Dr Rianne Valkenburg  – Founder & Value Producer at Lighthouse

A Fellow at Eindhoven University of Technology and Founder of LightHouse: A senior strategist focusing on long term opportunities by making sense for society through new technological solutions. In urban space – the domain of smart lighting and smart city solutions – Dr Valkenburg supports municipalities, organisations and companies to think and act future proof. 


As the Founder of Lighthouse, a company which specialises in smart urban lighting and smart city solutions, can you please explain why smart lighting is important for the sustainability of cities? And what its impact can be?

Let me start by explaining what we mean when we speak about Smart Lighting. The current new lighting technologies consist of LED lights with controls to switch them separately. This also means that each light pole will have an IP address to enable the control. Through this new infrastructure, a dense network is created through (inter)connected lamp posts: you can see that as a physical internet in open space. This network can be controlled, so light can used in a much smarter way, for instance light where and when it is needed, instead of switching everything on in the evening and off in the morning.

At the same time this network can host other solutions, such as sensors or cameras. Smart lighting is a platform for new technology and the opportunities for new and relevant services are then endless. What the smart phone did/does for communication between people and communities, that is what a smart lighting platform can do for ‘urban space’ applications.

With that in mind what are some of the best examples of innovative smart urban lighting you have seen implemented globally?

In more and more cities you find dedicated walking, running or cycling routes that are smartly controlled. For instance, when using a smart phone app, a jogger can run against a virtual performance pacer, which is a small light ‘running’ in front of them. Or a walking path can indicate a personal route, leading along preferred spots, or bringing people home; for instance, used for people with dementia that like to roam but need to find their way back home.

The interesting thing in these examples is that they are always thought of and designed especially for that place and with involvement of future users. In my perception that is the only way we can develop smart lighting solutions: in cocreation with inhabitants in the neighbourhoods, since it is their living area that we will work, so to know how to improve it for them we need to know what people need and want.

Eindhoven University of Technology.

What would you say are the key elements for other cities that want to implement smart lighting schemes?

Make sure the lighting system you procure is:

  • Fit for future technologies, especially the one we cannot imagine yet
  • Is open for use by other services and applications
  • That your data is orchestrated by you as an authority

That your organisation is able to deal with situations in an integrated manner; and lastly, but most importantly, that you involve the residents and other stakeholders in the schemes.

As a Professor in ‘Design Thinking’ and who has authored a number of books on the subject; can you explain a bit about what ‘Design Thinking’ means and why it’s important?

Design-driven innovators share four abilities:

  • They put the user at the core
  • They have a bias towards creation: bringing the non-existent to existence
  • They orchestrate ambiguity as an inextricable part of creation: many different views and stakes are involved
  • They use a rich language of visualising, modelling and prototyping

Each of these abilities are also important in the development and realisation of smart lighting, to support the stakeholder involvement process and to identify and create solutions.

Urban Lighting in 2030 that LightHouse created with the city of Eindhoven in 2012

You have spoken of the importance of coaching and engaging with key stakeholders to ensure they are heavily involved when developing innovative solutions to urban issues. What do you consider to be the key to achieving this type of engagement around sustainable city initiatives?

There are two important elements in stakeholder engagement. The first one I already explained: that is about involving people to design and cocreate their own living environment. The second one has to do with the changing process of innovation when dealing with societal issues as we are here: when addressing social issues, may values and stakes come together. Not one organisation, whether it be a municipality or a company, can address these issues all by itself. Therefore, a network of organisations must be created, which involves all sorts of stakeholders, such as citizens groups, local shops and entrepreneurs, health organisations, and so forth. Only together can they design and implement successfully.

What do you think is the greatest challenge and corresponding solution to ensuring our cities are sustainable now and for the future?

I think the kernel in succeeding to implement a desired future is whether the city is capable of bringing all its people together and to support local initiatives. Therefore, a smart city has employees with a curious and problem-solving attitude, that think in opportunities and solutions.

With current debates around what it means for a city to be smart, whether that more integration of technology or more people and quality of life focused innovation; what do you consider to be the definition of a smart city?

A smart city is not about technology but about a smart society: a city that has a sustainable approach to contemporary challenges by engaging citizens and empowering them to take responsibility, but also enable them act accordingly.

As an advisor of businesses, governments and organisations on future proofing and strategy development, what do you think the average European city will look like in 50 years time?

I do not do forecasts: I do not believe we can predict the future. I do, however, honestly believe that everyone, with a little help, can describe his own desired future scenario. And if we do so with the relevant stakeholders for neighbourhoods, that we will create awareness for new solutions, and together we can then build that. I sincerely hope that we will build a better future city together.

A vision for the future of mobility in Dutch cities, created with and for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management

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.