All posts by Kaitlyn Ave'Lallemant

Carolina Union

Smarter People, Smarter City

A smart city develops from a unique social fabric.

One of the most prominent themes I have noticed as we travel through European smart cities is the importance and the influence of the people within. In the presentation with Smart City Amsterdam, they expressed that “smart people make smart cities.” These people are not simply “smart” because they know how to use the apps on their smartphones, but also because they are open and connected to their communities. The communities here seem tighter-knit than those in the United States. They are also far more diverse, and this may be due to the fact that cities attract people of various backgrounds. Diversity improves innovation and garners richer ideas and solutions. In the United States, there is a lack of this social cohesion. US citizens experience a lower frequency of personal interactions as they travel from garage to office to garage. Whereas people in smart cities seem to be far more comfortable moving about in their communities. I believe this is an essential tool to create a smart city. I would love for everyone to accept each other and live in an integrated manner. As a Resident Advisor, that is my main focus for incoming first-year students: help them transition to college life and create a comfortable home in the residence hall. In the European smart cities we have traveled, I have not felt uncomfortable once. Even at a time when I, as a white woman, was the minority. And why is this? The society here understands the significance and power of people. The social network is stronger than anything I have experienced. People who love where they live are more likely to take action to improve their communities and lifestyles. To develop a smart city, one must first begin with the people, then the infrastructure will follow.

Entrance to a food and drink festival. Antiques and collectibles are sold to the left, while people enjoy time with friends at the provided outdoor seating.

The first step to forming a smart city is connect the people. Plan events and festivals that provide platforms for interactions. While in The Hague, I experienced a high number of these celebrations within a short period of time. I went to the Thailand Grand Festival, organized by The Royal Thai Embassy, and watched a Thai band play while eating Pad Thai. On the same day, I passed The Hague Cultural Parade and Festival, where I browsed through booths of African jewelry and clothing and partook in a drum circle. These festivals expose the cultures present in The Hague to others in the community. People are given the unique opportunity to gain insight into their neighbors’ cultures. This develops empathy. I also visited a food and drink festival with live music outside Escher in het Paleis. Vendors from all different kinds of restaurants occupied booths, where one could purchase food and drink with tokens bought from a stand. From oysters to Vietnamese street food to the best hot dog I have ever eaten. I saw groups of friends having drinks in front of the stage, and families sitting at picnic tables while the children ran about. Often at food events in the US, a line of food trucks or stalls are set up on a street, but there is nowhere to sit and mingle. Here, with outdoor seating at each vendor, people have the opportunity to enjoy their communities and connect with the people around them.

A food festival vendor provides picnic tables and beanbag chairs for its customers. Friends sit together and chat.

Events like these can be immensely effective. Diverse populations are welcomed to share cultures and mix amongst themselves. In the United States, this ought to be our primary step toward becoming smarter. Improving the social network and increasing the number of personal interactions of an individual will create a community that wants to progress towards a smarter future.

-Kaitlyn Ave’Lallemant

Bunkers, Landfills, and Energy. (oh my!)

This afternoon in Hamburg, we explored several converted sites that now produce renewable energy.

After our lunch in the Mensa at the Department of Urban Planning and the Environment on Wilhelmsberg (an island created by a fork in the River Elbe), we traveled to the Energiebunker, a former WWII air raid bunker that has been converted into a renewable energy power plant. It was built in 1943 using 80,000 tons of concrete and offered shelter for over 30,000 Hamburg residents. In 1947, British Allied troops demolished the interior of the bunker. The building remained unused for over 60 years, but in 2010 the rubble inside was cleared and rehabilitated as part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA). Then in 2013, a terrace on the eighth floor was opened to the public. The building has a 1300m2 south-oriented solar shell with a 99KW peak. The panels on the roof produce thermal solar energy, while those on the side produce power. The bunker has other renewable efforts: a biogas CHP-unit produces power and heat, an ongoing woodchip-plant project produces heat, and the waste heat of nearby industry is stored in the bunker’s natural gas boilers (capacity: 2 million Liters) and supplies the local heat grid. The grid has a radius of about .5km, providing heat to 3000 households and electricity to 1000 households. The project cost 27 million Euro total: 15 for refurbishment and 12 for the energy concept. Hamburg took the initiative to convert a WWII Nazi bunker into a sustainable energy plant. Looking forward, Hamburg.

