Priva: Specialized Agricultural Technology

Applying the German Mittlestand-like approach in the Netherlands

After a long stretch of company visits and sightseeing tours across the Netherlands, students finished the week traveling to De Lier to visit the agricultural tech company Priva. To get to the the company’s headquarters, students ventured through the countryside from The Hague over the course of two hours. Along the way, students observed many of the construction projects occurring in the city. The city has shifted their focus away from constructing new urban areas. Instead, an effort to develop and revitalize current urban areas have taken place and led to construction projects not located on the outskirts of the city. These projects will increase the quality of life in these areas and offer a more attractive location closer to the city center and the main train stations.

In this photo, construction projects take place just outside of the Hague. The city is moving away from creating/developing new urban areas and instead to revitalizing current urban areas.

Arriving to De Lier in the early afternoon, students received a short reprieve to eat a snack before continuing on with the program at Priva’s headquarters. Here, students were met by Dr. Jan Westra who takes the role as a Strategic Business Developer for the company. He explains that Priva was started in 1959 as a family owned agricultural tech company. Even though Priva is small compared to many other businesses, they are still a competitive global company whose core industrial objective is to produce software and hardware to successfully implement greenhouses around the world.

Priva Headquarters, a global company that provides software and hardware to greenhouse farms. The second picture is an overview of their spacious lobby area which includes a refreshment stand as well as a comfortable lounge area.

The company currently employs 320 workers within the Netherlands as well as 130 additional employees abroad. They have headquarters located in most continents including three in North America. A viable comparison to Priva is the German Mittlestand concept. This is a company who has stayed relatively small and has maintained their family-oriented values. They constantly employ interns internationally for research as well as for job specific development leading to future employment. As a result, 80% of Priva employees have received a University education and the company is top 30 for research and development spending in the Netherlands. Additionally, they have also found their own special niche within the agriculture industry becoming one of the top specialist for greenhouse technology.

Priva is active on two markets: Horticulture and Building Management Systems. On the horticulture side, many developments are made in-house by designing and building their own greenhouse systems. They make their systems SMART by integrating things such as heat, carbon dioxide and electricity together. They then continue on with their Building Management Systems. With the technology systems they have already perfected, they take on many projects across the world implementing their systems into existing greenhouses. An example of this implementation is through the UrbanFarmers company located in The Hague that we visited a week earlier. Priva constructed the intricate aquaponics system that UrbanFarmers relies on to yield fresh produce as well as home-grown tilapia to sell to local restaurants.

Not only does Priva help create SMART systems for other companies that are environmentally friendly, but their own headquarters building also takes into account this mindset as well. In De Lier, the Priva headquarter complex sports sustainability through thermal energy storage, moss covered roofs, heat pumps, and clean electricity from Norway. Additionally, they are looking into the BlueRise project which harnesses ocean thermal energy through the difference in temperature in between deep cold water and shallow warm water. As a company, they continue to push for environmentally friendly methods to gather and save energy.

We concluded our trip with a visit to the history room which detailed the background of the company and how it was started in the 1950s. We then moved on to the showroom which is used primarily for displaying new products to potential clients. Finally, we ended in the quality control center where we were able to see the hands on approach the company took to inspect their technological products.

Overall, the students were impressed by the unique niche and Mittlestand-like approach Priva takes, one that focuses on their products and not necessarily just profit for shareholders. As a result, Priva looks set for a long and prosperous future in the agriculture business.

The Hague University sports complex. The building seen is not one big futbol field but instead many different athletic spaces for exercise.
Old-fashioned windmill located in Loosduinen. Majestically standing erect against a stormy backdrop.
Location of Parkpop. Occurred last Sunday. Big music festival with some of the top European bands/artists.
Kerosene heat generator that originally was used in Florida to keep crops from freezing at night. Later, it was found that this releases CO2 which is a key component in growing crops in a greenhouse setting.

