Tag Archives: infrastructure

The Ruhr Transition

The Ruhr area has transitioned from major coal and steel production into one of the “green” guiding lights of Europe

Today, we began with a wrap-up discussion of our time in Eindhoven. We then travelled to the town of Essen, which is in the Ruhr area, which is considered the old industrial heart of Germany. There, we visited the Zollverein Industrial Complex, an old coal mine transformed into a museum and took a tour led by guide Peter Reuter. Walking up to the museum I was struck by how huge the physical infrastructure of a coal plant is.

We begin our tour by looking at a small scale version of the complex.
The building of Zollverein Industrial Complex.

Beginning in the early 19th century there was a huge steel and coal mining industry that moved into the Ruhr area. It completely industrialized the small farming area, which led to a huge economic boom. It also led to horrible pollution. In the 1950’s pollution was so bad that you could only see 17% of the sunlight on the ground during the day- they had to keep street lamps on at all times. The typical life expectancy for miners at that time was only 25 years, so they were encouraged to get married and reproduce young. This brought up an interesting point. Our guide said that industrialization led to the realization of human rights as more than a philosophical argument.

We got to look into the coal mines’ mills, which used to crush coal into smaller pieces with its own weight.
Students look at examples of the size of the coal before and after milling.

Soon, technology progressed to the point where miners were no longer needed. They became almost completely replaced by machinery, something that is continuing to happen in the coal industry in America. Misplaced miners were reeducated and highly valuable in industries similar to coal, such as steel. However, it still took time for acceptance. Many old mines were turned into event venues, art galleries or restaurants. Old miners would refuse to go to these places at first. Now they are some of the most popular venues in the Ruhr area. This was a really great example of ways to reuse old infrastructure and avoid razing and rebuilding. Many of the old railroad tracks that went to pick up coal have been repaved into bike paths and other forms of transportation infrastructure.

On the rooftop, we could see the many surrounding towns and cities making up the Ruhr area. Because they were originally small farming communities before industrialization, many don’t have a city center.
Old mines have become some of the most popular event venues in the Ruhr area.

As one of the poorest areas of Germany, many things still need to change for the Ruhr region. The outsourcing of steel in the 1980’s left many out of work. Now, much of their economy comes from the over 1 million tourists that visit the region each year. While there are still many large businesses based there, the majority of work is mechanized. Most jobs are minimum wage, and are service oriented. Despite this, there are many new initiatives that are hoping to bring more vitality to the region. The Ruhr area is incredibly diverse, thanks to the many international investors and diverse cultures that have moved there, which allows many different paths and innovation to occur there.

In 2017, Essen was given the European Green Capital Award, which is given to one European city that consistently meets environmental standards and is committed to improvement and development of sustainability. Our guide explained the way that Essen got the award as being just letting all of the plants grow nonstop, except to add biking paths and pedestrian areas, which led to trees and wildlife areas springing up everywhere. They have also completely redone their wastewater management system. Originally a manmade system of open sewers, they have converted it into enclosed underground sewers while retransforming the original water systems into near-natural bodies of water.

The 150-year transformation from polluted coal and steel industrial area into the Green Capital of Europe is inspiring and provides a beacon for cities trying to redevelop.

Priva: Specialized Agricultural Technology

Applying the German Mittlestand-like approach in the Netherlands

After a long stretch of company visits and sightseeing tours across the Netherlands, students finished the week traveling to De Lier to visit the agricultural tech company Priva. To get to the the company’s headquarters, students ventured through the countryside from The Hague over the course of two hours. Along the way, students observed many of the construction projects occurring in the city. The city has shifted their focus away from constructing new urban areas. Instead, an effort to develop and revitalize current urban areas have taken place and led to construction projects not located on the outskirts of the city. These projects will increase the quality of life in these areas and offer a more attractive location closer to the city center and the main train stations.

In this photo, construction projects take place just outside of the Hague. The city is moving away from creating/developing new urban areas and instead to revitalizing current urban areas.

Arriving to De Lier in the early afternoon, students received a short reprieve to eat a snack before continuing on with the program at Priva’s headquarters. Here, students were met by Dr. Jan Westra who takes the role as a Strategic Business Developer for the company. He explains that Priva was started in 1959 as a family owned agricultural tech company. Even though Priva is small compared to many other businesses, they are still a competitive global company whose core industrial objective is to produce software and hardware to successfully implement greenhouses around the world.

