, many people still use cars for stretches that are also suitable for cycling, and they argue e.g. that is not convenient to go to supermarkets by bike as it is more difficult to carry all your groceries. However, because of the widely spread ownership of bikes, bike sharing is not an easy business. Which is a pity, because then you could have access to a wider range of cycles, e.g. including cargo bikes to do grocery shopping, e-bikes for longer distances, mountain bikes for in the weekend, etc. 

In addition, cities and countries have previously been criticised for copying what The Netherlands has done for say cycling infrastructure and urban design, rather than reflecting their own cultures and ideas. Do you think cities can and should replicate models and initiatives that other cities have successfully implemented?

I do not believe in a simple ‘copy, paste’. Solutions always have to embedded in the local context and culture. But at the same time things cannot change if the infrastructure is not suitable. For behavior to change, it should be as easy and comfortable a possible to use alternative solutions. So I do think that urban design has a huge impact on what people choose. If streets are designed for cars, it does not feel comfortable to go there on foot or bike. If the design is adapted, the lighting is catered for pedestrians and cyclists rather than lighting up the road for cars, people feel much more comfortable. The interesting thing is that some cities dare to take the bold decision to abandon cars from certain areas, and then you see the liveliness goes up, as people enjoy being there. 

How important do you think is the process of cultivating and empowering ‘Smart Citizens’ (citizens with the skills, knowledge and the desire to be involved in improving their cities) involvement in creating sustainable and smart cities? And why?

With the ever-growing amount of technology in people’s daily lives, I believe it is important that people are aware, so they can make informed decisions on what to or not to accept or use. I also see that approaches like ‘co-creation’ are important, especially because we consider people as the ultimate experts of their own lives and living environment and are needed to identify the needs and opportunities. But it does not necessarily mean that they will be designing new solutions themselves. Other people, such as designers or creative companies, are much better in designing solutions and realizing them. The citizens should stay involved to reflect on the ideas and evaluate the concepts in living labs or real environments, to make sure the solutions bring the anticipated value. Also, I believe that longer term monitoring and evaluation with citizens is crucial to see if further improvements or additions are needed. Innovation of smart solutions should be a continuous process.

Where do you think the largest gains can be made by smart city initiatives in relation to both quality of life and environmental sustainability with regards to carbon emission reductions?

I think that is context dependent. There is no simple answer. In each city, and even in each neighborhood there are differences in what is desirable from the end-user perspective, what is technically feasible and what is economically viable. 

What advice would you give to cities who may want to create their own successful smart city initiatives and how do they ensure they can overcome any challenges?

I would recommend starting with co-creating a Vision to define the desired future scenario for the city or areas in the city. Then define where you would like to start with specific smart city projects. Then start in these areas by identifying needs of citizens and local. From there it is much easier to find solutions that are meaningful. It is also possible to plot a roadmap with solutions that may be implemented over time to achieve the desired future scenario. This will help to derive the requirements to the infrastructure or smart city platforms and define what is the minimum viable solution to start with implementation. Involving local stakeholders from the beginning and staying open to new insights that emerge over the course of time, will help to create support for implementation. Resistance can be used to gain deeper insight in how plans and solutions can be improved.

Richard Lambert

About Richard Lambert

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Richard Lambert, Coordinator of Liveable Ciiies Prorgam. He has been working for 11 years creating sustainable urban communities in London, UK and Internationally. Specialising in the development of urban green infrastructure and pedestrian walking related improvement projects, policies and strategies.