All posts by Eric Fitch

Diverse Density

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.

This is a picture from a green roof looking at the Reiselfeld district in Freiburg. In this district, we saw an example of how the city planners put social housing right in the district with middle class housing, rather than creating a low-income part of the city separate from the other social classes.

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.

This is another apartment building that we saw in Freiburg. After the building was renovated, the owners set up social events in the building so that people could get to know their neighbors. This resulted in a decrease in crime, and an increase in social cohesion.

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.

Ayla and Kaitlyn participate in a drum circle at a cultural festival in The Hague. The Hague was a very diverse and multicultural area, and this event was celebrating that.

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.

-Eric Fitch

The Netherlands as a Food Exporter

Using advanced greenhouse technologies to increase food production

Today, on our way to Priva headquarters, we got a good look at the agricultural area just outside of The Hague. The area consisted mostly of large greenhouses, with some areas for livestock to graze as well. The soil in this part of the country is not very good for growing crops, and the climate does not allow for production year round. The Netherlands has worked to solve those problems through the use of advanced greenhouse technologies, such as the systems offered by Priva. Greenhouses and advanced climate control systems allow growers to control every aspect of the growing process, from humidity and temperature to carbon dioxide concentration. This creates the conditions for much higher crop yields than conventional farming tactics, and allowed The Netherlands to become a huge exporter of food and agricultural products.

Students bike along a canal on the way to Priva headquarters. Even outside of the city, the bicycle infrastructure is quite extensive.
On the way to Priva, we passed through an area with a lot of greenhouses. Advanced greenhouse technologies helped The Netherlands become the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world.

In fact, The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of food products in the world, second only to the United States. In 2016, the country exported a record 94 billion euros worth of agricultural products, according to the government website. Of that, the top exported agricultural product was materials and technology, which accounted for 9.4% of exports. A large part of the exports in this category are Priva products, as well as products from KOBA, one of the largest greenhouse builders in the world.

This building is where local food producers bring their products to auction. It is also one of the largest buildings in the world by square footage.
Cows graze in a field next to the bike path. This was a very common sight in the area with the greenhouses.

Global food security will become a much bigger problem in the coming years as the world population continues to grow and the effects of climate change become more pronounced. The world will have to continue to shift away from conventional farming techniques and towards more sophisticated farming techniques such as greenhouses or vertical farming. These methods use resources such as water much more efficiently, and produce higher crop yields. High-tech farming in greenhouses will play a large role in food production in the near future, and Dutch companies will likely continue to dominate the market for both greenhouses and advanced climate control systems.

This is the entrance to a public orchard just outside of The Hague. The orchard is part of a park, and when the fruit is ripe, citizens can come pick apples and pears for free.
Houseboats are a common sight in the canals of The Hague and other Dutch cities. This one in particular has solar panels on the roof.

-Eric Fitch

The Laakkwartier District of The Hague

Social Entrepreneurship to Revitalize a Struggling Neighborhood

We started the day today by traveling to the Laakkwartier district of The Hague. The district used to be a large manufacturing center, but the factories moved out of the area a number of years ago, which resulted in widespread unemployment in the district. The Hague has developed an economic revitalization plan for the area, and has partnered with local social entrepreneurs to implement the plan. We met with Jurienne Hollaar, the head of Coalitie Laak, which is a network of startups in the Laakkwartier district. The first building that he showed us was Werkfabriek, which is an incubator space for social entrepreneurs in the neighborhood. We spoke to a few different entrepreneurs working in the tech sector, and learned about one business helping to re-employ people in the area by teaching them to clean the windows of office buildings.

This is a picture from the inside of Werkfabriek. The building is a shared space for social entrepenurs in the Laakkwartier district of The Hague.

We then moved on to an organization whose mission was to educate the residents of the community about a project that will connect a highway to The Hague via an underground tunnel. This is part of The Hague’s plan to deal with increasing traffic from cars and trucks. While a large portion of people bike or use public transit to get around the city, the city is still experiencing lots of congestion from road traffic. The tunnel will emerge in the Laakkwartier district, and the city has a long-term plan to redesign the area to accommodate the highway that includes building 10,000 living units by the year 2040. The Hague also has a long-term plan to be climate neutral by the year 2040.

Throughout the morning, we visited three other groups working to improve the Laakkwartier district. The first was a community garden that was surrounded on three sides by social housing, and on the fourth side by another shared workspace for social entrepreneurs and welfare organizations. Another group was accepting public input on behalf of the municipality for how to redesign a community square. The group encouraged the public to submit input on what they wanted the square to look like, and then worked with an architect to incorporate as many of the ideas as possible. When the construction takes place for the new square, the group will employ people from the community, which generates money in the local economy. The final group was Mosaico, which employed mentally and physically handicapped individuals to make products out of used plastic bags. The main theme from all of the organizations that we visited is that citizen participation is the most important thing when revitalizing a run-down neighborhood. Rather than just coming in and changing the district entirely, the municipality worked to involve the people in the district, which gives the people employment, as well as a sense of pride for helping improve the community. The city also helped inspire change by offering several spaces for social entrepreneurs that are rent free for the first year. The Hague did a very good job of involving citizens to help revitalize the Laakkwartier district.

This is a workstation at Mosaico. Mosaico employs people with mental and physical handicaps to make products out of used plastic bags and cassette tape.
This is a public square in the Laakwartier district of The Hague. As part of a plan to revitalize the district, the municipality is currently accepting input from the community about how the square should be redesigned.
A community garden in the Laakwartier district uses rain-barrels to help water the vegetables in the garden. The space is surrounded on three sides by social housing, and on the fourth side there is a shared workspace for social entrepreneurs and welfare organizations.
Students learn about a community garden for low-income people in the Laakwartier district. The garden grows fresh vegetables, and also offers education programs for the community.

In the final part of the day, we visited a local organization called Sustainable The Hague. The organization focuses on bottom up initiatives in the city to promote sustainability and create awareness of environmental issues. For example, they have a program where citizens could remove stones from paths in their backyards, and exchange them for plants. This initiative helped citizens green their yards, and created awareness about the environment. This was followed by a bike tour of part of the city where we looked at different green spaces and projects that Sustainable The Hague has been involved in. The day ended with a discussion of safety and security in Smart Cities, especially as it relates to data collection and storage. A central component of a Smart City is data collection to improve the efficiency of the city, but this also raises questions about personal privacy. City planners must keep the safety and security as the number one goal, but also must keep in mind that people want their privacy as well.

This is a cogeneration power plant in The Hague that runs off of natural gas. The plant also supplies heat to 15,000 of the homes surrounding it.
Students stop on a bicycle tour of The Hague to learn about sustainable housing. The houses pictured were renovated to be more energy efficient, and many of them have solar panels on the roof.

-Eric Fitch