Next, we went to the Energieberg. Like the Energiebunker, this landfill was converted to a renewable energy production area. We watched an epic video presentation that made waste management appealing. The story begins in 1945, when a mountain of rubble was compiled from destroyed towns. It was called Georgswerder. Four years later, it became a waste dump for nearby manufacturers. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, no one was worried about what this waste heap could morph into… In 1954, Germany won the World Cup; in 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected; in 1962, one third to a half of Wilhelmsberg flooded; in 1963, JFK was assassinated; In 1969, man landed on the moon. So, in 1967, when dioxin was being produced in Hamburg, no one thought anything of it. Even when the hazardous waste was dumped at Georgswerder. “The waste will absorb the toxins” was the general sentiment. But as the most poisonous chemical humans have created, dioxin is 10,000 times more poisonous than cyanide. Birth defects affected villages in the vicinity and people became incredibly sick. The toxin was found in seven different locations. Finally, in 1984, the hazardous mound was covered and the toxin was contained so it could no longer seep into the groundwater. This transformation was only possible because of people’s efforts and cries for a safer environment. Something we could use more of in the US – citizen involvement. The site was publically opened in 2011, with solar and wind providing energy for 4000 household (20% of Wilhelmsberg).

Our last stop was a house owned by Conrad, a friend of our guide. The house is a multi-family home with shared cars, solar energy, and a 20-KW CHP unit. They have 2 Tesla batteries that store the energy throughout the day, and use that energy for the home and car charging. Excess solar energy can be sold to the grid at 12 Eurocents/KWh, and extra CHP-produced energy can be sold at a range of 4-6 Eurocent/KWh. Perhaps what is even more interesting is that Conrad owns a wind park. Or a part of it. He and six neighbors started the project and others from adjacent villages invested. Conrad’s wind park contains twelve 3-MW turbines, producing 100 million KWh/year for 25,000 households. Wind energy is not taboo here, as it is in some US states. In some parts of North Carolina, people of resisting the energy transition. It is almost a German right to own part of a wind park. Now, we just need to bring this mindset back to the US.

-Kaitlyn Ave’Lallemant

The German Mittelstand

Germany is an “export champion,” and many of these exports come from Mittelstand companies.

IKA is a Mittelstand company located in Staufen. They build laboratory equipment. (Photos were not allowed inside the facility).

Companies that identify as a part of the German Mittelstand are often considered “hidden champions.” These businesses are frequently smaller and family-owned with a low level of publicity. They have a turnover of approximately five billion Euro and are considered either a Top 3 enterprise on the world market or they are ranked number one on a single continent.

Germany has 1307 hidden champions (16 per million inhabitants), placing it at the top of the chart. There are fewer in eastern Germany than in western Germany. This is likely due to the fact that eastern Germany was occupied by the Soviet government post-WWII when it split into four. It later became the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) before Germany was reunited in October 1990. Still, 1307 is a large number. The historical system of mini states may have influenced the number of hidden champions present today. At that time, there was an openness to internationalization and a competence of international business. Today, these businesses create nearly 98,000 jobs each year.

But Mittelstand companies are not enormous organizations themselves. They can range from fifty to several hundred employees. Their media presence is also small. A hidden champion’s share of media presence with a big corporation is roughly 16%, while the big corporation is the other 84%. But hidden champions employ 80% of people, while big businesses employ a mere 20%. Hidden champions hold a social responsibility and view the working world as a social place. Employees and customers are very significant, even in decision-making processes. The top five qualities of a hidden champion (rated by a customer) are the product quality, delivery schedule adherence, economy, consulting before a sale, and customer proximity.

The strength of hidden champions comes from within. The employees are loyal, motivated, qualified, and flexible. The work atmosphere is positive and productive. Many hidden champions focus on the long term and invest in sustainability measures. It is no surprise that Mittelstand companies become so successful over time.

-Kaitlyn Ave’Lallemant