How the US can learn from the Netherlands’ Delta Works system
On June 27th we visited Deltapark Neeltje Jans to see one of the largest storm surge barriers in the world, which is just one part of the Netherlands’ extensive Delta Works system that keeps the country—more than half of which lies below sea level—from being swallowed by the sea. The facility, part of which is housed in the storm surge barrier itself, serves not only as a museum to explain the operation of the Delta Works but also as a memorial to the victims of the devastating Flood of 1953. In a visceral theatrical production, visitors are able to experience the night a heavy storm caused extensive flooding in the Netherlands that killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced thousands more, and ultimately prompted the Dutch people to find a way to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again—an effort that would eventually result in the construction of the Delta Works.
The structure was impressive (though as a Public Policy major I was more awed by its success from a managerial rather than an engineering perspective), standing at about 3 kilometers long and made up of a series of retractable gates that can stop the flow of water in the event of an anticipated storm surge. What was even more striking to me was the decision to incorporate the storm surge barrier with a road on top of it, so that the structure served as both a means of transportation as well as protection against flooding.
Once the project was finally completed in 1997, the estimated cost of the Delta Works was approximately 5 billion Euros, which is almost $6 billion USD. Though this cost may seem superfluous and therefore irreplicable in the United States, one should consider that the damage from that single night in 1953 amounted to more than half a million USD, not to mention the loss of human life, farmland, and infrastructure. Following that tragedy, the Dutch were able to amass political support for preventative measures against storm surges that Americans have seemingly been unable to, even in the wake of devastating storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which together caused nearly 2,000 deaths and cost over $170 billion USD.
Unlike the Netherlands, the vast majority of the US lies well above sea level. However, some of its most important cities—including New York City and New Orleans—are relatively low-lying and, therefore, susceptible to flooding during strong storms. Though the US has invested in some storm surge infrastructure, such as the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lake Borgne Surge Barrier near New Orleans, it doesn’t compare to the Netherlands’ extensive Delta Works system.
In the event of a natural disaster, the benefits of investing in lifesaving, anti-flooding infrastructure in America’s most vulnerable cities clearly outweigh the costs. However, as with most policy issues in the US, politicians balk at the seemingly outrageous cost of creating this infrastructure, which would likely reach into the billions of dollars. However, as even US President Donald Trump has pointed out, investing in infrastructure creates many jobs and stimulates local economies. Rallying enough political support to fund such vast infrastructural endeavors may not be as difficult as it seems, particularly as coastal cities begin to contend with the inevitable sea level rise and intensification of storms that will accompany climate change.
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.
A discussion of what makes Dutch cycling so unique
The Netherlands’ incredible cycling infrastructure and culture resonated with me the most during our time there. It never ceased to amaze me because it is such a stark contrast to anything I have seen or experienced in the United States.
My home town is Charlotte, NC and if there is one thing we are good at it is, like most American cities, designing for the automobile. Probably 95% of Charlotteans live in the suburbs, including me. Although I am only ten minutes to downtown by car, it would take me at least an hour to walk, longer to figure out which bus could take me there, and risk my life to bike there. Everywhere I go in Charlotte I am forced to take a car. So biking in the Netherlands was a novel experience and one that taught me many lessons I hope Charlotte can learn from as well. The Dutch cycling culture is something I have vaunted ever since I arrived home.
The very idea of biking in The Netherlands is decades ahead of what it means to the typical American. Here it is not thought of as a mode of transport but instead as a form of exercise- primarily performed by people with enormous quads decked out in skin-tight suits and aerodynamic helmets on wheels with the thickness of a pencil. The Dutch don’t think of cycling as anything special, it is simply the most practical way to get around. Given this mindset, cycling is ingrained in nearly every facet of Dutch society. City planning has made traveling by bike easy, safe, and preferred.
There are many small and large ideas that the Dutch have integrated to create this cycling culture. The first and most noticeable is the ubiquity of bike lanes. They exist on nearly every road and if they are not present it is for one of two reasons. One, the nature of the street is such that cars travel at slow speeds and it is understood bikes and cars share the road. This understanding is created by the design of the street. In The Hague it was typical of a street like this to be narrow and layered with brick or a material other than black pavement. Two, if bike lanes are not present on a street than there are most likely alternative routes for bikes that are safer and just as fast, if not faster. We learned about cycling superhighways that are located in The Netherlands and we experienced cyclist-only routes that were alternatives to highways that bikes were not allowed on.
