Category Archives: smart cities

Green Roofs

Op Het Dak’s rooftop garden and what Raleigh could learn

While we were in the Netherlands, our group had the chance to visit several sites that put their rooftops to use in creative ways. One that I found particularly interesting was Op Het Dak in Rotterdam. Op Het Dak is a rooftop garden with a bistro that overlooks Rotterdam’s city center. Instead of letting their rooftop be a waste of space, they allow it to serve many functions leading to an array of benefits. Increasing green space and decreasing impervious surface on a roof helps the city better manage storm water runoff. This will become even more important as the climate is changing and larger volumes of water fall during a given rainstorm. This specific installation stored rainwater under the initial layer so that plants were able to absorb the water during dry periods. By implementing green roofs, cities can use this space in a way that helps them to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. Rotterdam is even paying half of the cost for green roofs when implemented on private rooftops. They are doing this because they realize that it is cheaper to help subsidize the costs of these projects as opposed to investing in large-scale water/sewage infrastructure. These projects have other environmental implications such as absorbing heat to reduce the city’s urban heat island effect, while making the buildings more energy efficient. These types of installations on roofs are perfect for cities looking to manage their storm water runoff in a way that is cheaper and doesn’t involve large infrastructure investments. Another important aspect of Op Het Dak’s rooftop is its garden. This garden produces produce that is used at the rooftop bistro, as well as providing flowers for local restaurants and businesses. Volunteers are allowed to help work in the garden during special times, which is a good way for citizens to get involved and learn more about the importance of rooftop gardens while establishing connections with those that they are working with. The green roof and the garden incorporate plants that attract pollinators, which make a great home for the beehive located on the roof. This is both important for increasing pollinators and biodiversity in an urban environment, as well as for educating the volunteers and patrons of the bistro about the significance of pollinators. Using the produce from the garden in the bistro allows customers to have access to fresh food while exposing them to how it is grown. This helps create a stronger connection between people and the food that they consume because they can see where it is coming from and the people who help grow it. Op Het Dak provides citizens with a rare oasis of green space in the middle of the city center. This project has, in turn, helped increase the investment in the surrounding area making it more attractive to the city. This site incorporates a creative use of space yet a fairly simple idea, which can be easily replicated. As the population continues to grow, cities will have to use their space more efficiently, and Op Het Dak serves as a good example for how to do so. The variety of functions that a project like this brings are useful for cities trying to revitalize their downtown because it increases the value of the surrounding land, leading to further investment in the area, as well as the project being environmentally conscience, which is necessary for planning sustainable and resilient cities.

The green roof on the building serves as a home for pollinators, while helping manage stormwater runoff and reducing the city’s urban heat island effect.
Flowers on the rooftop garden that are sold for local restaurants to use in their stores. Until picked for an arrangement, they serve as a great home to pollinators and make for a lovely view.
Our group exploring the rooftop garden before eating lunch at the rooftop restaurant. This section of rooftop houses a beehive, produce to be harvested, flowers, and a place to compost.
Op Het Dak is the rooftop bistro and garden located in Rotterdam. Here, they grow fresh produce for their restaurant while providing green space for their patrons to enjoy while they look out over Rotterdam’s city center.

As an urban area like Raleigh continues to grow, they must be foreword thinking in how they use space available to them, while doing so in a way that is good for the environment and green roofs are a perfect way forward. Raleigh could learn from European countries like Germany and the Netherlands, or even a city closer to home like Chicago. Some multifunctional roofs are present in Raleigh, but the city could take this opportunity to be a leader in green roofs in the southeast. Projects like these would be important in lowering the cities energy use, especially since cooling takes up the largest share in electricity usage for buildings. Green roofs would not only have environmental consequences like better storm water management, increasing urban air quality, and decreasing urban heat island effect, but it would also make the city more attractive for future growth. These features can also serve as an opportunity for public education on the importance of such projects. Furthermore, the city could partner with NC State’s engineering and architecture departments to help design green roof plans to take advantage of local knowledge, while giving students real world experience. On top of the economic opportunities Raleigh has to offer, these installations would make the city more appealing for young professionals. This would lead to more companies being drawn to the area, further setting the city apart from its peers. Many companies are looking to settle in areas that have a strong pool of young professionals and that are environmentally friendly. This is a good example of how the built environment plays a role in impacting the economics of a city.

-Stephen Lapp

Green Garden Cities

How to bring local food to US cities in a sustainable way

Cities are expanding and the population is growing and thus creating a greater need for food and land. We constantly hear about the need to reduce carbon emissions in our atmosphere, and one way to do so is to change the way we grow our food. In America, a large monoculture farm normally defines farming, but it we can reinvent it. Creating farming within the city would do a lot to make a more sustainable, smarter food system within the city. During our time in the Netherlands, we visited many gardens that aimed to bring local food to the city or provide arable space to the community. The farms and gardens’ purpose is to decrease the carbon footprint of the food the locals eat and to develop a community by providing a space for socialization.

