Urbanization increases the need for jobs. Circular economies and innovation hubs create new opportunities in cities.
It is no coincidence that the four largest cities in the Netherlands, a country with little space available for new development, are also smart cities dedicated to their diminishing environmental impact and finding ways to minimize costs while improving quality of life. The Netherlands is in a very unique position as half of the country is under sea level. The realities of climate change bring much more urgency to developing sustainable solutions. For some cities, this means meeting the goal of operating on 100 percent renewable energy within the next 30 years.
On this trip I was fascinated by how smart cities use data collection, transportation infrastructure, innovation and environmentally planning behavior to improve and increase the efficiency of public goods and services for the growing population. Envisioning how these factors increase efficiency and capacity while also minimizing the collective cost is a difficult idea for someone who is thinking from a short-term, American mindset. Smart cities excel due to the cooperation between the public and private sectors and a commitment to working with experts all over the world for the benefit of the international community. TNO is an excellent example of an independent research organization with the goal of connecting leaders in innovation as well as knowledge partners. TNO uses applied science to see where economic opportunities intersect with sustainable solutions.
With a rather rapidly growing population, the entire world will experience a shift toward urbanization. With urbanization comes a need for more resources as well as creating employment opportunities for its people. In the cities that we visited in Germany and the Netherlands, we saw how there was a much better understanding of how small businesses and startups create economic possibilities. Cities like The Hague, Eindhoven and Amsterdam provide funding for ideas that will increase sustainability, making them more attractive to new, talented entrepreneurs and others looking for work. In order to reduce the impact on the environment, it is necessary for a smart city to promote circular economies. It was really interesting to learn that Amsterdam is positioned to be the one of the first fully circular cities. On the Smart City Amsterdam website, “implementation of material re-use strategies has the potential to create a value of €85 million per year.”
Circular economies decrease the amount of energy used in the supply chain by lowering the demand for raw materials, which must be extracted. A transition to using organic material substitutes as decreases waste. This results in some job loss in the beginning level of the supply chain, however these losses can be offset by the creation of jobs in repair and remanufacturing industries. The need for the repair and reproduction creates new demands and opportunities for industries in smart cities throughout the Netherlands as it requires standardization within industries. Small and large business in addition to universities, have the role of making intelligent designs for products. From visiting a standardization-focused organization and a number of applied science organizations and startups, we saw how it takes an entire system of public and industry partners in order to nurture innovation and increase efficiency. These forces can be at odds with one another but ultimately come up with the best outcomes.
When thinking about how smart living can be applied in the United States, it is difficult to imagine how everyday people will take the lead in order to live sustainably. There will need to be help from the public sector to make incentivize recycling of resources. Business owners and consumers will have to understand that there is an enormous amount of waste that comes with our current behavior and the benefits that come when these wastes are circumvented. I hope that in the United States lawmakers will soon see the promise of investing in efforts to turn waste back in to raw materials and how these practices can benefit the supply chain and stimulate job creation. Decreasing the demand for raw materials would also decrease the American economy’s heavy reliance on foreign imports.
Green mobility innovations will make for an exciting future for cities
Our first class day while in Eindhoven began with the group biking to the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The Automotive Campus hosts a variety of startups that focus on innovations that will improve the efficiency of automobiles as well as help move toward the transition to electric vehicles. After our lecture we visited a workshop on the campus that is an extension of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. We made a trip to the university yesterday and today had the opportunity to see more of the kind of technical work that universities in the Netherlands do in order to foster relationships with universities and help prepare students to enter the workforce and think like “gamechangers.”
Our class time was in two parts: one lecture focused on innovations that are being worked on that will enable full automation of transportation and the other one focused on the transition to electric vehicles and how this would operate in an urban system. As part of the development of smart cities, we mostly talked about electric vehicles in the context of public transportation in urban areas. Green Mobility would include private cars and car sharing in addition to electric trains. Electric vehicles and automation together will decrease energy demand while also eliminating fossil fuel emissions with platooning, or the communication between automobiles and traffic lights.
The social implications of automation include more efficient use of space in cities. This is really important when thinking about the challenges that many European cities face when trying to expand outward. Automated vehicles and car sharing services within cities come with great potential for the development of public space due to less of a need for parking space within cities. Although less parking would mean a decrease of revenue for cities there could be more housing developments within the city. The introduction of more green spaces would improve water retention within cities as well as protect the air quality in cities.
Shared workspaces are an important aspect in supporting an innovation ecosystem with the development of new and improved technologies and data collection. Chapel Hill and many other cities in the United States would greatly benefit from more investments in public transportation. Public transportation intersects many different aspects of sustainability as it can decrease the carbon footprint while decreasing the collective cost of transportation resources within a city. Transportation also promotes social equity by making more of the city accessible to more people.
As we have seen modeled in our visits to universities is that there is great potential for knowledge sharing when using triple helix solution models; using partnerships between the government, industry and universities to solve problems and improve cities. What we have found during our time in the Netherlands is how the transition toward renewable energy solutions and smart city planning is much more urgent when considering the serious consequences of climate change. Hopefully government and industry in the United States will soon realize the benefits of these innovations in strengthening the economy using the triple helix model to move the US to the forefront of innovative technology.
How social sustainability and infrastructure improve quality of life
We started off the day with a group reflection in the hotel. In our conversations about our first two class days in Freiburg, we pointed out differences we saw in the lifestyle and behavior of people in Germany and how these differences relate to city planning and the transportation infrastructure .Multi-modal transportation infrastructure along with the development of public space allow for easy access to city centers and the development of social capital. Our lecture on Germany’s shift toward renewable energy in Shonau and our bicycling tour through sustainable neighborhood projects in Freiburg gave us some new perspectives on how sustainability can be implemented and how these actions can make positive impacts on overall quality of life while minimizing environmental impact.
After the reflection, we went to the farmer’s market as a group. This was a fun way for us to be a part of the culture of Freiburg and see how many residents interact in public spaces and get their food. One interesting point that we have discussed several times on the trip is how with the farmer’s market culture and community agriculture projects, people and farmers can develop relationships. These relationships help societies become more connected to its food sources and thus make the systems more economically sustainable, stable and environmentally conscious.
Our first business day was a visit to Ika, a trade company for industrial equipment. Their work spans across industries and over 70 countries. Ika is classified as a mittlestand company or a small-scale company in Germany that is characterized by a family ownership structure. These companies promote innovation, social responsibility and community ties within their industry as these values increase social sustainability while also making the company more competitive. Enhancing relationships with communities, customers and employees are focuses that are good for business and essential in maintaining long-term success.
Mittlestand companies often develop machinery or other technology and create dominance in these markets. They are dedicated to continual development and improvement of products, personnel and purpose in order to ensure quality. These investments in their employees improve quality of performance and improved work culture while also allowing the employees to be a part of the decision-making process. These are all contributing factors that make Germany one of the strongest economies in the world.