LivingLabs recap – what exactly is a creative city?

On: October 7, 2007
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About Tjerk Timan
During the last couple of years, I have been involved in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Eindhoven, both on the theoretical as well as the physical/practical side, always working on the boarder between the digital and physical. After an internship at Mediamatic, I wanted to get more involved in the digital side of new media. Currently, I am investigating the complex realm of new media [at] the master course New Media, UvA. With a thesis focus now on ‘objects that blog’ within the context of an internet of things, the challenge is to investigate the agency and influence of things. Especially when these things, being digital or physical, are capable of sharing, posting, editing, deleting content. And on who’s account? Within that same line of thought, the digital is often taking itself for granted maybe too much, where often the step towards WHO and HOW data is manipulated is left out of the loop. Taking these things back into the (design) loop is one of my missions, with the statement in mind that the way content is created and consumed has at least as much importance as the technology driving it. Furthermore, I am currently active within the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. Also, I do some occasional freelance work, where disciplines differ from web-design to workshops to product design.


With every major city in Europe calling itself ‘creative capitol’ these days, the question raises how creative these cities really are and in what way they distinct themselves from others. In a ‘creative race’ between Asia, the US and Europe in mobile services and locative media, the latter seems to be a step behind.
Without going focusing too much on the question why (which I think is very useful!), Living Labs is an initiative that offers a method in improving the ‘creative power’ of Europe in mobile applications/ services. Their own description:

Living Labs Europe opens up the potentials of innovative mobile applications and technologies to European citizens, companies, researchers and investors for the purpose of pioneering mobile applications for European end-users and markets, enhance Attractiveness for visitors, residents, business and to provide a European platform for collaboration and opening innovative markets.

If we take this text through the management-talk-filter, what living labs is actually about is to take research and development from the dusty attics into the streets. Pinpointing some european regions with unique qualities and rapid adaptation towards new technologies, Living Labs is trying to enhance these regions by linking academic research, business, creative industry and end-user, but moreover, by linking different regions within Europe to share knowledge and spread innovation.

During Picnic’07 the idea of developing a Living Lab in the Westergas area was being discussed and promoted. The Westergasfabriek was the initiator of the whole program that consisted of several elements. The program started of with some interesting speakers related to the subject such as people that had already gained experience by setting up a Living Lab elsewhere in Europe and the director of the Westergasfabriek Mrs. Liesbeth Jansen. After the more in depth presentations about abstract missions and experiences, four workshops where organized with the aim of generating new ideas concerning the goal the Westergasfabriek has set for itself; becoming a Living Lab.
All four workshops had a different theme:

– The Westergasfabriek as a Living Lab for research and education
– The Westergasfabriek as a Living Lab for new Culture and Art
– The Westergasfabriek as a Living Lab for the development for new services
– The Westergasfabriek as a Living Lab for Media, Society and Social issues

The outcomes of the workshops about Society and Social issues and about Development for new Services will be discussed briefly.

Tjerk’s workshop: the Westergasfabriek as a platform for new mobile services.
Co-ordinated by: Irma Borst, Managing Consultant, LogicaCMG Consulting
During the workshop that followed the main goal was to think of possible ways to project the model of Living Labs onto the area of the Westergasfabriek. During our workshop, the main struggle was to figure out what the living labs model really is. With a combination from business, academics and policy-makers, the hardest thing is to get your terms right. By this I mean that the same words/slang, like locative media, crowd-sourcing, user research etc. have completely different explanations in these different types of worlds.
When finally sorted this out, the main question was if the Westergasfabriek is really a good location for creating a living lab, since it does not really represent all facets/groups of society.
Instead of being a brainstorm on what kind of mobile applications were suited for such a place, the time was (equally interesting) used to define condition for a living lab and some of the qualities Amsterdam has to offer besides being a ‘creative city’.
Concluding, (since it was only a one-hour meeting) it could be said that, in order to create a living lab in Amsterdam, all actors, from small to big, have to think out their unique qualities on a global scale; think about regional qualities and place them into a global market.

Piet’s Workshop: The Westergasfabriek as a Living Lab for Media, Society and Social issues.
Co-ordinated by Tarik Yousif, moderator, presenter and column writer.

The hour-long workshop started of with a short introduction round, I found out I was the only student in this group. There was one technician, an innovative music festival organizer, a journalist and the rest consisted of a mixture of non commercial mostly government workers. After the introduction it did not became clear to me why such a diverse group of people was selected for this workshop; what was the common factor that brought everybody to this program?
This turned out to be determining the content of the whole workshop. People had interpreted the term Living Lab in their own way what resulted in a very abstract and sometimes even broad discussions about for instance society in general and issues with immigrant youth. Of course these subjects are all very important but not relevant in this context since these workshops where initiated with a specific goal in mind; shaping the Westergasfabriek in a Living Lab and not discussing it endlessly without any good helpful specific and concrete ideas.
Since an hour was really too short for discussing a Living Lab to its full extent, the general conclusions of the discussion were very different for all participants.
Some concluded that for the creation of a Living Lab in the Westergasfabriek a shift in mindset is essential and this takes a long time to achieve, especially among minorities. Others concluded that the Westergasfabriek should start to attract more money by attracting more commercial institutions and has to try to co-operate with other parts of the city in order to prevent competing within Amsterdam. My own conclusion is a combination of the two; the whole idea of a Living Lab should first be made more concrete, it has to grow in peoples minds, before it can be developed by approaching and co-operating with both academics, companies, artists and students and really developing an innovative creative area.

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