Most food travels hundreds of miles before it reaches an inner city supermarket. The New Urban Farm has found an alternative to average farming by growing vegetables and farming fish in a high-rise building in Den Haag. They are then able to provide food with a low carbon footprint to the local community and supermarkets.

The New Urban Farm had converted a rooftop and the top floor of a building to greenhouse and fish farm, respectively. The project was incredible, using smart greenhouse and water technology to recycle 90% of the water between the fish farm and greenhouse. This farm aimed to reduce the carbon footprint of food that is sold to the city by producing in the inner city and selling it to local retailers and having it at markets.

In Rotterdam, we visited the Op Het Dak, a less intensive rooftop garden focused more on community and decreasing the heat island effect in the city, and less on providing food. This garden was focused on social capital. It introduced people to the idea of green roofs and built a desire for more. Our tour guide there said they had many visitors and people either wanting to assist Op Het Dak or create their own rooftop gardens. Focusing on community allowed this garden to raise awareness for what gardening can be, and is a great stepping stone to creating a city of green roofs.

One of many rooftop gardens in Rotterdam, Op Het Dak, is part of a city initiative to reduce the heat island effect by converting an unused rooftop to a space that filters carbon dioxide and cools the area.

We passed many city-owned properties that fostered farming too. There are gardens in empty lots throughout the city and farm animals in the parks. These gardens are not permanent and since the land is owned by the city when development is necessary the city mandate change. However, while the spaces are unused they are suitable for gardens, offering another way to bring produce to the local community. Also, the parks with cows and goats were more for kids’ entertainment but could be taken a step further and used for small dairy production in the inner city.

On market day, urban farmers and community gardeners can sell their produce. This localizes produce and creates a atmosphere for fresher food with a less of a carbon footprint.

There are many different ways to change farming in the cities. Of course, the city would not be self-sufficient but bring some production and fresh food to cities would be a great step to reducing carbon emissions – by decreasing food transportation and cleaning of the city air with more greenery. To see this change happen in the United States I think we would need to start with projects like Op Het Dak to get the community involved in seeing how they could recreate their homes or workplaces. Also, since many cities have adopted the Paris Accords they could create a funded initiative to start inner city farming. A city like New York, with many parks, could transform some or parts of their parks into local community gardens or small dairy producers. The larger scale operations, like New Urban Farm, would need to from entrepreneurs but cities could create grants and subsidies for these projects, as the EU does. Projects like these are a necessary step for United States’ cities to bring a healthy atmosphere to their citizens and reduce their carbon emissions.

-Emily Bulla

Cultivating a Startup Culture

Changing the game with incubators and the game changers mindset

Although the United States is known as the land of capitalism, I know that if I started a business today, it would undoubtedly fail. This is not due to my lack of business expertise, entrepreneurial experience, or connections, but the lack of infrastructure and resources for those ordinary citizens like myself who have an idea and want to make it a reality. Ideas originating with the common people are called bottom-up initiatives and have the potential to infiltrate the market dominated by larger, top-down corporations. This opens competition within the market, forces other companies to innovate to stay as the top competitor, and encourages smaller companies to pursue their business because they actually stand a chance against larger companies. So, is there a place that exists, where a small startup is given the resources to take on a large established company? Yes! Throughout Europe and larger cities within the United States there are places called incubators holding the resources startup companies need in order to network, create prototypes, collaborate, and basically get the starter pack to getting their company off the ground.

Source: Erin Danford Photography
Here is the Makerversity Workshop at Amsterdam Smart City where entrepreneurs and citizens can access resources such as 3D printers to produce prototypes. Rapid, in-house prototyping reduces production costs and allows for faster product evolution.

On our travels throughout Germany and the Netherlands, we visited many of these startup locations each with their own perks. Werkfabriek, stationed in The Hague, Netherlands, houses an eclectic assortment of businesses ranging from window washing to career advising to technology consulting. Even though the content of each of these companies is quite different, the companies are still able to collaborate, learn from each other’s experiences, and build their social capital. Amsterdam Smart City is a platform connecting citizen led initiatives and startups with resources such as established companies, the government, and workspaces. Unlike other startup incubators, Amsterdam Smart City does not require an established company to work there which helps bring ideas from ordinary citizens to the forefront. With this approach, many of the traditional barriers citizens face when starting a business are avoided which expands the wealth of available ideas and solutions. The High-Tech Campus in Eindhoven, Netherlands is the “smartest square km in Europe” housing over 150 established companies, research institutes, and high-tech startups. The Campus offers easy access to high tech facilities and a global network of partners such as Philips, NXP, IBM, and Intel. The High-Tech Campus hopes to bring the influence, knowledge, and R&D divisions of established companies to fuel the success of smaller startups in the areas of Heath, Energy, and Smart environments. The CleanTech Innovation Center and Business Park in Berlin, Germany work in tandem to first develop cleantech startups and later transition them to the CleanTech Business Park where the established cleantech companies are housed. Small startups in the Innovation Center benefit from the mentoring program, strong networking with global partners, and an exchange program all run in connection to the Business Park. Each of these campuses provide the necessary resources startups need to flourish in their developmental stages. Without these resources, many smaller companies would never accelerate and bring their idea to the market.