On a large scale the omnipresence of lanes is important but it only works because of the details the Dutch have taken care of on the street level. The most important of which is the different color treatment bike lanes receive compared to the road. Throughout the Netherlands, we saw bike lanes that were a burnt-red to separate them from the automobile lanes. Something as simple as a color change makes cyclists feel safer and more comfortable riding in such close proximity to cars. In Charlotte, while we do have some bike lanes, they are the same color as the car lanes. Consequently, drivers drift in the bike lanes, cyclists don’t use the lanes, and it is as if they did not exist. The Netherlands show that something so seemingly trivial, is imperative for a successful cycling network. Moreover, cyclists are given their own traffic signals to create an efficient traffic flow and keep cyclists safe. Other details include wider lanes, extensive bike parking, shorter routes via tunnels and cut-throughs, and protected or separated lanes when necessary.
I hope Charlotte can learn from the Netherlands. Creating a comfortable and successful cycling network is beneficial economically, socially, and environmental. In the Netherlands it doesn’t take facts and statistics to understand that either. It is clearly evident in the everyday life and observation of the incredible Dutch cycling culture.
Americans should implement European bike infrastructure and culture
One of the best strategies for reducing emissions is encouraging the public to use environmentally-friendly forms of transportation. In dense cities that have good infrastructure for pedestrians and bikes, the public does not need any convincing. Biking, walking, and public transport already provide the most convenient options of transportation in these scenarios.
We experienced this first-hand while staying in The Hague and in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The hotels where we were staying, The Student Hotel, directly rent bikes to guests. This shows an understanding at the community level that bikes are a necessity for daily life.
Every day, we used our bikes to get across town, through the Dutch countryside, to the beach, to visit businesses, and beyond. Both throughout the Netherlands and within the Hague, there is an extensive and well-developed network of bike paths. Bikers feel safe, and that is the key to getting all of the community to participate.
When we biked to the small towns of Schipluiden, Maasland, and Leiden, we used bike highways that connect the cities through the countryside. It was beautiful to ride through the fields past family farms and rural neighborhoods. People on bikes, roller blades and scooters were the only individuals using the pathways, which ensures safety of the area. Non-motorized vehicle highways allow travelers to completely avoid the dangers of cars.
When we biked within the city, like when we visited the Dutch Urban Farmers location in the Hague, we used spacious bike lanes that help prevent bike-car collisions. These lanes make bikers feel safe, and encourage more community members to feel comfortable on the road.
European infrastructure also caters to multi-modal transportation. If citizens need to travel longer distances that are not feasible via bike alone, they have the option to bike to the local train or bus stations, store their bikes, and then move to their final destinations.
When residents elect to commute via walking or biking, there are lots of benefits not only to the individual, but to the community. For the individual, there is a positive trend towards mental wellbeing and productivity. Additionally, by biking or walking, they engage in exercise, which improves physical health, as concluded by Dr. Rundle and Dr. Heymsfield in the JAMA published study Can Walkable Urban Design Play a Role in Reducing the Incidence of Obesity-Related Conditions. These benefits to individuals in turn benefit the community; residents are happy, healthy and productive. Use of these pathways also decongests the city. Personal vehicles take up a tremendous amount of space on roads, and require parking within the downtown area. When workers choose to walk/bike instead, the roads are more open and efficient.
American urban planners should work to implement similar infrastructure and bike culture in the United States. There are already movements towards this cause, like the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (http://huron-waterloo-pathways.org/) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am excited to see initiatives like this one make progress and have success in the States!
Clustering different demographics to promote social cohesion
One of the recurring themes from our study abroad program was the benefits of density in cities. Every city that we visited during the program was designed to use space as efficiently as possible. From a logistical standpoint, this makes it much easier to walk and bike from place to place, and makes it easier to implement public transit. In addition, apartments use less energy than detached, single family houses, and dense development opens the door for infrastructure such as a district heating system. The other benefit of density is that it can make it easier for diverse groups of people to interact on a day to day basis, and as we learned, these interactions promote social cohesion, and make it easier for people such as immigrants to integrate into society.
