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Interview Heidy van Beurden: It´s not difficult to become a Smart City

How to make your city smarter? Heidy van Beurden is a Communications Specialist and Editor working for governments, the private sector and the non-profit sector. She is specialised in themes like climate change and energy efficiency and wrote several books about these topics. Her latest one is called ‘Smart City Dynamics’. It offers its readers inspiring views from experts across Europe on how to make your city smarter, focussing on energy efficiency.

Smart City is a term used a lot nowadays. There is no clear definition of a smart city. What is a smart city according to you?

Van Beurden: ´To me, a Smart City is a city in which parties from different domains, for example the ICT, the energy and the health sectors, collaborate to accelerate innovation. Sectors must step out of their comfort zone. Only then can they see new opportunities and will they benefit economically, environmentally and socially. For example, a city that has invested in a climate neutral building is great. But it would even be better if the solar panels on the roof feed back into the grid when it uses the heat from a nearby industrial zone, and if the neighbourhood has enough charging points for electric transport. It’s all about the integration of different domains. The term Smart City describes a way of thinking from which regions and towns can benefit as much as bigger cities.´

Why do cities need to become smarter?

Van Beurden: ‘We all want better, cleaner and more liveable cities. Because of the energy challenge and the fact that the population living in cities is expected to grow, cities will need to work on integrated solutions and make better use of existing resources. Becoming a Smart City has a lot of advantages in the long run. Moreover, to become a Smart City there is no need for a lot of financial investments; a lot of opportunities are available and easy to reach. It is a question of bringing ideas into practice and to start with focussing on small scale solutions. For example, the project in the city of Bristol shows us how interaction with the local community led to closer involvement of the households in monitoring their energy use. Many cities, regions, companies and knowledge institutes around Europe have already started smartening processes in cities and communities. Some are a success, but others fail. That´s part of the process. There is no single city that says: “we are already there. This is really a transition process that will take up to several decades.’

Why did you focus on energy efficiency in relation to smart cities?

‘The gains from the fields of energy savings and climate change directly affect the cities’ liveability. Think about transport and buildings, for example. This focus on the energy sector also reflects the Smart Cities and Communities Initiative initiated by the EC. However, in this book you can read that a cross-sector approach is even more effective in becoming a Smart City.’

What are the main challenges for cities  to become smarter?


  • How to create synergy between sectors Van Beurden: ‘The willingness to working together is often there, but other projects are given priority. In this matter it is very important to determine a common vision. What is it that we want? City officials in my book confirmed that in projects with a clear defined common vision, collaboration with partners from other domains turned out to be quite easy.’
  • Sharing data Van Beurden: ‘It is important to open up existing data from, for example, traffic flows or energy use. This can help to create new services in a city. Most cities do not use the full potential of the ICT-sector in this regard. There is an interesting report from The Climate Group about these unused data that can be helpful to cities. When evaluating smart initiatives, it is also essential to have insights into data. This creates benchmarks and can motivate the parties involved in the project to continue the good work.’
  • How to create behavioural change To become a smart city, it is important to engage with the stakeholders. They can be the CEO of a private company, policy makers working for the government, and, of course, the inhabitants. Their enthusiasm, their drive and motivation are probably the most important resources cities have. Van Beurden: ‘The experts in the book advise cities to involve their inhabitants in the process by starting with local, meaningful projects. For example, The city of The Hague opts for a strategy of stimulating residents to develop and finance their own sustainability measures. Residents have invested their own money to restore an existing windmill and will share in the profit.’

Share your experiences with EMI and win the book ‘Smart City Dynamics’

Together with EMI, Heidy van Beurden gives you the opportunity to win one of the 3 copies of her book ‘Smart City Dynamics’ (€19,50). Read all insights and views of experts from, amongst others, the European Commission, IBM, Stockholm Sea Port and Sustainable Glasgow. In return we ask you to share information on a project in your city which you feel can be typified as a Smart City project. Whether your ‘Smart City project’ is still in its start-up phase or whether you have already implemented your vision, all entries are welcome! We can learn from all kinds of experiences. The 3 most inspiring examples will receive a copy of Heidy van Beurden’s book ‘Smart City Dynamics’. These experiences will also be published on the EMI-website as well as on the Smart Cities in Europe-website.

Send an e-mail to EMI with the following information about the project

  • Name of project
  • Name of your city
  • Give a brief description of your project and partners?
  • In which phase is your project (planning, testing, evaluation)?
  • Why do you feel this project is a typical ‘Smart City’ example?
  • How has the city benefited from this project?
  • Contact details

If you would like to know more about Smart Cities? Please visit the website of Smart Cities in Europe.


Win the book ‘Smart City Dynamics’