Social Entrepreneurship to Revitalize a Struggling Neighborhood
We started the day today by traveling to the Laakkwartier district of The Hague. The district used to be a large manufacturing center, but the factories moved out of the area a number of years ago, which resulted in widespread unemployment in the district. The Hague has developed an economic revitalization plan for the area, and has partnered with local social entrepreneurs to implement the plan. We met with Jurienne Hollaar, the head of Coalitie Laak, which is a network of startups in the Laakkwartier district. The first building that he showed us was Werkfabriek, which is an incubator space for social entrepreneurs in the neighborhood. We spoke to a few different entrepreneurs working in the tech sector, and learned about one business helping to re-employ people in the area by teaching them to clean the windows of office buildings.
We then moved on to an organization whose mission was to educate the residents of the community about a project that will connect a highway to The Hague via an underground tunnel. This is part of The Hague’s plan to deal with increasing traffic from cars and trucks. While a large portion of people bike or use public transit to get around the city, the city is still experiencing lots of congestion from road traffic. The tunnel will emerge in the Laakkwartier district, and the city has a long-term plan to redesign the area to accommodate the highway that includes building 10,000 living units by the year 2040. The Hague also has a long-term plan to be climate neutral by the year 2040.
Throughout the morning, we visited three other groups working to improve the Laakkwartier district. The first was a community garden that was surrounded on three sides by social housing, and on the fourth side by another shared workspace for social entrepreneurs and welfare organizations. Another group was accepting public input on behalf of the municipality for how to redesign a community square. The group encouraged the public to submit input on what they wanted the square to look like, and then worked with an architect to incorporate as many of the ideas as possible. When the construction takes place for the new square, the group will employ people from the community, which generates money in the local economy. The final group was Mosaico, which employed mentally and physically handicapped individuals to make products out of used plastic bags. The main theme from all of the organizations that we visited is that citizen participation is the most important thing when revitalizing a run-down neighborhood. Rather than just coming in and changing the district entirely, the municipality worked to involve the people in the district, which gives the people employment, as well as a sense of pride for helping improve the community. The city also helped inspire change by offering several spaces for social entrepreneurs that are rent free for the first year. The Hague did a very good job of involving citizens to help revitalize the Laakkwartier district.
In the final part of the day, we visited a local organization called Sustainable The Hague. The organization focuses on bottom up initiatives in the city to promote sustainability and create awareness of environmental issues. For example, they have a program where citizens could remove stones from paths in their backyards, and exchange them for plants. This initiative helped citizens green their yards, and created awareness about the environment. This was followed by a bike tour of part of the city where we looked at different green spaces and projects that Sustainable The Hague has been involved in. The day ended with a discussion of safety and security in Smart Cities, especially as it relates to data collection and storage. A central component of a Smart City is data collection to improve the efficiency of the city, but this also raises questions about personal privacy. City planners must keep the safety and security as the number one goal, but also must keep in mind that people want their privacy as well.