-Basil Rodts

The Netherlands as a Food Exporter

Using advanced greenhouse technologies to increase food production

Today, on our way to Priva headquarters, we got a good look at the agricultural area just outside of The Hague. The area consisted mostly of large greenhouses, with some areas for livestock to graze as well. The soil in this part of the country is not very good for growing crops, and the climate does not allow for production year round. The Netherlands has worked to solve those problems through the use of advanced greenhouse technologies, such as the systems offered by Priva. Greenhouses and advanced climate control systems allow growers to control every aspect of the growing process, from humidity and temperature to carbon dioxide concentration. This creates the conditions for much higher crop yields than conventional farming tactics, and allowed The Netherlands to become a huge exporter of food and agricultural products.

Students bike along a canal on the way to Priva headquarters. Even outside of the city, the bicycle infrastructure is quite extensive.
On the way to Priva, we passed through an area with a lot of greenhouses. Advanced greenhouse technologies helped The Netherlands become the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world.

In fact, The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of food products in the world, second only to the United States. In 2016, the country exported a record 94 billion euros worth of agricultural products, according to the government website. Of that, the top exported agricultural product was materials and technology, which accounted for 9.4% of exports. A large part of the exports in this category are Priva products, as well as products from KOBA, one of the largest greenhouse builders in the world.

This building is where local food producers bring their products to auction. It is also one of the largest buildings in the world by square footage.
Cows graze in a field next to the bike path. This was a very common sight in the area with the greenhouses.

Global food security will become a much bigger problem in the coming years as the world population continues to grow and the effects of climate change become more pronounced. The world will have to continue to shift away from conventional farming techniques and towards more sophisticated farming techniques such as greenhouses or vertical farming. These methods use resources such as water much more efficiently, and produce higher crop yields. High-tech farming in greenhouses will play a large role in food production in the near future, and Dutch companies will likely continue to dominate the market for both greenhouses and advanced climate control systems.

This is the entrance to a public orchard just outside of The Hague. The orchard is part of a park, and when the fruit is ripe, citizens can come pick apples and pears for free.
Houseboats are a common sight in the canals of The Hague and other Dutch cities. This one in particular has solar panels on the roof.

-Eric Fitch

Amsterdam Smart City

How Amsterdam Fosters Innovation and Smart City Planning

The day began with a trip to Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. There, the group heard a lecture from a public-private partnership called Amsterdam Smart City (ASC). Amsterdam Smart City, representatives explained, is an innovation platform that brings supply and demand together to connect startups to other parties that can serve as resources. The goal of the platform is not to provide funding, but to connect groups with similar interests and test innovative ideas.

Cornelia Dinca speaks with Dr. Rademaker, explaining her role in Amsterdam Smart City.

Amsterdam Smart City is dedicated to using new ideas to improve the city of Amsterdam, incorporating themes such as urban planning, environmentalism, and technology. The five main focuses of the program are health, mobility, circular economy, digital connectivity, and talent for the future. A majority of the projects ASC is involved in require collaboration, and are of interest to multiple parties. For example, the city has a goal of having 850,000 solar panels installed, one for every citizen. To complete the project, Amsterdam Smart City assists in connecting businesses with universities, government, and other companies that can function as partners.

A graphic from the presentation, depicting the idea that citizens can help transform their city. This idea is employed in hackathons and other innovation competitions.

Tom van Arman, founder of a venture called, explained how the city of Amsterdam engages young entrepreneurs to solve some of the city’s most challenging problems. Hackathons are a common method of connecting young programmers and app-makers, and offer a free platform for participants to utilize their skills. One of the most recent challenges was to create an app that would decrease congestion and improve crowd control at sports events. In this way, the city of Amsterdam attracts young innovators and gains fresh ideas to better manage the city and improve quality of life. Events typically have private partners, but are advertised by the city, bringing in hundreds of attendees.

Tom van Arman explains the function of the makerspace during a tour of the Amsterdam Smart City building.

Another unique aspect of ASC is the program’s website. Unlike most companies’ websites, functions as a two-way forum that allows startups to post information about their ventures. Small businesses and non-profits can post updates, event notifications, and introduce new products on the website’s project page, which is organized into themes, creating a more interactive interface.