Before discussing the European method for promoting diversity, I’d like to look at the current situation in America. For example, I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in North Raleigh, and it was anything but diverse. My entire neighborhood is detached, single family houses that sit on about 1 acre of land each, and are marketed towards middle and upper-middle class (white) families. The closest hint of racial or economic diversity was the people living in the apartment complexes that are about a mile away from my house. Because of this, school was the only place that I interacted with anyone who was not exactly the same demographic as me, and I was really not aware of the problems facing minorities or low-income people. But this is not unusual for Raleigh; it is actually quite typical of American cities. It is a result of our zoning policies and the way that cities are developed. We wind up with clear divides between the middle class neighborhoods, the upper class neighborhoods, and the lower class neighborhoods; and with the economic divides come racial divides as well.
In the European cities that we visited, there was a much more conscious effort to put housing for everyone in each part of the city. The first place we saw it was in Freiburg, where the city planners intentionally built social housing close to middle class housing, and we saw this kind of planning again in The Netherlands. This helps to promote not only economic diversity in districts, but racial and ethnic diversity as well. When people live close together like that, it promotes social interaction, and exchange of ideas and information. In theory, this results in citizens having a greater understanding of the problems that low income people and minorities face, and this seeps its way into local and national policy-making. People are more likely to vote for a policy that helps the poor if they actually interact with and get to know low-income people.
Areas like the Triangle are experiencing rapid growth, and there is somewhat of a movement towards more dense mixed-use development, but the emphasis does not seem to be on diverse density. North Hills is a mixed-use development in Raleigh, and it is outstandingly popular, but also very expensive, so only upper class people can live there. In downtown, a government subsidized apartment building was just sold to an out of state developer, and the people there have only nine months to move out. It will then be converted into apartments for middle and upper class people. This is a serious mistake by the government, because it will not preserve the diversity in the downtown area, and will not promote the inclusive environment that the city seeks to have. When developing new parts of the city, or when re-developing old parts, city planners should make it so that people of all backgrounds can afford to live there, and find the environment open and inclusive, because it will promote social cohesion and make life better for everyone in the city.
Urban gardening removes the long distances that food typically travels, eliminating waste.
While we visited a variety of businesses and clean technology startups throughout our trip in Germany and The Netherlands, the sites that had the greatest impact on me were the urban gardens. They utilized rooftops and brownfields at a range of scales from personal to commercial projects. Some, like UrbanFarmers in The Hague, even combined growing produce with fish farming. This type of sustainable food in the heart of cities is exactly what is needed to combat the lack of easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables in inner city environments. These gardens also decrease the urban heat island effect, which can make cities miserable to live in. Additionally, they can even increase biodiversity by encouraging different types of birds and insects to thrive in an urban environment. However, one of the least recognized benefits of urban farming is the fact that it impacts food waste in a major way.
In the United States, nearly 40% of all food grown is never eaten. In fact, the worldwide figure isn’t far off, with about one third of food being wasted every year. With the population exploding at unprecedented rates, the pressure is on to build more farms, clear cut more forests, and mistreat more animals for efficiency of production. Issues surrounding the agricultural industry are at the forefront of the most troubling environmental problems of our time. While industrialized countries face waste coming from consumer culture, developing nations waste most of their food by mismanaging it in the earlier stages of the supply chain. Despite this difference in reasons for loss of food, one of the worst offenders in worldwide waste is decomposition in transit. When the United States ships most of its fruit from South America, several tons of it decompose along the trip every year. They simply cannot survive such a long transit without some of the riper fruits rotting. This also has devastating effects on the flavor and quality of the fruits, which are picked much earlier than they should be. Overall, there are certain issues with shipping food around the world that are impossible to avoid.
When investigating the state of the international food trade, it becomes increasingly obvious that local sources of food are advantageous for a variety of reasons. Firstly, transit is kept to a minimum. DakAkker, the rooftop garden in Rotterdam, only ever moves their food by bike, emphasizing the local nature of their project. The fact that they provide edible flowers, which wilt when shipped too far, further displays the advantages of sourcing food locally. This is one example of a crop that would never survive in a shipping container for several days. It is also widely believed that the fresher food is, the better it tastes. That’s why many of the restaurants that buy from DakAkker use the produce the same day it is harvested. This simply is not possible when shown in an international food trade model.
