All posts by Sarah Wotus

The Key to Smart Cities: Collaboration

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.

The open-plan office space and natural lighting of CleanTech Innovation Center Berlin. Rooms host different startup companies with shared spaces in the middle for lounging as well as collaboration.

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.

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Caption: Startup companies, established corporates, and individuals can become a member of the Amsterdam Smart City website in order to connect ideas and collaborate to make Amsterdam a smarter 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.

Caption: Programmers, designers, and business developers gather for an opportunity to solve real issues of smart energy, smart mobility and event experience in the Amsterdam Arena.

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.

Available office space at the Cary Innovation Center – closed off from other offices as well as a strong lack in natural lighting.

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.

-Sarah Wotus

A Visit to Bayer

Stepping Inside the Life Science Company

While leaving Eindhoven after such a short visit was disappointing, the prospect of returning to Germany had all the students excited, myself included. We took a bus to Dusseldorf, a pit stop before traveling to the Ruhr Area, and stored our luggage in the train station. From there we took a train to Leverkusen to see the Bayer headquarters. Bayer, a major pharmaceutical company, did not originally seem like a visit to be included on a program surrounding smart cities and renewable energy. However, after a walk through the campus and tour of Baykomm, the communication center, there were many ideas to take away from the visit.

Entering Baykomm, the communications center for Bayer. Inside is where we met one of our guides for the day and had the opportunity to engage with some of their interactive learning tools.
Bayer’s campus is covered with walking paths and beautiful gardens. Walking through this campus makes it clear that the employees have access to plenty of green space and can stay active throughout the day.

First and foremost were the innovative education tools the Bayer communication center is using to promote lessons on the life sciences as well as the projects they are working on. Teachers in the area can bring their elementary school children into classrooms and laboratories here that contain equipment many schools cannot afford. Merle Jackel, our guide for the afternoon, showed us a lab specifically used to teach children about the importance of a healthy bee population. The decline of bee colonies in parts of the world is of major public concern; of the 100 crops providing 90% of the world’s food, 70 benefit from bee and other insect pollination. The lab not only shows young students how they themselves can help bees stay healthy, but introduces them to a world of research and science. Inspiring students at a young age to pursue an education in science is important for the future health of our world’s ecosystems.

Inside one of the labs that school teachers may bring their students to. This one specifically is devoted to learning about bee health, its importance, and how students can help improve it.
Inside the communications center, employees and visitors stay up to date with facts and figures about the health of the world. Pictured here is the square meters of arable land required to feed one person today (1,995.56) and people still affected by poor nutrition (738,309,030).

Bayer was founded in 1863 as a synthetic dye production company, but in the 1890s they developed their first synthetic insecticide. Dye production turned crop protection company, it is not surprising that bee health is not the only environmental-based project Bayer works on. While Bayer now concentrates in human and animal health, a major focus of theirs remains crop science and researching arable land and nutrition. With a predicted population of 10 billion people by 2050, providing enough healthy food is a goal for this life sciences company. Unfortunately, the presentation did not go into depth on the agricultural research and innovation Bayer is pushing forward. They also glossed over the deal with Monsanto, one of the biggest takeovers of its kind at a value of 60 billion euro, describing it simply as the key to having the “complete solution” to agricultural technology. With Monsanto’s representation for engineering food and pesticides, I am curious to see the affect this has on crop technology worldwide. Additionally, with Monsanto and Bayer owning 30% of the seed market combined, it will be interesting to see how seed prices for farmers are affected.

One of the program’s students participating in the interactive learning at the communications center Baykomm. Here he is putting on the “Senior Simulator” and tasked with opening up pill bottles. This allows Bayer to see what improvements can be made to make their senior consumers more at ease.

An intriguing part of the presentation was the stress they put on Bayer’s separation from their chemistry counterparts. Bayer is a purely life sciences company with a separate chemical industrial area is located next door – Chempark Leverkusen. Merle Jackel explained that the separation was necessary in order to stay competitive. Bayer did not have the budget to keep the chemical processes under its company, and the chemical group could be more competitive with other chemical based companies if it separated from Bayer. A tour through the Chempark revealed that the entire operation was still supported by coal, and not much innovation was occurring to make production more efficient and sustainable. The emphasis on cost-benefit production as opposed to innovation and sustainability seems like a theme that may stem from the classic shareholder model. Overall, many students left the visit wondering what role Bayer, Monsanto, and its chemistry counterparts would play in the future of smart and healthy cities.