Amsterdam Smart City also has a 3-D printing lab and workspace for those that wish to create and test new products. The purpose of the space is to create a hub for entrepreneurs and provide them with the tools to be successful, without directly supplying funding.

A student works on a design in the makerspace. 3D printers can be seen in the background, used by entrepreneurs to make prototypes.
Signs point towards the “makerversity” reception and workshops, resources for founders of startups in Amsterdam.

Throughout the presentation, it became clear that a major focus of ASC is digital connectivity and programming. Cornelia Dinca, our first presenter, is an urban planner with a chemical engineering degree. When asked about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), she confirmed that there were very few women in these fields in Amsterdam, and that she hoped to see more female involvement in the future. Currently, participants in hackathons and similar events are predominantly male.

Cornelia Dinca gives advice to a student, explaining possible internships in the Netherlands.

Overall, Amsterdam Smart City provided an interesting look at the innovative ways the city supports entrepreneurs and smart city planning in the Netherlands. Cornelia even offered several business cards to our students, urging them to contact her in the future regarding internships.

A presenter from Amsterdam Smart City explains digital infrastructure, a vital part of digital connectivity.

-Erin Danford

Amsterdam’s Canals: History and Uses Today

A reflection on our tour of Amsterdam’s canal system

The iconic image of Amsterdam is not without its canals. Amsterdam is a city of canals, often dubbed the “Venice of the North.” They tell the story of its growth as the city relied on this extensive canal system to transport people and goods before modern transportation technologies existed. However, Amsterdam’s canals still serve useful purposes and they still define the city we visited on Thursday during our canal tour.

The view of a canal from one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of bridges. Private boats that are used by residents to get around line the edges.

Most of the canal system that exists today was constructed in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age. Three concentric semi-circles were built around the medieval city center and were labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. As the centuries went on hundreds of narrow streets and narrow canals developed to create an expansive canal system. Some portions of the canal were constructed for military purposes while others existed for trade, water management, or residential purposes. Today there are about 1,500 bridges in the Amsterdam area.

The canal cruise company we used. There were a large number of different companies in the city center. Some offered regular tours and others offered fine dining, drinks, and more with the canal tour.

The canals today are primarily a way to transport around the city. A municipal water bus services a few routes throughout the city that locals and visitors use. From my observations during the tour, the canals are used for tourism more so than general transportation. Many canal tour companies lined the water outside of the central train station. Canal tours are an important part of Amsterdam’s tourism economy, carrying more than 3 million passengers each year. Historic buildings and landmarks line the canals making a thriving tourism industry. Most of the boats we passed on the canal were other canal tour services. However, there were a good number of pedestrian boats on the canals, both personal boats and water buses.

An example of a larger houseboat on the canal. The houses behind it are famous for being crooked.

Our tour guide also mentioned the canals are used for public events and special celebrations held for the city. Each year there is a celebration that, as one of the traditions, involves hundreds of locals going for a swim in the canals. In the wintertime, the canals are used for ice skating. Hundreds of years later, the canal system is an integral part of the social and economic life of Amsterdam. Finally, the canals are also home to hundreds of houseboats. These houses are permanently anchored along the canal edges and they are plentiful.

The large canal just in front of the main train station (not pictured) where we began our tour. Two other tourist boats float before us.

The canal tour demonstrated the unique way Amsterdam grew. It was constructed with canals in mind, not cars and roads like most American cities. While dredging up canals is not something American cities should invest in, there are lessons to be learned from Amsterdam’s land use planning. The canals have forced Amsterdam to develop narrow, walkable streets. The city and its population are dense, creating a vibrant city center that attracts people and businesses. The canals are coupled with strong biking and streetcar systems to create a multi-modal transportation system that makes it easy to navigate the city in a clean, efficient way. American planners can learn a lot from Amsterdam’s development for how it has created a world-renowned and sustainable city.

