Digital transformation

City of light Eindhoven fights nighttime aggression with smart lighting

September 30, 2021 - 9 minutes
Article by Robert Koot

In Eindhoven, Dutch City of Light, the brightest minds collaborate for a good cause. Together with TU Eindhoven and the business community, the municipality is developing technological feats that make life in and around the city safer and cleaner. Can smart lighting combat nighttime aggression in the entertainment district?

“Pffft!” The referee blows his whistle. In the added time of a soccer match during which PSV’s first team had most of the ball possesion, but failed to score, the ball unexpectedly slips past the Eindhoven goalkeeper in the final seconds. He is left bewildered. And with him, more than 35 thousand PSV fans who have been waiting for their deserved goal all evening, in vain. PSV - De Graafschap: 0 to 1. Beaten at home. That hurts.

In the past, the chief of police scratched the back of his head after a lost home game, worrying about the order and safety in his city that he is supposed to maintain. After home matches, many supporters like to have a drink at the Stratumseind, the entertainment district of Eindhoven near PSV’s Philips stadium. And if the club loses, the atmosphere sometimes changes.

But even on regular nights out in Holland’s longest pub street, things would occasionally escalate under the influence of alcohol. Annoying for local residents and for the benevolent part of the nightlife crowd. The consequences were as inevitable as they were predictable: Stratumseind attracted fewer and fewer visitors, and entrepreneurs saw their turnover decline. The tide had to turn.

From bar street to testing ground for technology

Since 2012, the municipality of Eindhoven has therefore been working together with partners in so-called ‘living lab’ projects to make the entertainment area safe and attractive again. With all kinds of measuring instruments, data is collected in the more than 200-meter-long pedestrian street, such as noise levels, camera footage, and visitors numbers. Various partners of the municipality test their ideas and solutions in practice based on this – anonymized – data. Bar street Stratumseind now functions as a testing ground for new, smart technology.

One of the experiments focuses on the question of whether you can influence people's behavior with ‘smart lighting’. Together with the Technical University and Philips, among others, the municipality is investigating how adjusting the colour, intensity and dynamics of street lighting can be used to reduce aggression on bar nights. City of Light Eindhoven that has turned the challenge around by living up to its nickname – could it be more appropriate?

The Municipality of Eindhoven works together with the Technical University and other partners on the safety of the Stratumseind ​​entertainment area

But how does one measure an aggressive atmosphere on the street? What are the signs of an upcoming brawl? Well, more decibels and sudden movements can indicate aggression, and therefore a fight that is about to take place. That is why sound sensors and cameras have been installed on the street. Analysis of video footage and sound measurements helps to gain insight into the state of mind of people on the street.

One can then use that information to respond. What if you can suppress emerging aggression by, for example, increasing the intensity of the ambient light? Would brighter lighting indeed leave less space for shady things? The living lab investigates the effect of different colors of light, and which settings can best influence people’s behavior.

Sound sensors not only serve to register signs of aggression, they also measure whether the sound level is kept within legal limits. All measurement data can be viewed publicly and online by the entrepreneurs and local residents involved, so that it is clear to everyone where any nuisance comes from and whether bars comply with closing hour limits.

“The first effects are already visible,” says Ad Steenbakkers, former information advisor at the Municipality of Eindhoven. “It is clear to everyone whether noise levels fall within the agreed standards. As a result, we receive fewer objections about noise pollution.”

Ad Steenbakkers, former information advisor at the municipality of Eindhoven

Keeping your feet dry (and other great ideas)

It is clear: Eindhoven likes to be ahead of the curve. Like the soccer world now using goal-line camera technology, local authorities are ready to embrace twenty-first century technology. Today, municipal administrators have an arsenal of modern tools at their disposal, with which they can perform their tasks even more efficiently, while at the same time make society safer and more liveable.

The light experiment at Stratumeind is only one example, but the arsenal is far from complete. “As far as I'm concerned, a smart city is a city in which people are aware of the possibilities and make smart use of them,” says Steenbakkers. “We have only just begun to explore all the possibilities.” In addition to the experiments at Stratumseind, the municipality is looking at many other issues: how to reduce the energy consumption of municipal buildings? Or: if there is left-over energy in the city, for example in the form of heat, can it be reused? How do you improve digital services to residents and businesses? And commuting, can't that be organized a lot smarter?

These are all questions which the municipality is looking to answer – and successfully so. Steenbakkers: “During presentations, I sometimes ask the audience: 'Who works in a smart city?' There are cameras in the city, there are traffic loops in the way. We already áre a smart city. In Eindhoven, 800 underground waste containers are now equipped with chips that measure precisely how full it is, so garbage trucks do not come and empty containers that are only half-full. That saves a lot of unnecessary kilometers through the city.”

“Or take the Dry Feet program. In a large part of the city, we measure the amount of precipitation with dipsticks in the ground. Valves in the sewage system, which are connected to pumping stations, respond to this by opening or closing automatically. Together with our partners, we have developed an intelligent system that prevents flooding in our environment as much as possible.”

Smart society

This collaboration is characteristic of Eindhoven's way of working. The municipality maintains close ties with organizations in the region, including the business community, knowledge institutions and the government: “We call this collaboration the 'triple helix'. This makes it very easy for us to use the power of our most important partners, such as companies like Philips, Cisco and KPN, but also the Design Academy and the Technical University.”

Residents are also explicitly involved in projects that affect society. Steenbakkers: “We do not pour new technology over the city unilaterally. In projects such as the lighting plan for Stratumseind, we involve our citizens and entrepreneurs from the start. We ask them what they think and based on their feedback we determine which techniques are most suitable. We also strive for the same involvement in other projects, such as making rental homes more sustainable. We try to think from the perspective of society, which is why we prefer to speak of a ‘smart society’ rather than a ‘smart city’.

In the far east, they are particularly interested in how we collaborate here

‐ Ad Steenbakkers, former information advisor

Of course, reinventing the wheel is not a smart thing. In addition to regional partners, the municipality is therefore in regular contact with other cities with smart city ambitions – Barcelona, Santander, Singapore – to benefit from each other's innovations. “In the Far East, they are particularly interested in how we cooperate here. The Netherlands has a culture of consultation, while in Asia matters are much more imposed from above. Conversely, we see with admiration how other countries easily they develop technology and produce it efficiently.”

Like many other cities, Eindhoven tries to make society a little better with smart technology. According to Steenbakkers, in our optimism, we must be careful in designating cause and effect. “Look at the Stratumseind: if the aggression decreases right after a new lighting plan has been rolled out, it could of course also be because PSV has just won a match. There are always several factors involved. Technique is a tool, it’s people who remain responsible for the interpretation. To quote our previous mayor Rob van Gijzel: ‘There are no smart cities, only smart people’.”

This article previously appeared in Centric Magazine Overheid.

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