Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Amsterdam Smart City

How Amsterdam Fosters Innovation and Smart City Planning

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

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

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

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

Tom van Arman, founder of a venture called T.app, explained how the city of Amsterdam engages young entrepreneurs to solve some of the city’s most challenging problems. Hackathons are a common method of connecting young programmers and app-makers, and offer a free platform for participants to utilize their skills. One of the most recent challenges was to create an app that would decrease congestion and improve crowd control at sports events. In this way, the city of Amsterdam attracts young innovators and gains fresh ideas to better manage the city and improve quality of life. Events typically have private partners, but are advertised by the city, bringing in hundreds of attendees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Erin Danford

Amsterdam’s Canals: History and Uses Today

A reflection on our tour of Amsterdam’s canal system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Duncan Richey