Additionally, by skipping the thousand-mile trip from farm to table, food waste is kept to a minimum. There is significantly less, if any, decomposition in transit when food is grown and eaten within the same city. In general, people are happy to know that their food is sourced locally, and tend to enjoy the fact that it was grown near their homes. By adopting urban farming practices, cities can make a stand against food waste and encourage citizens to eat locally.
Apart from the obvious benefits of farming locally, placing gardens strategically can revitalize rough parts of town and be a smart use for previously wasted space. Rooftops represent a previously untapped resource that could allow the switch to more local methods of farming and eating. In conclusion, one of the best ways to have better food and combat food waste would be to start more urban farms within cities across the globe.
The next step for automated cars and the internet of things
Everyone in the automotive industry knows we are headed towards an autonomous future; the debate is how the transition will take place. I would argue that the path to fully autonomous transportation future is getting clearer every day.
First I would like to consider bike infrastructure in the Netherlands as a case study. The Netherlands is a good example of how to spur a transportation revolution. The country did not decide one day to put in all of its current cycling infrastructure. The country introduced the biking alternative a little at a time over a long period of time. It sat back and waited for the people. This gradual introduction created a positive feedback loop: the more people biked, the more demand was created for bike infrastructure, which in turn encouraged more people to bike.
This same model can be used in the autonomous car industry, and there is evidence that it may already be started. American tech giants like Google, Uber, and Tesla are working on improving the technology that goes along with autonomous driving. However, they are struggling with the first steps of transitioning to mobility as a service.
This concept, mobility as a service, is an idea for the future where no one owns their own car, they just call on a car whenever they need it. This notion is hard for a set of reasons. Most importantly, people of this age love to drive, and they love owning their cars. This presents problems in implementation for these corporations. The major question is: how do you get enough Americans to give up their cars in order to create a positive a feedback loop? The answer: you don’t.
This may upset people who are not used to thinking outside the box, but the solution to this problem has to be creative. Transitions have to be gradual, and consumer choice is the key factor to consider. So, the solution is simple, just give the consumer two choices and make one obviously better. We already have the technology to combine typical cars with autonomous cars. If companies like Tesla and Uber could partner up to combine privately owned cars that could also provide an autonomous service.
Imagine business professionals who loves their car. They do not want to give up this luxury, but are open to new opportunities. They buy a car that has autonomous capabilities installed as well as the software similar to Uber. They drive to work, don’t want to pay for parking, so they turn this service on. It takes their car out all day driving customers around and making them money. When they are ready to go home, they call their car back to their location, and they turn the service off.
This process would help the transition in a set of ways. First, it would greatly increase the amount of autonomous service cars on the road. People would love a car that can make them money all day. Secondly, this service would allow both the car owner and the car customer to get used to the idea of autonomous driving. This impression would allow for the positive feedback loop to start, and all we would have to do is sit back and watch the transformation take place.
There are many ways to advance mobility as a service, and there is no way to determine exactly how it will play out. However, the autonomous driving future is coming, and this ownership service combination could be the best way to integrate these technologies.
Merging ideas from Dutch innovation groups to create a better Research Triangle Park
While in the Netherlands, we had the opportunity to visit several innovation groups, including the Amsterdam Smart City and Strijp-S groups. Both are platforms that spur innovation by bringing numerous start-ups and established companies together, giving them the opportunity to collaborate. Observing the similarities and differences between the two innovation hubs can aid in drawing conclusions of how Research Triangle Park (RTP) could be structured in the future to become an innovation capital.
Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) is a platform at which companies that are working on making Amsterdam into a smart city can meet. A smart city is a city that integrates and connects technology and data from around the city to increase the quality of life of its inhabitants. Each company that is housed in ASC has a moon goal. ASC values the quote “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars”; they believe that every company should have a major goal that they are shooting for. The government and other companies all have to agree that the company’s moon goal is achievable and useful for the city before that company can pursue the goal. Involving the city government in the goal is important for making sure the company does not create a technology that is not marketable or helpful to increasing quality of life.