-Duncan Richey

HTM: Public Transport in the Hague

How the public transit company plans to appeal to more passengers

We spent the morning visiting HTM, the company that organizes the majority of public transit infrastructure in and around the Hague through tram, lightrail, and bus systems. Appropriately, they are headquartered in Den Haag Centraal (the main train station in the Hague) and those of us who didn’t arrive by bike traveled there using their public tram system from the train station by our hotel, Den Haag HS. A representative of the company, Hans van der Stok, led us through a presentation that introduced us to the company and outlined their current infrastructure as well as their plans to make public transit more accessible, sustainable, and appealing.

Den Haag Centraal, the Hague’s main train station, also the location of the entrance to HTM’s headquarters.

HTM currently operates 72 trains, 129 trams, and 115 buses to meet the needs of over 275,000 passengers each day to connect them from the Haaglanden region, including the Hague and Delft, to the port city of Rotterdam. Additionally, the company supports the development of private transport in the Randstad region, which includes Amsterdam as well as the Hague and Rotterdam. Each year, passengers accumulate over 480 kilometers of travel using HTM public transit, a number that is expected to rise in the coming years, especially as the company attempts to improve the perception of public transit in the Netherlands.

Our presenter speaks with professor Cor Rademaker before the presentation begins.

HTM estimates that passenger appreciation of the public transit system is around 7.5 out of 10, but there remains a certain stigma around the use of public transit in the Netherlands that the company is trying to overcome in order to encourage more people to use it. In order to do this, HTM is attempting to enhance the quality of their buildings and stations to improve the perception of the public transport system and the people that use it. Therefore, HTM has begun focusing on the iconic value of their transportation infrastructure, or the aesthetic and symbolic value the public assigns to them. The more iconic value their infrastructure has, the more likely people will be to use it.

Inside one of HTM’s public trams, accessible with a chipcard.

HTM also related their plans to meet the Dutch policy of climate neutrality in the next few decades: much of their train and tram system is already electric, but by 2025 they also plan to retire their existing buses with combustion engines and replace them with an entirely electric fleet. They also stressed the importance of sustainability in their “5xE” model emphasizing the importance of public transport in improving five pillars of city life: equity, effective mobility, efficient city, economy, and the environment.

The view from the HTM headquarters overlooking the Hague.

HTM also discussed their role in managing the mass influx of data they receive in order to improve the planning of their transit systems to match service level to demand, as well as using their data responsibly to avoid invading their customers’ privacy. Today the company is able to derive data from the PT-chipcard their passengers use to board their transit systems, and they are able to determine the number of trips per passenger, their boarding time, their origin and destination, and more. However, HTM stressed that they do not sell this data and abide by very strict laws that permit them access to only a certain number of their passengers’ data and prevent them from divulging the name or address of the passenger who owns an individual chip card.

An example of one of HTM’s chipcards needed to access their public transit. This can be used to board trains, trams, and buses in and around the Hague.

-Amanda Peele

Delta Works

Delta Works flood protection infrastructure

Our day was spent traveling to Deltapark Neeltje Jans to learn about the Delta Works projects. Deltapark Neeltje Jans is both a theme park and a Delta Works educational center. Throughout the Netherlands’ history, they have benefited from being in close proximity to the sea, but the sea has also been a great source of danger. Since a large portion of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the country has had to create innovative systems to protect from flooding. The Delta Works are the largest flood protection system in the world and include storm surge barrier, dikes, dams and sluice gates.

This exhibit was located in the Delta Expo and is an overview of water infrastructure constructed from the Delta Works projects.

After we arrived, we explored the Delta Experience. The Delta Experience is a lively visual that took us back to the night of January 31,1953 where we witnessed the devastation that occurred during the North Sea Flood of 1953. During this flood, seawater breached the dikes destroying homes, roads, telephone lines, and sweeping away many people and livestock. This visual gave us a glimpse at what that night was like for those affected as well as educating us about how the Dutch responded.

A small scale replica of the Eastern storm surge barrier.

After the Delta Experience, our group watched a brief film that provided further information about the systems the Netherlands implemented to protect from flooding. In response to the traumatic flood of 1953, the government initiated the Delta projects to provide security from the water. We learned that they began construction with smaller dams first in order to get a better understanding of the building process and to gain the experience to construct the larger projects. Some of the techniques used during construction were borrowed from the military such as the use of caissons, which had been used for quick formation of artificial harbors. They also created new techniques such as using mats to protect the seafloor from being eroded.