The bus we boarded for an air conditioned tour of the chemistry park, which was nice after a long day of traveling.
During the bus tour, we were taken inside one of the buildings to see a model of the entire chemical park. This picture highlights the use of coal and continuation of a more traditional industrial campus.

-Sarah Wotus

An Introduction to Freiburg and Smart Cities

Diving into Freiburg and the sustainable measures the town has adopted

Day one in Freiburg and it is already like entering a different world. There are trams and bike paths that fill the city, solar panels on the roofs and natural green areas everywhere. Nothing like my suburban home in Cary, North Carolina with manicured lawns, multiple cars in every driveway, and hardly a bus let alone a tramline or train in sight.

For our first educational day here, we were introduced to Steffen, our instructor and tour guide for the day. In a classroom we focused on a few main topics: history of sustainability in Freiburg, energy efficiency in old homes and municipal buildings, supply and disposal, and finally mobility. Freiburg, known for ten to fifteen years now as a sustainable city, began its environmental movement in 1975 when students and farmers came together to protest the implementation of a power plant in the town. After the 1986 Chernobyl incident, citizens truly united, energy saving became crucial, and renewables a mainstay in the town.

Our guide Steffan teaching us about the history of Freiburg and showing us around the town. Here he is explaining the history of market surrounding the church – it was first a parking lot, but was transformed into a beautiful market square where vendors come every morning to sell food, flowers, and other goods. This both discourages transportation by car and unites the community.

Throughout the different topics, one theme became clear: the importance of engagement at the local level. Citizens own over 50 percent of renewables in the city. Additionally, a convention was held in 2008 on how to make old houses more energy efficient. Architects, financial managers, designers, and many others came together to teach the people what they can do in their own homes. Lessons on waste separation and recyclables are taught in local elementary schools – kids are provided cost free lunch boxes to encourage use of reusable products, and trips to landfills inspire them to be mindful of their waste. Finally, the construction community allows people the option of multimodal houses and cohousing, which allow the people to design their own home while also being efficient in the use of space and improving social and community life.

Steffan walks us over the parking garage, which is discreetly hidden beneath the houses that were built on top of it to save space and make the town more appealing.

While local engagement was stressed throughout the presentation, a tour of the town had the group admiring Freiburg’s success in transportation and mobility. The ticket to decreasing car use was decreasing parking options. As the church parking lot was changed to a beautiful market square, parking garages placed further from homes, car ownership made more expensive, and efficient tramlines and bike paths installed, the city was transformed. There are only about 35 private cars per 100 residents, many of which are not used on a regular basis, and the centrally located train station provides an easy way to get anywhere in the region without stepping into a car.

One of the most interesting places I felt we visited on the tour was a parking garage. No, a parking garage does not sound exciting, but this one was implemented in an ingenious way. First of all, it was integrated into the surrounding area so that I could not even tell it was a garage when approaching. Second, houses were built on top so that no space was wasted. Finally, it served as a noise barrier between the town and the large road that surrounds it so that inside the town all that can be heard are birds chirping and people talking.

Here is the right side of the parking garage, where the noise from cars and other transportation that surrounds the town is masked by the design of this construction. To the left is the houses seen previously, where no car noise can be heard.

As it is the first day, we were left with many questions to look out for in our next adventures. How do less cars change daily and social life? How does society benefit from more public transportation and how does the district itself change? What kind of society arises from construction communities and cohousing? What are the keys to implementing these systems back home in North Carolina/U.S? Up next are bike tours in Rieselfeld and Vauban where we can evaluate these questions even more and look at examples of these initiatives in different towns.

Approaching one of the train stations of Freiburg, a central hub where people can take buses, trams, trains, and rent out bikes in order to navigate the surrounding area.

-Sarah Wotus