Source:http://campusdevelopment.tudelft.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/The-Green-Village-3-1280×600-c-center.jpg
Here is an award winning home produced by students at the Delft University of Technology in the Green Village. The Green Village is an innovation site where new sustainable and innovative technologies can be tested in real life environments. Students combine the game changers mindset with their passion for technology, innovation, and the environment to invent the technologies tested here.

While it is vital to have these incubators available, it is often overlooked how important it is to have people who actually want to participate in them. Building an entrepreneurial society begins with its students and the way they are taught. A more interactive teaching style fosters a new “game changers” mindset and is the first step to creating the next generation of entrepreneurs. We experienced this teaching style, some for the first time, at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Here, lecture is much more interactive, focusing much of class time on actually applying the concepts instead of pure lecture (revolutionary!). The “learning by doing” method teaches students that success and failure go hand in hand; by using lessons learned from their failures to produce successes, students learn that failure is all part of the process and should not be viewed in a negative light. Developing intelligent, problem solving minds through this teaching method curates the “game changers” mindset. A game changer combines innovation, technology, and problem solving to produce intelligent solutions to real world problems. Additionally, students with this mindset are more confident in their ideas and actually pursue new and creative initiatives.

So, why does all of this matter? Teaching the game changers mindset, developing more student-run initiatives, and providing more incubator spaces will propel the United States into the future. My generation is the next set of movers and shakers who need the chance and resources to do what the world needs next. Our visit to The Green Village at the Delft University of Technology is a prime example of the game changers mindset and student led initiatives at work. Here we saw many new student-made technologies such as an autonomous shuttle, an award winning renovated house, a hyperloop, and new window technology that can capture sunlight without solar panels. Seeing these technologies and the capabilities of the students first hand was very inspiring. At UNC, I learn about projects other people are doing, but I don’t feel that I have the tools to pursue my own ideas. Beyond simply the inception of an idea, people in Europe then have the proper and necessary resources to curate their idea into a functioning startup. These are the different kinds of incubators as mentioned before that can focus on social, technological, or any other kind of solutions. Each startup space creates a collaborative, helpful, diverse, and useful environment for every company involved. The interaction between companies can be beneficial by providing fresh perspectives to solve problems, advising companies on problems tackled in the past, and using communal spaces to meet new people and make networking connections. These spaces also offer startups a low monthly rent to ensure they can continue developing their company in a productive space without breaking the bank. If we were to bring these kinds of incubators to the United States we would have much greater diversity in ideas and more competition between big and small companies. Combining these different aspects together will plant an entrepreneurial seed in students early on, provide the resources to make ideas into realities, and make the United States one of the top innovators in the world.

-Natalie Schuster

Rotterdam’s Smart City Initiatives

Water Squares, Mobility Initiatives, and Do-It-Yourself Houses

On June 26, we toured the Technical University of Delft (TU Delft), the largest and oldest Dutch public technological university. Nico Tillie spoke with us about Rotterdam as a smart city and how these smart city aspects contribute to quality of life there. He formerly worked as a landscape architect in Amsterdam and is currently an Assistant Professor in Landscape Architecture at TU Delft. In Rotterdam, he works on citywide projects as a leading advisor on energy, green, water and resilient city strategies and presented about these topics.

Although this bicycle pathway is near the city of Delft as opposed to Rotterdam, public transit initiatives including cycling are important for both cities because not being dependent on a fossil fuel burning car is liberating. It is also noteworthy that this bicycle lane went under the highway, ensuring that citizens can reach virtually any location they need to without endangering themselves.

I was blown away by three particularly impressive smart city initiatives in Rotterdam—their water square, their mobility initiatives, and their do it yourself houses. Many of the larger cities in the Benelux region like Rotterdam are experiencing growth rates at or above 2% on an annual basis and this increasing urbanization and population growth brings with it many challenges. Rotterdam is using an effective smart city approach to address these challenges. Smart cities concepts have six integrated dimensions—mobility, economic competitiveness, natural resources, quality of life, social and human capital, and governance. Nico’s presentation touched on all of these aspects and I was impressed.