Priva Headquarters, a global company that provides software and hardware to greenhouse farms. The second picture is an overview of their spacious lobby area which includes a refreshment stand as well as a comfortable lounge area.

The company currently employs 320 workers within the Netherlands as well as 130 additional employees abroad. They have headquarters located in most continents including three in North America. A viable comparison to Priva is the German Mittlestand concept. This is a company who has stayed relatively small and has maintained their family-oriented values. They constantly employ interns internationally for research as well as for job specific development leading to future employment. As a result, 80% of Priva employees have received a University education and the company is top 30 for research and development spending in the Netherlands. Additionally, they have also found their own special niche within the agriculture industry becoming one of the top specialist for greenhouse technology.

Priva is active on two markets: Horticulture and Building Management Systems. On the horticulture side, many developments are made in-house by designing and building their own greenhouse systems. They make their systems SMART by integrating things such as heat, carbon dioxide and electricity together. They then continue on with their Building Management Systems. With the technology systems they have already perfected, they take on many projects across the world implementing their systems into existing greenhouses. An example of this implementation is through the UrbanFarmers company located in The Hague that we visited a week earlier. Priva constructed the intricate aquaponics system that UrbanFarmers relies on to yield fresh produce as well as home-grown tilapia to sell to local restaurants.

Not only does Priva help create SMART systems for other companies that are environmentally friendly, but their own headquarters building also takes into account this mindset as well. In De Lier, the Priva headquarter complex sports sustainability through thermal energy storage, moss covered roofs, heat pumps, and clean electricity from Norway. Additionally, they are looking into the BlueRise project which harnesses ocean thermal energy through the difference in temperature in between deep cold water and shallow warm water. As a company, they continue to push for environmentally friendly methods to gather and save energy.

We concluded our trip with a visit to the history room which detailed the background of the company and how it was started in the 1950s. We then moved on to the showroom which is used primarily for displaying new products to potential clients. Finally, we ended in the quality control center where we were able to see the hands on approach the company took to inspect their technological products.

Overall, the students were impressed by the unique niche and Mittlestand-like approach Priva takes, one that focuses on their products and not necessarily just profit for shareholders. As a result, Priva looks set for a long and prosperous future in the agriculture business.

The Hague University sports complex. The building seen is not one big futbol field but instead many different athletic spaces for exercise.
Old-fashioned windmill located in Loosduinen. Majestically standing erect against a stormy backdrop.
Location of Parkpop. Occurred last Sunday. Big music festival with some of the top European bands/artists.
Kerosene heat generator that originally was used in Florida to keep crops from freezing at night. Later, it was found that this releases CO2 which is a key component in growing crops in a greenhouse setting.

-Basil Rodts

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

Delta Works

Delta Works flood protection infrastructure

Our day was spent traveling to Deltapark Neeltje Jans to learn about the Delta Works projects. Deltapark Neeltje Jans is both a theme park and a Delta Works educational center. Throughout the Netherlands’ history, they have benefited from being in close proximity to the sea, but the sea has also been a great source of danger. Since a large portion of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the country has had to create innovative systems to protect from flooding. The Delta Works are the largest flood protection system in the world and include storm surge barrier, dikes, dams and sluice gates.

This exhibit was located in the Delta Expo and is an overview of water infrastructure constructed from the Delta Works projects.

After we arrived, we explored the Delta Experience. The Delta Experience is a lively visual that took us back to the night of January 31,1953 where we witnessed the devastation that occurred during the North Sea Flood of 1953. During this flood, seawater breached the dikes destroying homes, roads, telephone lines, and sweeping away many people and livestock. This visual gave us a glimpse at what that night was like for those affected as well as educating us about how the Dutch responded.

A small scale replica of the Eastern storm surge barrier.

After the Delta Experience, our group watched a brief film that provided further information about the systems the Netherlands implemented to protect from flooding. In response to the traumatic flood of 1953, the government initiated the Delta projects to provide security from the water. We learned that they began construction with smaller dams first in order to get a better understanding of the building process and to gain the experience to construct the larger projects. Some of the techniques used during construction were borrowed from the military such as the use of caissons, which had been used for quick formation of artificial harbors. They also created new techniques such as using mats to protect the seafloor from being eroded.