Following the presentation about Amsterdam Smart City, Tom Van Arman presented to us about hackathons. Hackathons have a lot of potential for solving major problems the city faces. During a hackathon, a problem is brought forward, and people from the city form groups to brainstorm solutions. The hackathons only last for a day or two. When people are under a time constraint to come up with a solution, they generate a lot of ideas that may not have come up otherwise. At the end of the hackathon, the group with the best idea is given funding to work on their project. Hackathons are therefore great events for generating new ideas and putting those ideas into practice.
Strijp-S was a cluster of companies we visited while in Eindhoven, a town in the southeast portion of the Netherlands. Many of the companies housed within Strijp-S focused on reinventing Eindhoven. According to our professor, Eindhoven was not always the neat town that saw while visiting: it had undergone a lot of changes. Several of the Strijp-S companies were focused on adding sensors, greenspace, and residential communities to the city. The sensors could monitor crowds and could change the light color, which could help to control how loud people are. Eindhoven’s city government funded many of the projects, demonstrating that it is important to have the government involved in the planning of the city.
There are several aspects of Strijp-S that made it a strong innovation environment. For one, established companies and start-ups are housed in the same building, which enables start-ups to get advice from the established companies and established companies to receive new ideas and motivation from the start-ups. As we toured the building, we were greeted by open space and lounge areas with drinks and game tables. Our guide explained that the lounge areas were good informal places for businesses to mingle and bounce ideas off each other. In the past, several companies had met in these lounges and brainstormed ways for their companies to develop a product together. Nearby cafes and markets also provide the opportunity for the different companies to meet up. Discussing ideas with other companies is a great way to spur innovation.
Strijp-S and ASC have several similar qualities. The government provides some funds for both of the clusters, but for ASC the government gives input into what is being developed for the city. This is an important aspect because it ensures that the cluster is working to improve the quality of life of the city’s inhabitants. Both clusters also bring different companies together, which helps the companies to share advice and skills. While ASC brings companies together by requiring that they approve each other’s moon goals, Strijp-S houses start-ups and established companies and provides common meeting areas. Even though the clusters differ in how they bring companies together, their methods touch on two important aspects of innovation: regulation and informality. Requiring that companies approve of each other’s ideas increases the likelihood that the idea will be successful while informal spaces help to bring businesses together naturally.
In addition to governmental aid and bringing companies together, the clusters also value the triple helix model. In fact, this model was popular for many of the businesses visited throughout the Netherlands. The triple helix model is a model that combines industry, the government, and institutions to bring about the best innovation possible. In this model, the government provides funding for projects and ensures that projects are in the best interest for the city. Universities and businesses often work together on projects, and it is not uncommon for students to intern with the companies. This triple helix model is important for innovation because it allows for city input, builds students into future innovators, utilizes all available research space, and brings the experience of businesses together with the fresh ideas of students.
One final similarity between the ASC and Strijpe-S is their emphasis on start-up companies. In Strijp-S start-ups help to provide new ideas and are placed with the established companies. In ASC, start-ups are generated from hackathons. Once again, the two companies illustrate several important innovation concepts: the merging of start-ups with established companies and events to spur new ideas and start-ups. Merging start-ups and established companies helps to combine expertise with fresh ideas while innovative events like hackathons help to brainstorm new companies for major problems.
In order to create a successful innovation hub in RTP, the factors seen in the Netherlands should be synthesized and applied. First, let’s consider the structure of RTP. The park was originally constructed in the 1950’s and is therefore ready to be constructed into a new innovating machine. Start-ups and established companies should be housed near each other. This housing could be within the same building or on a campus. If the companies are housed within the same building, this building should have common meeting ground for the businesses. If the companies are housed on the same campus, coffee shops and restaurants should be scattered throughout the campus. These would provide informal meeting places. Many business leaders stress the importance of chatting over coffee or in lounges: this is where new product ideas are developed best! The fresh ideas of start-ups and the expertise of established companies are two important ingredients for successful innovation.
The government of Raleigh should not be separated from the innovation in RTP: both ASC and Strijpe-S have proven that the government plays an integral role in innovation. Funding from the government is important to promote innovation, as new products and companies are expensive to create. The government should go a step further than merely providing funding to RTP, though; similarly to Amsterdam the Raleigh government should have a say in the products that are being created. This could take the form of having a monthly meeting between a governmental official and an RTP representative. The government should be able to veto some products in order to ensure that the products will be helpful for the city.