Rotterdam wants to make sure that the city is a nice place to live and work now and that the city is able to keep improving to meet future needs. To achieve this goal, Rotterdam is committed to fighting climate change and combating its effects. As a port city, Rotterdam is acutely aware of the effects that rising seas will have on the city. As such, the city values dunes as natural barriers and dikes, data, and other technical solutions like storm surge barriers to prepare for climate change. Rotterdam’s public water square functions as a water collection and storage space during periods of high rainfall. The sunken sports court offers recreation facilities to the students and in very wet weather the square becomes a deep pool fed by storm water from the wider area and two shallower depressions fill more frequently with run-off from the immediate surroundings. Water squares and things like permeable pavement will become more and more necessary as urbanization increases, which decreases available space for precipitation to percolate and seep into soil. The water square was not that aesthetically pleasing, but it was definitely functional. I value the functionality more than the aesthetics, but in the future it would be nice to see projects that are functional and beautiful.

Another impressive aspect of Rotterdam’s smart city initiatives included mobility. Rotterdam is committed to increasing walkability and as one would expect from a Dutch city, bicycling culture is huge. 80% of people own a bicycle and 25% of Rotterdam’s citizens cycle daily. At Rotterdam’s Centraal Train Station there are 5,500 bike parking spaces. Rotterdam also has a plan to have public transport 300 meters from every homes. Studies were done and found that this increase in public transit increased healthy life expectancy within 2 years. Mobility is a huge issue in the United States because the country is so dependent on cars, which increases air pollution, decreases quality of life, and makes cities there less livable and less attractive. Rotterdam, on the other hand, recognizes the importance of ensuring easy access to and from locations that its citizens need to go. This reality is current benefitting Rotterdam by making it more attractive to live there and I believe Rotterdam’s mobility strengths will continue to benefit it in the future as well. Increasing the availability of public transportation in the United States is no small task and would also involve changing a cultural stigmatization against public transit. I think this is possible, however, especially because the younger generation seems to overwhelmingly want more livable cities and is tired of all the congestion and traffic that cars bring.

Source: https://www.dutchwatersector.com/news-events/news/8841-new-innovative-water-square-combines-leisure-and-storm-water-storage-in-rotterdam-the-netherlands.html
This is an aerial view of Rotterdam’s water square. As you can see, there is a sports court that also functions as a flooding prevention measure. I was really impressed by this initiative because it had an environmental focus as well as a social one. Rotterdam wants its citizens to engage with each other casually, and citizens can play basketball here or simply sit and chat or play music, as we saw several individuals doing.

One of the most innovative smart city aspects that Nico talked about was related to do-it-yourself houses in Rotterdam. The city of Rotterdam bought several hundreds of privately let and poorly maintained houses. The city then gave these houses away or sold them at bargain price to citizens will and able to renovate a house in a neighborhood with a low socioeconomic status, thus the DIY namesake. This initiative was highly successful in regenerating low-income areas in Rotterdam and also strengthened social cohesion among residents. Politically, I do not know if seizing houses in the United States would be viable given the cultural emphasis on property rights, but this initiative demonstrates the innovative approaches that cities will have to take to solve pressing problems.

All of these smart city projects increase Rotterdam’s quality of life and make it a much more attractive place to live because these projects also strengthen social and cultural systems. In the United States, we need to look to places like Rotterdam for ideas on how to be environmentally friendly and maintain economic competitiveness because sustainable cities are much more attractive and economically viable and resilient. There are political and cultural barriers in the United States to implementing such initiatives, but citizens are a powerful force and I am optimistic that if enough individuals press their legislators to use a smart city approach, progress will be made.

-Jennifer Craft

Creating Smarter Government

How can governments lead the way into the future?

Smart government is the impetus for any truly smart city. Citizen bottom-up initiatives to make cities smarter cannot easily occur if government is not also involved through top-down policies and through financially supporting bottom-up initiatives. The most significant problem with creating smart cities and addressing climate change in the United States is the rampant idea that government should take a completely hands-off approach. But a hands-off approach does not constitute a government, and it’s certainly not what constitutes a forward-looking society. A smart government looks to the future, embracing new ideas and technologies that will be considered essential in twenty years, rather than relying on the status quo. A smart government works to increase overall economic growth and individual economic opportunity through investment in innovation. Smart governments, especially at the local level, exist all across Germany and the Netherlands and have many lessons for cities in the United States.

Taken from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Berlin_reichstag_west_panorama_2.jpg
The Reichstag government building is an excellent example of government setting an example in order to achieve a goal. The Reichstag runs completely carbon-neutral, which is impressive considering some of its older architecture and how often it is used.

When we learned at the beginning of our Study Abroad about Freiburg’s strong climate initiatives and their success, it quickly became clear that a smart government can have a positive impact in several ways. First of all, when a government takes initiative on a project, it sets a positive example for individuals and private businesses. Freiburg’s city government has done this through pledging to be a climate-neutral region by 2050 and already reducing their carbon footprint significantly more than Germany as a whole. Freiburg’s city government has set an example for its citizens and businesses through installing rooftop solar on government buildings, increasing recycling in the city from 25% to 69%, and through extensions of the reliable and impressive public transport network. When a government sets ambitious goals like Freiburg’s goal of a climate-neutral region by 2050, it is essential that those words are backed up by meaningful actions; otherwise, citizens and businesses begin to think that said goal is not realistic and is therefore not worth supporting. Freiburg’s commitment to creating a green city is backed up by the government’s actions, leading private industry to create similar commitments.

