Country in a Clusterclimax

Read in De Volkskrant of 28 May 2016:


Strange map in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant last week. Almost hilarious if not depressing. The map showed all the latest campusses in the Netherlands with their special brands: technopolis, bio science, healthcare, IT, geomatics, green chemistry, water, sensortechnology, energy, services, food, horti science, space, knowledge. The whole country has turned into a wide range of valleys. But the queer thing is that cities on the map are lacking. In ‘Every village a silicon valley’, journalist Remco Andersen confirms that specialists think this spatial and functional fragmentation is absurd and wrong. “The Netherlands are in a clusterclimax,” Miranda Ebbekink of Nijmegen University remarked. She thinks it is a race to the bottom. But the Dutch government, all the twelve provinces and the EU seem to encourage this fragmentation by subsidizing many new local initiatives. Every province wants to establish its own campuses, some even think two or three are needed. My guess is they all are trying to upgrade their vacant business parks. To no avail.

The map reveals how this country disregards agglomeration economies and how it doggedly misinterprets Michael Porter’s theory of clustering. The scale and complexity at which innovation happens is nearly totally neglected. Urbanization patterns play no role, local authorities think post-industrial innovation is a matter of putting some experts together in an office block in the outskirts of a provincial town, add an incubator and a restaurant and miracles will happen. They missed all notions of new forms of centrality. Porter: “The more that one thinks in terms of microeconomics, innovation, clusters, and integrating economic and social policy, the more the city-region emerges as an important unit.” (Porter, 2001)  The map in the newspaper shows no city-regions. In its Territorial Review of the Netherlands in 2014 the OECD pointed at the urgency to create a National Urban Policy Framework which is currently lacking in the Netherlands. Such a policy should improve economies of agglomeration and reduce fragmentation. That was two years ago. Since then, nothing has happened.






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