Smart City and Blockchain: Challenges and Opportunities

Smart City and Blockchain: Challenges and Opportunities

According to Rakesh Kaul, Partner at PwC, “a smart city is an implementation of an advanced and modern urbanization vision”. So, smart cities are structured to allow operational efficiencies, maximize environmental sustainability efforts and deal with citizen services such as:

  • citizen identities management and citizen participation;
  • payment system between people and organization;
  • employment;
  • health;
  • culture;
  • transportation;
  • environment and space;
  • energy and waste;
  • land management;
  • clean habitat;
  • infrastructure.

In this economic, social, technological and political context, these shifts are reshaping the world and new challenges arise for countries and particularly for cities. As governments are seeking to incorporate innovations within their smart cities, blockchain can offer something more.

So, blockchain’s role is quickly increasing because it brings decentralization, erases intermediaries, brings security among the systems and interoperability among users. To be clear, blockchain is a trusted distributed ledger system across a network of users. It is a system, where the parties cooperate to ease the transaction process, make it more anonymous and yet more secure.

According to Tom Zilavy, IBM Blockchain and Cloud solutions,  blockchain can be utilized for smart cities in different ways: first of all, blockchain can push citizens to smart choices motivating their behavior: for example, thanks to a smart contract, public authority will be able to automatically give you a reward for a conscious good behavior such as using public transport in your city; then, blockchain could increase effectivity offering the possibility to have all the information in one database with participants having predefined permissions to view or change (transact) the information they need (in the case of a smart trash bin); finally, blockchain can make energetics efficient: for example, citizens with solar panels on their houses could, thanks to smart contracts, automatically trade their unused electricity with their neighbours and others that are connected to the grid. These transactions would be executed automatically, with the help of smart contracts and therefore effectiveness would be achieved.

City worldwide are implementing blockchain projects: Estonia has catapulted itself on the global stage as a digital nation by proactively supporting blockchain startups and embracing blockchain in its own operations. In this context, Tallin hosts, for example, e-residency program that allows anyone to incorporate a digital enterprise in Estonia, without ever having set foot there; the Estonian Cryptocurrency Association, a nonprofit in Tallinn, has taken up the charge to help promote the ecosystem locally and globally. In Singapore, Smart Nation strategy seeks to transform former fishing villages into living laboratory of innovation, and that type of proactive thinking is one reason it’s 2018 year’s world leader in blockchain. Singapore GovTech office is exploring a handful of blockchain use cases, while the Monetary Authority of Singapore has pioneered a decentralized inter-bank payment and settlements solution. Finally, the city of Austin in Texas is currently piloting a program in which its 2,000 homeless residents will be given a unique identifier that’s safely and securely recorded on the blockchain

Blockchain brings a lot of pros but there are a great number of challenges still open. There is lack of coherent regulation, many players want to centralize blockchain and there is a need to increase performance, interoperability and reduce complexity and cost.

Rethinking the Urban Territory as a Learning Space

Rethinking the Urban Territory as a Learning Space

Recreating the urban territory as a commons means reconsidering the way citizens absorb and engender all the elements that can support human development – including learning, as a broader way to refer to education. Urban territories can offer unique learning opportunities on different levels, an important one being that of stimulating people to recognise themselves as citizens and as part of a community, or different communities (from the street, to the neighbourhood, to the city layer). Moreover, the experiencing of the urban territory exposes people to social diversity, which is crucial to cultivate empathy and tolerance, much needed qualities especially in present times.

The understanding of the city as a fertile learning environment presents itself as an invitation to consider what children can learn in the urban territory that cannot be taught at school, and what are the urban qualities that can be cultivated to create social connection and empowerment. Initiatives, worldwide, that explore this invitation are growing in power and number. One of them, TaMaLaCá1 (Tutta Mia La Città, meaning, All The City is Mine, a collective of woman based in Sardinia, Italy) has been working in collaboration with primary schools to instigate children in the creative occupation of the urban environment. TaMaLaCa’s projects reverse the situation that life on the street has been replaced by cars on the streets, and that many cities are not placing an invitation for children to play in the outdoor urban environment as they used to in old times.


Another approach to the city as a learning environment is the concept of Bairro-Escola (meaning Neighbouhood-School, in Portuguese), an alternative education model prototyped by Cidade Escola Aprendiz2, a Brazilian NGO that advocates for integrated learning opportunities for communities. Bairro-Escola is a model of networked learning that articulates different stakeholders such as communities, community organisations, local schools, private institutions, and the public sector, aiming at an integrated development of people and territory based on learning opportunities that exceed the formal school curriculum, and a set territory to expand the notion of learning. It aims at developing richer community relationships and integrated human beings that express different kinds of intelligence (including cognitive, social, physical, affective, and psychological abilities), capacitating students to become active in society through personal and collective autonomy.