Taken from http://transition.web.unc.edu/files/2015/06/Overview.jpg
The Schwarzwald-Stadion in Freiburg is outfitted with solar panels bought by citizens, encouraging social capital, social entrepreneurship, and personal and economic investment in environmental initiatives.

When a smart government is working towards a goal, it recognizes that it must bring in the voices of as many citizens as possible to determine specific actions to be taken. Citizen-financed renewable energy projects can be the key to achieving Freiburg’s 2050 carbon-neutral goal while doing two things: increasing citizen involvement and giving citizens an economic incentive for being more involved. One of the best examples of this is the Freiburg football stadium, Schwarzwald-Stadion, being outfitted with solar panels. Citizens also voted for a new stadium to be built in 2018. The new stadium will be outfitted with solar panels, and when citizens purchase tickets, they will also pay for the solar panels. This takes social interaction to a new level, likely encouraging those who purchase tickets to support the goal of carbon neutrality and gain a greater appreciation for those around them. A lack of social capital amongst communities can promote extreme political movements, so projects like these can achieve even more beyond carbon-neutrality.

Smart government can encourage alternative forms of energy, like wind. This allows initiatives like creating a climate-neutral region to be done much more quickly and easily.

Throughout Germany and the Netherlands, public-private partnerships promote innovation and creativity. These partnerships often involve financial support from governments, especially in the first several years of the partnership. In exchange, governments impose regulations on private industry in terms of what they innovate and the overall economy gains from private innovations. If risks are not taken, innovation cannot occur; therefore, shared risk between the government and private industry encourages innovation. Public-private partnerships also help create clusters in regions and cities (such as Freiburg being a cluster for clean technology). It is very possible that clusters will be the basis for the economy of the future. Right now, European governments and especially the European Union, are using public-private partnerships to create clusters, ensuring Europe is on the cutting edge.

Small, incremental steps towards goals can work in some instances, but bold and forward-thinking action towards a goal is something a smart government must embrace. Freiburg’s government has been a force for bold change in the past, from its implementation of a pedestrian area in the city center in the 1970’s to the transformation of a car bridge to a bike bridge in the 1990’s. Both of these actions, especially the change in the 1970’s, went radically against the trend of that time, which was to form cities around cars rather than people. Now, Freiburg is seen as a green, smart city that invested in the future. That’s what a forward-looking city is – a city that will be hailed twenty or forty years from now as smart and innovative despite not always following present trends. Freiburg got where it is by focusing on people and sacrificing temporary comfort for long-term sustainability. Those may not make for the most popular political decisions, but if U.S. city governments are to be smarter, they must consider the city’s needs past their four-year term. Bold governmental action can equate with political unpopularity, especially in the United States, so in some cases electoral reform is necessary to allow for more forward-thinking, bold politicians. There are many ways to create smarter government, all through government anticipating needs and leading – something municipalities and states in the United States could learn from.

-Joseph Womble

Shared Innovation Work Spaces

Shared working places create synergistic relationships and foster innovation.

Innovation is an important aspect of the conception of smart cities. As populations rise and urban density continues to increase, cities are facing new complications, in regard to transportation, connectivity, and even housing. Innovation plays a significant role in finding ways to solve these nuanced problems, as well as in continuing to develop progressive products. One vital method that smart cities, in particular Eindhoven and Berlin, have used to foster innovation is providing shared workplace ecosystems for adolescent start-ups, and giving them access to equipment and working space.

This is the common room in the Microlab shared work space building. Surrounding the common room, many small companies rent their own work space. While workers eat lunch or share a drink together, they exchange ideas and build synergistic relationships.

On July 6th, students visited a building purchased by two brothers in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The brothers restored this older building to create workspace for entrepreneurs to pursue a newborn idea. They named their facility the Microlab, the place for makers, creators, and innovators. On the ground floor of this high rise building, is a work shop, equipped with tools, machines, and any sort of equipment that the startups might utilize. Above the workshop a few floors up in the Microlab building, is traditional office space, where many different small entrepreneurs call home. New businesses can rent the mode of space that is most appropriately suited to their needs. Microlab offers different rates depending on the customer’s request. For instance, one could just rent a desk for 175 euros a month or access to the downstairs workbench for the same price. The companies are also able to rent out resources as they need them, such as conference rooms or presentation rooms. The idea of shared work space is to bring different companies together to construct a synergetic relationship. On every floor, Microlab provides a common room with tables, and a bar where workers could discuss a new idea over a beer or cup of tea. Regardless of the size of the space the customer rents, they always have access to this shared area, which is one of the reasons Microlab is so successful in promoting startups. However, in most cases, due to the low cost of rent rental contracts for these startups are are limited to 5 years.

CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin offered shared working space for small startups in the adolescent stage of development. With cheap rent and many available amenities, this area was ideal for new tech companies attempting to enter the clean technological sector.

On July 13th, in the startup capital of Europe, students toured a similar location called CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin. Focusing mainly on clean energy and technologies, this area provided the ideal infrastructure for young companies entering the field. One advantage of this shared ecosystem space is its close proximity to the CleanTech Business Park, which is roughly 90 hectares of industrial area where clean tech companies can prosper. This area is typically where the more successful startups transfer after their contract with the shard spaces is finished. CleanTech Innovation Center also works hand in hand with many political, financial, scientific and economic communities. This is valuable for smaller companies aiming to expand their network. Lastly, CleanTech Innovation Center even provides small spaces within the shared space for computer programmers or other workers who’ve lost track of time to catch up on sleep late at night. CleanTech Innovation Center and similar places, catalyze the growth of small scale industry in Berlin, allowing the city to truly become the startup capital of Europe.

This sleeping area was provided in the CleanTech Innovation Center in Berlin. An ideal location for computer programmers, or workers alike, to catch a quick few hours of sleep when they lose track of the time.

To transform the RTP area into a smarter city, similar shared working ecosystems could be useful in making the area technologically progressive. At the current moment, the only promoter/incubator in the region is the American Underground, which has three locations in Durham, and one in Raleigh. With similar amenities as the facilities students have seen in Europe during our tour, the American Underground is perfect for entrepreneurs working in the technological sector.

With the shared innovative workspaces observed in Eindhoven and Berlin, problem solving follows. The RTP area could prosper with the implementation of more shared working spaces like those in Europe. Shared Innovation Work Spaces allow regular citizens to bring out their ideas, and that’s what innovation is all about.

-William Onorato

Our Autonomous Future

Is the electric and autonomous car feasible in America?

On July 5th we visited the Automotive Campus. After discussing smart and green mobility in the Netherlands, we learned what the Automotive Campus is doing to prepare for the future of transportation.

The Automotive Campus is one of the spearheads to the future of cars throughout the world. While working on making cars electric, they are also thinking ahead to a fully autonomous structure.

The Netherlands has a goal of having one million electric cars by 2025 as well as producing zero emissions from public transport by this same time. These goals and ideals are much more feasible for the Netherlands as compared to the US. In Holland fuel prices are very high and most people only travel a short distance by car (given the size of the country), making it attractive to go electric. Whereas in the US fuel prices are relatively low and people travel by car much farther distances, making electric more of a hassle than a greener convenience for everyday life. Long distance travel isn’t conducive for electric vehicles because they cannot hold enough power to go from say North Carolina to Texas.

Students work toward developing their own sort of electric car. These people are the future of the electric car and possibly the autonomous car in the future!

In terms of zero emissions, the Netherlands hopes that by using electric bus systems and light rail that it can reduce its emissions drastically, making the area a better and cleaner place to live. Something like this could not happen in America today. Our country isn’t even beginning to think in this way. They are making strides towards making public transit more accessible and affordable, but we are miles behind anything Europe is doing. Europe is the leader of our future. Americans are obsessed with their cars. Having a car is such a status symbol that people are not willing to give up quite yet. Because of this, it is hard to imagine the US spearheading this movement. While companies like Tesla are working towards electric cars and the autonomous structure, these items are financially infeasible for the average American. This idea serves to further separate the rich from the poor, a divide that needs to be broken if we are looking towards a future of fully autonomous cars.

Students at TU Delft are working on a prototype for the autonomous shuttle. Could this be the future for transportation around campus?

While the idea in America may seem far-fetched, the Automotive Campus is already looking into technologies and preparing for this inevitable future of autonomous cars. One thing that I found interesting was that they were working towards both the electric car and the autonomous car simultaneously. This was striking to me because once the autonomous car is created and widely used, the electric cars that are produced now will need to be taken out of the system. The technology will still be there, but for people to actually relax in their vehicles there cannot be steering wheels in cars. Has the Automotive Campus thought about what it would do in this scenario? Are they looking to retrofit existing cars or are they expecting both autonomous cars and personal vehicles to be driving simultaneously? The latter could be potentially dangerous given our innate unpredictability and would take away the inherent benefits of going completely autonomous.

The hope with a completely autonomous system is that it allows for more green spaces and services while doing away with large parking lots and stoplights. This is a future that we should be heading towards. My only concern is what will we do with all the extra waste. If we uproot existing parking lots for parks, where does this debris go? Where do all the preexisting cars go? While I think the idea is great and that it will make our world a safer and greener place, there are a lot of questions that need to be raised before this can become a reality.