As discussed earlier, the third aspect of the triple helix model is the university. Universities provide important new ideas and research/project opportunities for businesses. There are three major universities in the research triangle region- UNC, NC State, and Duke- and these universities have the potential to make a tremendous impact on innovation in RTP. However, there is not a lot of collaboration between these universities and RTP companies, especially when it comes to research. This is a key factor that must be changed for innovation to be successful. Specifically, programs could be created at the universities that connect students with companies. Students could intern at RTP companies, and companies could share some of their knowledge with students. Projects between companies and students are also essential to innovation because they utilize the university’s resources, generate useful products for society, and teach students how to innovate and how to think about innovation.
One final aspect to consider in the process of creating an innovation capital in Raleigh is hackathons. In Amsterdam, hackathons have tremendous success in bringing people together to think about problems. Hackathons could be hosted by RTP to bring forward new ideas and to generate new start-up companies. In addition to the citizens of Raleigh, students, professors, and governmental officials could take part in the hackathons. This would aid in strengthening the triple helix model and bringing in fresh ideas. RTP has all of the ingredients of an innovation capital: start-ups, established companies, universities, and the government. However, these pieces have not yet been merged. The creation of the triple helix model in RTP is essential for the future of innovation there. Moreover, start-ups and established companies must have space to mingle, allowing new ideas to flourish. Following the examples set by ASC and Strijpe-S, RTP can become an innovation capital in the U.S.
Analyzing the use of collaboration in organizations like Amsterdam Smart City, Appsterdam, and the CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin
In class we’ve learned the definition of a smart city as a city that uses an advanced data infrastructure and innovative technology to make living more comfortable, more sustainable, and more efficient. Throughout the trip, however, I’ve learned that the key to creating a smart city, more than anything, is collaboration. Innovative ideas do not arise from thin air, and neither does the infrastructure that makes these ideas come to life. Organizations like Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) and Appsterdam, and places like the CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin, take the ideals of smart cities and the concept of collaboration to create smart innovation at a new level.
Before analyzing how these organizations use collaboration, it is important to first define what collaboration is. Simple answer, some may say, it is when two or more entities come together to produce or create something. Yet collaboration in the smart city realm is so much more than this. It is about face-to-face interactions, challenging each other, and creating an environment that will produce one’s best ideas. By utilizing these aspects of collaboration, the ASC public-private partnership, Appsterdam, and the CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin can create a unique solution that satisfies the needs of their smart city.
Having face-to-face interactions is the key to building an ecosystem of people and companies. Tom van Arman, a curator to Amsterdam Smart City and board member of Appsterdam, a tech-event organizer for the Amsterdam Economic Board (which ASC is within), has been apart of Amsterdam’s movement to bring these interactions to the tech community. Appsterdam provides weekly lectures and bar meet ups, peer support, tech events and more to connect App Makers. Have an idea? Interested in a new topic? Go to a bar next Tuesday night and converse with people who have similar interests. Not only does this inspire new thinking in an informal setting, but can serve as a proof of concept trial in the community by gauging others interests. CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin also shows the value of these interactions by combining new start up companies involved in innovative, sustainable technology into one building with an open-plan office space. Different companies sharing spaces allows individuals to bounce ideas off one another as well as seek advice such as funding for startups.
The second key to collaboration is competition. Tom van Arman helps organize hack-a-thon events that allow app making teams to enter in a challenge for creating the best app solutions for different urban problems in Amsterdam. A competitive environment is a recipe for the best and most innovative ideas, and better yet, they are coming from the community itself. This allows cities to remain agile and create a smart city solution that fits their structure, culture, and personality. North Carolina attempted to create a smart city event by organizing the Triangle Smart City Summit. The summit, however, consisted of a series of lectures and discussions. While great for educating the community on smart cities and creating the face-to-face interactions, it is missing the competitive environment that fosters the best ideas.
The last key is environment. Visiting CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin, it is clear that employees enjoy their workspace. With the shared spaces amongst the different companies, there is constant intermingling that generates a sense of camaraderie and enhances the flow of information, teamwork, and productivity. More exposure to natural lighting also has huge benefits for workers. A study titled, “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life,” concludes that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life. Compare the natural and open environment of Berlin’s CleanTech Innovation Center to Cary’s Innovation Center – which has individualized offices with dark, artificially lit rooms known to alter one’s circadian rhythm thereby altering sleep and quality of life – and its obvious which environment is more conducive for innovation.