The location we were visiting was the Easter Scheldt, and it was considered to be a complex area of the Delta Works projects due to the large amount of water flowing in and out with the tide. Because this area is an estuary, it provides habitat and resources for numerous species. Debate began over whether or not the Eastern Scheldt would be sealed off or remain tidal, but they finally decided on a storm surge barrier that would allow water to flow in and out. I thought this was very interesting because the health of the environment was considered during this project, and many times decisions are made without thinking about how it could cause adverse effects in other areas.

Sea level markers located on the storm surge barrier. The bottom marker is 3m above average sea level and the gates will close when water is predicted reach this mark or higher. The top mark is where the water levels were during the Flood of 1953.

One of the most exciting parts of our day was actually getting to visit the storm surge barrier. I had seen images of the barrier, but it was impressive to see in person. The storm surge barrier was completed in 1986. The barrier closes whenever sea level are predicted to be 3 meters or higher. Water level forecasts are determined from a constant supply of data coming from weather and water monitoring systems on land and out at sea. This data is then used in computer simulations to predict tide levels 10 hours in advance. Decision makers can make the call to close the gates when they receive these predictions, but the gates are also capable of closing by themselves incase of an emergency. They had a museum in the interior of the storm surge barrier that provided us with information as we moved through the facility.

Students walking through the storm surge barrier. The black gate on the left closes when sea levels are expected to be 3m or higher.

This was the second piece of large-scale flood protection infrastructure that we had visited on our trip in the Netherlands; several days before, our group visited the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. They have taken aggressive steps to combat flooding and have done so in a proactive way, which is important because this issue will only continue to worsen as sea level continues to rise. This is very important as the rest of the world turns to the Netherlands to learn how to implement water management infrastructure. The United States has already felt the affects of climate change with storms like Hurricane Sandy or with urban flooding in Miami. As the climate continues to warm, sea level will rise and storms will become more unpredictable and cities need to be prepared to manage the water that will accompany.

Water flowing through the storm surge barrier. This is important to ensure that water can flow through the gate to preserve the ecology of the area.

-Stephen Lapp

Biking to Leiden

Examining sophisticated bicycle infrastructure

Today began with an approximately 8-mile bike ride to Leiden from The Student Hotel in The Hague. Although biking with a group of 26 is never easy, the sophisticated bicycle infrastructure of The Netherlands made the trip very enjoyable. Compared to the intense biking from the day before, this was a relaxed ride. We decided to stop at the Castle Duivenvoorde, built in 1226, along the way. Although it was not as large as stereotypical European castles, it was worth seeing. A moat in the form of a gentle river surrounded the base of the structure. Surprisingly, this castle has been owned by the same family for its entire history. We kept our tour of the outside brief so as not to disturb the family currently living inside.

Castle Duivenvoorde hs stayed in the same family since its construction in 1226. In fact, the ancestors of the original owners still live there today.

After walking the grounds of the castle for a while, we made our way back to the ‘bicycle highway’ that connects Leiden to The Hague. These roads typically run through wilderness areas and are safely removed from the busy highways that allow cars and trucks. Throughout the whole ride, we passed several people walking, a few horses, and only one car. Even with us being right outside of one of the most urbanized areas of The Netherlands, it felt as though we were deep in a secluded forest. It wasn’t until we were very close to the Central Station of Leiden that we emerged into an urban environment.

“Bike highways” connect metropolitan regions through scenic trails in the wilderness. This is the trail that connects The Hague to Leiden.

Before reaching the city center, we passed a sculpture honoring the life of Rembrandt van Rijn. Born in Leiden, Rembrandt grew up in a house close to the sculpture. He eventually moved to Amsterdam so he could sell his world-famous paintings for better prices. Citizens of Leiden are still proud to claim Rembrandt as theirs, and even boast a museum including many of his most renowned works. However, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam holds the majority of Rembrandts’ paintings today.

A statue honors the famous painter Rembrandt in a square near his birth home in Leiden. He later moved to Amsterdam to increase the size of his market.