-Megan Gwynn

Recycling: A Social Service

How Plastic Recycling Can Improve a Community

One of the most interesting businesses we visited in the Netherlands was Mosaico, a recycling non-profit with a dual purpose. What makes this program unique is its intelligent method of meeting the triple bottom line— people, planet, and profit. Mosaico is a public-private partnership that employs mentally and physically handicapped people to make bags and totes out of recycled plastic bags and film strips. In this way, the organization creates a community and support system for a group of people who would otherwise be marginalized, while improving the environment. The bags are stylish, functional, and cheap enough to be sold in supermarkets. I even bought one myself.

An example of a bag made by a Mosaico resident. Each bag is hand-labeled and signed by the weaver to give it a personal touch.

In the United States, environmental regulations are viewed as hurting business. This is the justification many Republicans use when voting against environmental reform. However, a non-profit like Mosaico is a clear example of how a green business can not only function without hurting business, but also improve society. It’s easy to criticize the EPA for imposing strong restrictions or “wasting” taxpayer money, but there is no clear downside to a program like Mosaico. This is the kind of environmental movement that could appeal to both Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Not only does Mosaico reduce plastic waste in landfills, it provides employment and even makes a small profit.

An employee explains how plastic bags from grocery stores and simple strips of film are woven into beautiful bags.

There are a few programs like this in the United States, such as Grid Alternatives, which provides solar panels for low-income homes to reduce their energy burden. Go Meals is another example; they collect leftover food from Greek life functions and deliver it to the local homeless shelter. These are the types of environmental programs that have the potential to become popular in the U.S. and win over multiple parties. After visiting Mosaico, it is clear to me that the best way to frame the green movement in the United States is to market it as a tool to rebuild less-fortunate communities.

Here you can see the black strips – which are pieces of film woven into the bag. Each bag is hand-woven and takes up to a full day to create.

One of the key factors in marketing these social innovation startups is funding. If these programs are to be widely implemented in the U.S., they will need to be autonomous, like Mosaico. Although the program originally received government funding in the form of a free workspace, the sale of the bags now provides enough income to keep the facility running. Non-profits that do not rely on donations or grants have the best chance of surviving and fulfilling their purpose of improving both society and the environment. In North Carolina, there would be much more opposition to a social venture that required continuous funding from local or federal government. However, it is difficult to find a negative thing to say about Mosaico. The program is self-sufficient, well-intentioned, and provides necessary services. If we implement programs like this in the United States, many more conservative North Carolinians may join the environmental movement.

-Erin Danford

Individuality in European Cities

How does city planning in German and Dutch cities enable people to be themselves?

The United States prides itself in being the land of freedom. It is the land where people can turn their dreams into reality. However, this summer has showed me that the way that our society is organized today can hinder the realization of these dreams in a way German and Dutch society does not. In the US our society is structured in a way that alienates people from each other, whereas many European nations foster a sense of community. I would like to argue that this difference is primarily rooted in economic and political differences. While the EU and the US both operate on a system of capitalism, the EU tends more toward the stakeholder model whereas the US system prioritizes shareholders. This means that companies in the EU make decisions by considering the interests of all of the people affected by these decisions. This system maximizes equity, and can be seen in practice at many of the Mittelstand companies that we visited in Germany. With the shareholder model, which is utilized by the US, companies consider the interests of their shareholders above the interests of the people affected. This disregard for the fellow man stratifies the economy. The middle class in the US is shrinking, and the gaps in socioeconomic status are polarizing the country. The polarization affects even the most fundamental aspects of our culture; from education, to innovation, to city planning.

Osman Kalin, a Turkish immigrant to Berlin, constructed this building for his family in the death strip along the Wall during the division of the city. He wanted to bring a piece of his home country to his new home and have a place to grow fruits and vegetables for his family. He shared the produce from the garden with the community, and the house is now a monument of individualism in Kreuzberg.

Like everything in our society, cities are divided based on socioeconomic status. It is common for the rich, wanting to distance themselves from the ugly realities of poverty, move into sheltered enclaves, while the poor are confined to neighborhoods that are often neglected. Many towns in the US are not densely developed and have limited public transit, so people who cannot afford cars are relatively immobile. As a result there is less interaction between socioeconomic groups, and less empathy for people who are different from one’s self. This creates a positive feedback loop; because people are not forced to understand each other’s perspectives, little effort is made to encourage intermingling through public institutions (parks, events, transit, etc.) and the lack of empathy deepens and the problem is exacerbated. In Germany and the Netherlands, we saw that many neighborhoods are developed to have a variety of housing options for people; subsidized, high-end, and regular housing can be found in the same area. Many neighborhoods have a park where children can play and people can meet each other. Community projects, such as the community gardens that we saw in The Hague, foster a sense of connectivity through people working together to achieve a common goal. The prevalence of public transit discourages people from using personal vehicles and forces vastly different people to encounter each other on the train or bus. Public events, which often have cultural themes (for example, the Thailand festival that we encountered on our last day in The Hague), bring people together and promote an understanding of different cultures. This strong sense of connectedness and responsibility to one’s peers is mirrored by the higher taxes that people in Germany in the Netherlands pay; tax money provides a financial safety net for people in need. However, it is important to note that taxes in the EU are only slightly higher than in the US. Instead of fortifying a monstrous military, European nations funnel the majority of their taxes into supporting their citizens.