Berlin is ranked the ninth smartest city in Europe by optimizing on the creative energy that flows into the city. CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin helps produce concrete ideas and plans from that creative energy by providing an enjoyable workplace that emphasizes collaboration. Amsterdam is ranked the second smartest city in Europe and is within the top five smartest cities in the world. The public-private partnership ASC plays a large role. Yes, the face-to-face interactions, competition, and beneficial environments through organizations like Appsterdam allow individuals to collaborate, create innovative ideas, and produce startups. What ASC does after that, though, is create an innovation platform for startups, thereby optimizing the bottom up approach to smart cities. They can bring together the app makers with the developers and make these ideas come to life. Understanding what true collaboration is makes cities smarter, more agile, and more able to tackle urban issues. That is why these organizations make Berlin and Amsterdam two leaders on the smart city front.
A look into innovation hubs in Germany and the Netherlands
One thing I have found fascinating about smart cities throughout our trip is the idea of investing in innovation and knowledge. Examples of this were seen throughout the Netherlands and in Berlin. The ability to attract talent and start up companies came from cheap rent that provided space to work and potential to collaborate for all parties. Any ideas developed in these spaces for innovation could be tested in a few areas in the city in things known as living labs. Strijp-S in Eindhoven and Adlershof in Berlin both had some projects that were being tested in the area to see how useful any technology or project was and how it could be improved. Setting up hubs for innovation has many positive effects for the city. First of all, when people working on different projects have space to work around each other, it is more likely for them to share ideas, get feedback, and discuss solutions with others working in the same building. This can lead to solutions that could never be reached without collaboration. More innovation hubs can also give a city an upper hand for government funding since it is likely that local and global solutions for problems are most likely going to come from cities focused on innovation. Innovation hubs don’t need to be super complicated either, the main perk of these hubs would be cheap rent and open floor plans. This would attract start up companies that aren’t far enough along in the business process to start making money. When companies aren’t concerned with trying to make money to pay rent it is more likely that their work will be a higher quality. In Berlin we saw it as a common theme to provide cheap rent for startups and then when they get their feet off the ground they can move into larger office spaces on the same campus with a higher rent. The most effective innovation hubs had an open floor plan that gave the room a transparent and collaborative feeling. We saw this in Eindhoven’s microlab. The first floor was used for physical workspaces such as carpentry, art and design. Workshops could be rented on a weekly or monthly basis. Above this, many different kinds of companies ranging from startups to corporations had offices with glass windows and glass walls. This gave the space a collaborative creative feeling. On a larger scale, the business park at Adlershof combined many different businesses on a small campus. It even collaborated with a local university to allow students to contribute ideas and gain practical experience. The clean tech campus in Berlin also had a similar setup. There were different sections of the campus designated to startups, the more established businesses, then solid functioning businesses. The goal of the design was to provide space for a company to start up and develop all on one campus while maintaining loyalty to the area. I see this as huge plus for the local community. Many companies that develop on these campuses recognize they received a lot of aid from the beginning and will stay in the area. This can bring income, jobs, and inspiration to the community. Similar to Silicon Valley, once people see success in an area they want to develop there as well, gaining help and feedback along the way. We noticed a significant local impact of innovation systems when we visited A Smart Amsterdam. The organization of Hackathons provided the best solutions to local problems for the best price. Amsterdam used the lean startup approach for businesses and applied it to the city by allowing engineers, business people, policy makers, and tech gurus to come together and figure out a solution to a problem such as waste disposal. The solutions could then be tested in the area and altered to fit a more desirable outcome. This is similar to living lab techniques for city problems. This is why I believe innovation hubs like the ones seen in Germany and the Netherlands could be very beneficial to the RTP. Surrounded by NC State, Duke, Chapel Hill and various technical schools this area has a rich workforce. As startup hubs begin to emerge from the triangle area more students and locals are provided opportunities to develop ideas that can benefit the local community, region, country, and world. One very effective technique for solving problems on campus at UNC could be to implement a similar hackathon method that Amsterdam used. Allowing students a chance to solely dedicate themselves to problems seen at UNC could bring forth some very effective ideas.