Bairro-Escola place schools as a reference point for articulating public policies, community resources and, mainly, community knowledge, being much attentive to local identity and its richness in relationship to human integrity. Schools, thus, become responsible for the articulation of democratic political-pedagogic projects, always committed with collective decision-making processes involving different stakeholders for managing the school itself and its wider community. In this process, students are apt to see themselves as part of networked-systems and to trust their ability to influence the development of their communities, and their cities, also understanding their role and power within a wider network of people.

How can cities be redesigned in such a way that, as emphasised by these two case studies, stimulates learning processes in the urban environment that allow children to grow into citizens that understand they are part of networked systems, thus becoming active citizens?

Italian pedagogist Francesco Tonnucci3 reinforces the idea that it is crucial to stimulate children’s participation in the urban if we are to have cities that, instead of disconnection, stimulate stronger ties and more resilient systems. That said, to recreate cities where children’s experiences are valued is an idea worth expanding both through design, learning curriculums, and policy development – after all, the children of today represent the active societies of tomorrow.


Come possiamo pensare la città come uno spazio in cui le opportunità per imparare fuori delle scuole esistono in abbondanza? Esistono innumeri progetti di design e politiche pubbliche che stimolano questa idea, guardando a come i bambini si possano tornare cittadini più coscienti e autonomi per essere attive e presenti nelle società di domani.





The Co-Cities Open Book

The Co-Cities Open Book

The Co-Cities Open Book is the result of years of research and experimentations on the field to investigate new forms of collaborative city-making that are pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation.

This open book has roots in our conceptualization of the ‘City as a Commons,’ the emerging academic field of urban commons studies, and the work developed in 5 years of remarkable urban experimentations in Italy and around the world. Structured around three main pillars, the Co-Cities open book will first provide scholars, practitioners and policy-makers with an overview of the theory and methodology of the Co-City with the “Co-Cities Protocol”.

The open book also presents the “Co-Cities report”, the results of an extensive research project in which we extracted from, and measured the existence of, Co-City design principles in a database of 400+ case studies in 130+ cities around the world. Ultimately, thanks to the Co-cities report we were able to create the first index able to measure how cities are implementing the right to the city through co-governance. Thus, the Co-Cities index serves as a fundamental tool for the international community in order to measure the implementation of some of the objectives that have been set by the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The last section of the book presents a collection, or annex, of articles of some of the most important researchers and practitioners studying the urban commons. These essays were conceived and offered as part of “The City as a Commons” conference, the first IASC (International Association for the Study of the Commons) conference on urban commons, co-chaired by Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster that took place in Bologna on November 6 and 7, 2015.

Download the Co-Cities Open Book today! 

Amsterdam, a Commons City?!

Amsterdam, a Commons City?!

In imitation of the city of Ghent, Amsterdam has expressed the intention to become a commons city. This happened during the annual Urban Management Conference of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (November 2018).

Stan Majoor, director of the Urban Management programme, was asked to explain the title of the conference ‘The selforganising city: confronting the commons’, since it contains a light critical note. Majoor warned for misuse of the term commons; not all civic initiatives become all of a sudden commoning practices. As a knowledge institution, the AUAS would like to play a role as knowledge partner in this ‘commons movement’ by facilitating, researching, monitoring and being part of commons cases in the city.

To learn from our southern neighboring city Ghent, we had invited Michel Bauwens as key note speaker. He is the author of the Commons Transition Plan of Ghent. In this document he describes the many initiatives in Ghent with a collaborative character and explores how Ghent could become a co-city; which policy changes and instruments are necessary?

The alderman Rutger Groot Wassink (Social work, diversity and democracy for the Green Party) was invited to react on Bauwens’ story. He was very clear from the start: he wants to support the commons in the city of Amsterdam; working together with knowledge institutions and other partners. He understands that you can not create commons as a municipality, but that you should rely on the bottom up initiatives in society. He is willing to facilitate four local commons experiments to learn what a local government should (not) do to strengthen these activities. This new, third way of governance might add new values to the city. Finally he stated that he would like to learn more from Ghent and other European cities.

The lively plenary session ended with many people on stage who subscribe the intention of supporting Amsterdam as a Commons City, among which Municipality Amsterdam, de Waag, Commons Network, Coöpolis en the AUAS.

During the several interactive working sessions the commons practices in Amsterdam were critically discussed. In the session LabGov at Plein 40-45 we played the new unique, Amsterdam made Game of Commons with the 30 participants. An exercise to move from thinking/acting based on individual interests to common interest. After taking into account some small changes, the game will be very suitable to play in different settings with all kinds of stakeholders.

Thanks to this conference the knowledge and discussion about commons and its opportunities have certainly grown in Amsterdam.

For an (Dutch) impression of the conference, watch:

Practice what you preach

We do not only talk about commons in Amsterdam. In some neighborhoods it is also already happening. At Plein ’40-’45 in the NorthWest of Amsterdam a group of citizens, (social) entrepreneurs, municipal employees and AUAS teachers, researchers and students are trying to design a new way of collaboration. Two years ago we started here the first LabGov pilot. During the last few months for example each Tuesday morning approximately 30 AUAS students Public Administration gathered in the Town Hall, located at Plein ’40-’45 to work on the project Open Plaza: How to make the lower part of the Town Hall a common place? They have interviewed many people and organisations in the neighborhood and designed new ways of involving the neighborhood in this project.