Finally, we reached the center of Leiden. Like most Dutch cities, the Central Train Station marks the hub of life in the city. We parked our bicycles in an underground parking garage with the capacity to house over 20,000 bikes in racks and lock-stations. Then, it was time to roam the city. We spent most of the day exploring a festival, restaurants, and the local castle. Although we never discovered the purpose of the large festival, we were all excited to receive free snacks and drinks. The city is full of delicious restaurants ranging from authentic Italian to true Dutch cuisine. The castle provided a stunning view of the city from its vantage point on a hill. Most European castles are constructed on hills or mountains for defensive reasons.

The train station in Leiden includes a large underground bicycle station. This one can support over 2,000 bicycles at once!

Other students spent their free time eating their way through an open-air market, investigating the two main churches in Leiden, or watching a rowing race in the canals of the city. The market offered everything from fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers to traditional sweet treats like Stroop waffles, all at a great price. Even meats like sausage and chicken were sold in cooked and raw forms. Unfortunately, one of the churches was closed due to a wedding, but it was still amazing to admire it from the outside. Some students were even lucky enough to witness an intense race between several teams of rowers in the canals that connect parts of the city.

Students look on as rowers race in the canals of Leiden. Canals are a common sight in Dutch cities and are often used for recreation.
One of the churches in Leiden dominates the skyline from the castle in the city center. The second major church in Leiden is just out of frame to the left.

After a long day of exploring the city of Leiden in smaller groups, we reconvened in front of the bicycle parking garage. Professor Rademaker led us back to The Hague via an alternate route along a canal. Although this route was much less wooded and included more homes, it was nice to see the water. We covered the 8 miles between us and the hotel faster than expected and could leave for dinner once we returned. It was nice to have a more laid-back day to explore a new city while still getting to learn about and experience the incredibly organized and user-friendly bicycle infrastructure of The Netherlands.

-Jed Higdon

Water, Wind, and Transportation

Storm Surge Barriers and Biking Infrastructure Experienced First-Hand

Today, our teacher and Hague enthusiast, Cor Rademaker, indulged us with over 70 km of biking (yes, we mapped it) between the city and Dutch countryside, exposing Holland’s hidden gems and sustainable qualities. We traveled to Schipluiden and Maasland to experience the expansive biking infrastructure before stopping at the Hoek Van Holland to learn about storm surge protection.

Biking infrastructure extends all along the beach, cutting through the dunes to make bike travel easy and accessible.
Biking infrastructure outside the city is well marked and easily navigable.

Our tour began heading out of town towards the smallest village in The Netherlands, ‘T Woudt. On our way, we paused to discuss the social housing within The Hague and how it is situated near the tramline, making it workable for those without cars. Because public transit is so common here, there seems to be much less of a stigma associated with social housing than in the US. Cor informed us that 70 percent of new housing built in the Hague is dedicated to social housing. Once we got out of the city, we entered cow country. We learned that cows are an important part of the Dutch agricultural economy since most crops struggle to grow in the brackish water that lines the fields. Across the bike path from the cows there were greenhouses that seemed to be go on forever. These greenhouses were used to grow grapes for wine production. After a quick stop at Holland’s smallest village, we stopped at a rural café to regain the feeling in our legs before heading back out to check out Schipluiden and Maasland, two small towns. Our main stop for today was to visit the Maeslant Barrier Rotterdam, a storm surge barrier. After biking six and half kilometers against the wind, we made it to the top of a hill overlooking the barrier. The barrier is a structure so big that it takes four years and over 300,000 liters to paint. Completed in 1997 and costing over 660,000 Euro, the Maeslant Barrier was designed to protect the city of Zuid-Holland by taking the full brunt of flooding from the sea. In order to do this the structure must be able to sense its surroundings and act quickly. Because it takes around 30 minutes for the arms to close, the system relies heavily on sensor technology and is completely computerized (even if we went extinct the gates would still close). Among other things, the sensors detect changes in sea level rise, wind speed, and wind direction. Once the water gets to three meters above sea level, the computer sends out a message to the city alerting the ships that the gate will soon be closing. To make sure that the system is still functioning, the barrier is tested once a year and is expected to be needed once every ten years, although it may be more frequent in the future due to climate change. The structure is completely self-sufficient and self-protecting. The structure is powered by its own power plant. In fact, there is a power plant built for each arm. In the case that one was to fail, there is a wire that runs under the river to provide power to the other. If both were to fail, there is a diesel engine that can be used to power both arms, but this takes more time to close the arms. The structure protects itself from damage by not closing completely. When the gates are fully closed, there is an 80 cm gap between the arms to allow for the inevitable movement during heavy storms. Water moves much more rapidly through the arms once closed because there is a much smaller space for water to move. This could serve as a source of energy in the future, but the tour guide said that they were not there yet with the necessary technology. Although grueling, the day was very informative. Besides learning about storm management in The Netherlands, it was interesting to see just how quick and easy it was to get out of the city via bike. There are so many bike paths, even in places you wouldn’t expect (like the countryside) that truly make not having a car easy. The city is planned around biking infrastructure, making it not only safer for bikers but also more sustainable.