The location we were visiting was the Easter Scheldt, and it was considered to be a complex area of the Delta Works projects due to the large amount of water flowing in and out with the tide. Because this area is an estuary, it provides habitat and resources for numerous species. Debate began over whether or not the Eastern Scheldt would be sealed off or remain tidal, but they finally decided on a storm surge barrier that would allow water to flow in and out. I thought this was very interesting because the health of the environment was considered during this project, and many times decisions are made without thinking about how it could cause adverse effects in other areas.

Sea level markers located on the storm surge barrier. The bottom marker is 3m above average sea level and the gates will close when water is predicted reach this mark or higher. The top mark is where the water levels were during the Flood of 1953.

One of the most exciting parts of our day was actually getting to visit the storm surge barrier. I had seen images of the barrier, but it was impressive to see in person. The storm surge barrier was completed in 1986. The barrier closes whenever sea level are predicted to be 3 meters or higher. Water level forecasts are determined from a constant supply of data coming from weather and water monitoring systems on land and out at sea. This data is then used in computer simulations to predict tide levels 10 hours in advance. Decision makers can make the call to close the gates when they receive these predictions, but the gates are also capable of closing by themselves incase of an emergency. They had a museum in the interior of the storm surge barrier that provided us with information as we moved through the facility.

Students walking through the storm surge barrier. The black gate on the left closes when sea levels are expected to be 3m or higher.

This was the second piece of large-scale flood protection infrastructure that we had visited on our trip in the Netherlands; several days before, our group visited the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. They have taken aggressive steps to combat flooding and have done so in a proactive way, which is important because this issue will only continue to worsen as sea level continues to rise. This is very important as the rest of the world turns to the Netherlands to learn how to implement water management infrastructure. The United States has already felt the affects of climate change with storms like Hurricane Sandy or with urban flooding in Miami. As the climate continues to warm, sea level will rise and storms will become more unpredictable and cities need to be prepared to manage the water that will accompany.

Water flowing through the storm surge barrier. This is important to ensure that water can flow through the gate to preserve the ecology of the area.

-Stephen Lapp

Human connections are essential to sustainable environments

How social sustainability and infrastructure improve quality of life

We started off the day with a group reflection in the hotel. In our conversations about our first two class days in Freiburg, we pointed out differences we saw in the lifestyle and behavior of people in Germany and how these differences relate to city planning and the transportation infrastructure .Multi-modal transportation infrastructure along with the development of public space allow for easy access to city centers and the development of social capital. Our lecture on Germany’s shift toward renewable energy in Shonau and our bicycling tour through sustainable neighborhood projects in Freiburg gave us some new perspectives on how sustainability can be implemented and how these actions can make positive impacts on overall quality of life while minimizing environmental impact.

Farmer sell fresh berries and produce in the Freiburg Farmer’s Market in Munsterplatz.

After the reflection, we went to the farmer’s market as a group. This was a fun way for us to be a part of the culture of Freiburg and see how many residents interact in public spaces and get their food. One interesting point that we have discussed several times on the trip is how with the farmer’s market culture and community agriculture projects, people and farmers can develop relationships. These relationships help societies become more connected to its food sources and thus make the systems more economically sustainable, stable and environmentally conscious.

Our first business day was a visit to Ika, a trade company for industrial equipment. Their work spans across industries and over 70 countries. Ika is classified as a mittlestand company or a small-scale company in Germany that is characterized by a family ownership structure. These companies promote innovation, social responsibility and community ties within their industry as these values increase social sustainability while also making the company more competitive. Enhancing relationships with communities, customers and employees are focuses that are good for business and essential in maintaining long-term success.

Freiburg residents congregate during lunch time on a sunny Thursday to eat and shop in Munsterplatz.

Mittlestand companies often develop machinery or other technology and create dominance in these markets. They are dedicated to continual development and improvement of products, personnel and purpose in order to ensure quality. These investments in their employees improve quality of performance and improved work culture while also allowing the employees to be a part of the decision-making process. These are all contributing factors that make Germany one of the strongest economies in the world.

-Marques Wilson