Local network

Thanks to the successful Urban Management Conference on Urban Commons, AUAS and local partners like the municipality of Amsterdam, De Waag and Commons Network are researching the possibilities of mapping the commons initiatives in the city and setting up a local network of commons practices and stakeholders, where people can ask for support and advise.

European network

Not only at local level the AUAS is trying to ask attention for the governance structure of commoning. Within the U!reka consortium, a European network of six Universities of Applied Sciences (Amsterdam, Ghent, Frankfurt, Oslo, Helsinki, Edinborough) will try to set up a joint programme with as a central theme: ‘Comparative Urban Commons’. In the following years the knowledge institutions will collaborate and exchange information and cases from their home-cities. In some cities ‘co-city’ is still an unknown concept. The research and joint programme will therefore include several stages of collaborative governance and civic participation. This spring AUAS will organise a first co-meeting in Amsterdam with these European colleagues and several Amsterdam commoners.

World Cities Culture Report 2018, openness and inclusivity for urban challenges

World Cities Culture Report 2018, openness and inclusivity for urban challenges

Culture is driving regeneration, creating the jobs of the future and diverting young people from crime. Culture makes us healthier, facilitates civic engagement and gives tourists a reason to visit. It continues to shape the heritage and identity of our cities. In short, culture addresses all the major city challenges we face today – it has moved definitively from niche to mainstream. (…) While there remain serious challenges in all our cities, there has never been a better moment to unlock the potential for culture to transform them. (Justine Simons, p.5)

“How do cities use culture to provide solutions to our contemporary urban challenges?”. This is the question underpinning the World Cities Culture Report, a compendium of the most innovative programmes, policies, key trends and infrastructure projects in culture developed by 35 cities[1] across the world. The Report is the annual document of the World Cities Culture Forum, a collaborative network made up of 38 members from local governments and cultural sector of leading cities around the world, whose activities are delivered by BOP Consulting, on behalf of the Greater London Authority and the members of the Forum. The network was founded in London in 2012 by eight cities (London, New York City, Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris, Istanbul, Sydney and Johannesburg) convened by the Mayor of London, for the purpose of “advancing the case for culture across all areas of urban policy” and “sharing ideas and knowledge about the role of culture in building sustainable cities”. Beyond the annual Summit and Report, the network provides themed symposia, regional summits, policy workshops, collaborative publications and a Knowledge exchange programme.

Two major trends emerge from the 2018 Report, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies: the “critical role for culture in addressing the inclusion of all citizens and a new definition of how, where and by whom culture is experienced”.

As for the first trend, there seems to be a shared commitment across the cities in increasing participation to “culture for all citizens”, by means of different tools and programmes, recognizing Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. The report thus contains some examples of urban practices in access and inclusion, among which the TURN Project in Tokyo, Kulturpass in Vienna, the Agreement to Promote Reading in Milan, Neighbourhood Lives and Memories in Lisbon and many others.

As for the second trend, that is the “opening out of culture”, we assist to a change in both cultural spaces, places and forms and in the approach to support programmes and policies at the urban level. For instance, the Culture Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, the Bronx Creative District in Bogotá, as well as the Opera Camion in Rome, the Cultural Hotspots in Toronto and so on. At the same time, new governance and policy solutions have been envisaged, such as the Cultural Matching Fund in Singapore, the Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact in New York, the Citizen participation shaping public art in Paris etc.

By providing “a city profile” containing data (45 indicators), trends and innovative programmes, the Report refers to more than 200 cultural programmes and practices (considered as the most innovative from the responding member cities), classified into 9 different categories:

  • Cultural Diversity and Representation
  • Cultural Access and Inclusion
  • Culture in the Outskirts
  • Citizen-Led Cultural Policies And Programmes
  • Making Space for Culture
  • Culture and Climate Change
  • 21st Century Cultural Infrastructure
  • 21st Century Cultural Event and Formats
  • 21st Century Cultural Governance and Strategy


Already in 2017, within the World Cities Culture Summit, the 27 participating cities signed the “Seoul Declaration”, with the following commitment: “To ensure that culture is a golden thread in all aspects of city policy (…); To make culture available to and empowering for all citizens (…); To generate and learn from evidence and research, in pursuit of an enlightened and progressive approach to policy development and implementation; To act as leaders in our field and to continue to collaborate in the face of shared challenges and shared opportunities (…)”.

A shift is ongoing in urban culture-related policy across the world, a valuable phenomenon as demonstrated in the Report, especially in a time where “The resilience of world cities resides in their capacity to envision a different future, one rooted in interdependency that reflects and supports all the people they represent. An open culture builds that capacity” (Richard Naylor, p.17).


[1] Amsterdam, Austin, Bogotá, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chengdu, Dublin, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Lagos, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Milan, Montréal, Moscow, New York, Oslo, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Seoul, Shenzhen, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto, Vienna, Warsaw, Zürich