Greenhouses are an important part of the Netherlands crop production. These greenhouses are growing grapes for year-round wine production.
With arms as long as the Eiffel Tower is high, the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier protects the citizens of Holland from experiencing massive flooding during extreme weather. Plus, it is one of the wonders of the modern world!
The building behind this group of students is a 100% sustainable town hall building. The thatch roof serves as an excellent insulator!

-Megan Gwynn

Urban Renewal in Rotterdam

A new approach to the urban farm

In the morning we walked to the station and caught a train to Rotterdam. We had a meeting with at an urban farm called Op Het Dak, but we took our time walking there. Along the way we passed some architecturally unique houses called Urban Treetops, which appeared to be slanting down toward the street. These houses were built in the 1970s in an effort to liven up the city center with “playful architecture”. Then we meandered through the Market Hall, which was held in the center of a huge ring-shaped residential building. I bought a bizarre-looking fruit called a crazy melon and enjoyed it as we walked. As we approached the building we passed through an area that has experienced tremendous urban renewal. In order to make the area more accessable, a massive pedestrian bridge was built out of wood and painted yellow. The bridge passed by a small community garden, made in a former deposit for building supplies. The bridge continued up to a train station that is in the process of becoming the Dutch equivalent of the New York Highline. This trio of inviting refurbishments is meant to encourage people to spend time outdoors and encourage pride and commitment to the surrounding community.

Inside the Rotterdam market hall visitors can pick up spices, produce, meats, cheeses, or enjoy a warm meal with a view of the Pencil, a neighboring landmark.
The slanted Urban Treetop homes require some creativity to live in and make the center of Rotterdam appear more playful and lively.

Upon arriving at Op Het Dak, we took the elevator up to the top floor and were greeted by Wouter Bauman. He explained that in 2012, the building was scheduled for demolish, but the architect stepped in and proposed a plan to give it new life by inviting creative companies to move into the builder. Bauman explained that the bottom floor was home to a popular Biergarten, and the other floors of the building housed other community-oriented organizations. Then he presented his personal project; the urban rooftop garden, overlooking the center of Rotterdam. The city offers a hefty subsidy for people starting rooftop gardens because they minimize the heat-island effect in cities, increase biodiversity, and work to prevent runoff and flooding. The garden produces a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even honey to be sold and served at the charming restaurant that shared the roof. Bauman explained that the biggest challenge with rooftop gardening was distributing and managing weight in a way that the roof could support. The edges could support more weight, so were fitted with polystyrene planters where deeply-rooted fauna could be grown. The rest of the roof was covered by several layers of plastic, film and soil in order to prevent damage to the roof. Because of the limited amount of soil that could be used, the garden was mainly comprised of plants with shallow roots. However, this didn’t seem to present a large obstacle for the garden; ruby raspberries could be seen warming in the sun, the vines of bean plants bowed under their heavy pods, and pollinators (including bees from Op Het Dak’s own hive) buzzed lazily around the rooftop. In addition to being exceedingly fruitful, the garden has received much media attention and is even listed on travel website Lonely Planet as one of the top attractions of Rotterdam. Although the garden does not use any pesticides, its produce is not considered organic because the soil used is not natural. Nevertheless, Bauman explained that the compost, which was comprised of food and plant scraps, provided some of the fertilizer used to nurse nutrients into the soil. After a few minutes of wandering around the garden and grazing on the fruits and vegetables, we settled down at the small rooftop restaurant and were treated to a healthy, wholesome lunch.