Berlin is famous for its unique street art. Although graffiti is a crime and if caught, artists must pay a hefty fee, almost anywhere you look you can find examples of this artform. Many people admire Berlin’s street art and celebrate the artists.

I feel that the sense of community that is present in Germany and the Netherlands allows people to be themselves, and do the things that they want. In a society where you are only surrounded by people who are similar, it is really difficult to be different. Creativity is choked in the name of homogeneity. Cary is a good example of this phenomenon. Neighborhoods are planned with row after row of identical houses in identical yards on identical streets. Homeowners associations limit the modifications that people can make to their properties in fear that any discrepancy will lower the value of the homes in the neighborhood. Driving through these neighborhoods is eerie; it is as if one has entered into a science fiction world, where the people live mechanical lives and have lost the beautiful, organic quality that is quintessential to humanity. This is, of course, and exaggeration. I’m sure that people living in these communities live fulfilling lives. But boxing oneself into a life that looks like all of the others must do something to a person’s mental health. In Europe this summer I observed people ranging across the spectrum of the human experience coexisting together, and generally embracing the things that make people different. Our tour of Kreuzberg provided great examples of this. Street artists are treated as anonymous celebrities, and their work has become one of the main attractions of the area. Their art provides insight into where they find meaning, and this personal monument is celebrated. Osman Kalin pieced together a home on public land, and his creativity and resourcefulness is now admired. The African art collective, YAAM, is successful enough to be housed on property in the heart of Berlin along the Spree. This celebration of arts and culture is what I will miss most about Europe.

The crowd awaits a musical performance at The Hague’s Thailand Festival. At the festival one could find delicious traditional Thai food, watch musical and dance performances, and talk to some of the city’s Thai inhabitants.

Of course human nature will always have beautiful and ugly pieces; xenophobia will always exist, and European society also has many problems with this. But I got the impression that this is a problem that Europe is working to overcome, whereas in the US many people seem content with the status quo.

-Ayla Gizlice

Smart Community Building

How places can help people form more and better social bonds

As the field of smart city planning gains momentum, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. New technology has the power to make our lives much more efficient, and perhaps more enjoyable. However, it can also have the ability to reduce how connected a community is socially, if the technology leads to greater real-world isolation. It is important, therefor, to be intentional when planning a community and to design infrastructure that will facilitate social bonding. Freiburg’s Vauban district contains many useful examples of community-focused planning.

A small pond in Vauban, Freiburg. Architectural diversity and plenty of green spaces can make urban environments more livable and aesthetically pleasing.

One aspect that isn’t immediately apparent is the effort taken to reduce the natural divisions within Vauban. Social housing and private housing are placed very close together, sometimes even in the same building. This leads to members of different economic classes being more able to interact with each other and share a sense of unity, rather than segregating the city into economically homogeneous regions. In addition, the centrally located Maria Magdalena Church helps to remove walls between separate portions of the population – literally. The building contains both a Catholic and a Protestant place of worship, but merges the two with some creative architecture. Two movable walls can open and shut, allowing both areas to become one large space for the whole community.

The inside of the Maria Magdalena church in Vauban, Freiburg. The building contains both a Catholic church and a Protestant church, which can be either brought together or separated using movable walls (a corner of one is viewable on the right side).

Planning and technology can also come together to create public spaces that generate more opportunities for people to interact with each other. Many of the housing complexes in Vauban were built with large open areas in the center, perfect for community gardens. There are many environmental benefits for increasing the amount of greenery in a city: a reduced amount of carbon dioxide, an increase in biodiversity, and a reduction of the urban heat island effect, to name a few. Crucially, there are also some positive social effects to having community gardens. They give a place for neighbors to meet and talk with one another. By creating a beautiful garden as a group, residents develop a sense of local pride and belonging. Another example of how eco-friendly ideas can have interpersonal benefits can be seen in the transportation infrastructure. Within the area, Vauban is geared towards cyclists and pedestrians. Its location right on a tram stop allows people to go to, say, the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday without ever having to use a car. Not only does this reduce fossil fuel consumption, but it keeps people in closer contact with each other and away from the relative isolation of everyone driving in their own individual cars.

Students view a community garden nested within housing complexes in Vauban, Freiburg. These areas not only increase the amount of green space within a city, but they can bring residents together by giving them a common space and something around which to build community pride.

Our group really enjoyed getting to explore Vauban ourselves. Many of us were struck by how many different smart ideas were packed into the area, some of which it took us a while to figure out. We all should view these as helpful examples of how best to create an urban area so as to maximize every resident’s sense of community and belonging.

-Keegan Barnes