With the long hours of intense summer sun, Op Het Dak’s garden is thriving.
The compost pile in the corner of the garden is a step in the company’s effort to be sustainable.
The yellow pedestrian bridge, which passes over a major road, makes the area around Op Het Dak more inviting and accessible.

After lunch we left Op Het Dak and moved in the direction of the harbor. Along the way we passed a few large regions of pavement sunk below the level of the ground. These pits contained steps and jumps for a skate park, but during heavy rains a series of gutters would direct the water into them to form ponds and alleviate flooding. Upon reaching the harbor, we split up into groups and took our time returning to our hotel in The Hague.

Because of its low altitude and rainy climate, Rotterdam has been forced to get creative about managing water. This recreational area doubles as a pond during times of heavy rainfall.

-Ayla Gizlice

Smart Approach

A look at urban farming, sustainability, and standardization

The day started with a visit to a one year old urban farm called The New Farm centered in The Hague, Netherlands. This urban farm is located atop a six story building used for housing different office spaces. The rooftop and top floor were completely converted into a large aquaponic system containing both a greenhouse and fish tanks. By allowing the plants above to use the nutrients found in fish waste, aquaponics combines two different ecosystems into one to create an efficient use of resources. Thousands of tilapia were grown in the tanks and their waste water was taken through a large filter which then feeds into tubes to be taken to plant soil. The rooftop contained many different kinds of produce such as basil, cilantro, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, and many other leafy greens, all fueled by the nutrients of fish waste. The entire aquaponic system recycled around 90 percent of its water. This resource efficient farm can be seen as an example for future food initiatives in urban areas. As the global population grows, more and more people need food and gravitate towards cities. This leads to questions of space and food production, which are both answered by urban farms. The only drawbacks are that they require a lot of money and energy to start. This urban farm combines agricultural and fish production to efficiently feed the planet as the population grows.

Rows of leafy greens at the entrance to the rooftop greenhouse at The New Farm. This was one of two sides. The other side contained tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants.
Water filtration system used to extract useful nutrients and water from fish waste to be used for produce. Water enters through the black box and then a series of open containers. Ammonia is the main nutrient extracted which is the converted into nitrates by small bacteria in each open container.
The irrigation system for all of the plants in the greenhouse. The system runs nutrients from fish waste and water from below directly to plant roots in a controlled amount. Yellow tape is suspended above the produce to control pest contamination in an organic way.

To finish the day we stopped by NEN, which is a company centered around standardization. Although it seems complicated, standardization is basically agreements among many parties affiliated in producing a product, idea, or system. The goal is to minimize conflict when developing ideas and allow for the acceptance of these new products in different areas, whether its regions, countries, or continents. Some examples are bolt sizes or USB ports on computers. In talking personally with a NEN employee, we learned that the most complicated part of standardization is making all parties agree on an outcome in a timely manner. This process can be difficult but it is necessary for allowing cities to replicate systems that are known to be successful in other smart cities.

An interesting entrance to the standardization building at NEN. Here many parties are worked with to come up with agreements that lead to a higher quality of life.
Rooftop and solar panels of the university. Under the parking lot there are thermal collectors which allow for the transfer of energy and aid in heating the building. The solar panels also acquire energy and produce heat.
The heat pump located inside the university. The structure looks as complicated as the processes that occur inside it. Its main purpose is to minimize energy use when heating and cooling the building.

When moving towards a smart city it important to take steps that enhance the quality of life for its inhabitants. We saw three examples of this in food production, sustainable building use, and standardization practices.

-Charlie Garnett