Country in a Clusterclimax

On 5 juni 2016, in economie, innovatie, by Zef Hemel

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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Postmetropolitan University

On 5 januari 2016, in innovatie, onderwijs, by Zef Hemel

Read in De Omslag of 2015:

Christoph Lindner is professor of Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam. He wrote an article on ‘Six Discourses on the Postmetropolitan University’. Because I just finished a masterclass on New York City and its universities I read his article with more than just fraternal inter What is a postmetropolitan university? According to Lindner it is a university that fits in the postmetropolitan era, which is an era of intensified globalization and urbanization processes: a so-called neoliberal epoch. His six discourses are: the Disembodied Campus, the Global Campus, the Speculative Campus, the Creative Campus, the Fortress Campus, and the Corporate Campus. None of these is favorable. Just like cities, he thinks that all universities will become corporate enterprises. They are entrepreneurial already. “The overarching trend that connects all of the campus formations outlined above is the neoliberal corporatization of the university and, as part of this process, its de-democratization, precarization, and (for public institutions) privatization. Universities of the immediate future, like the cities they inhabit, are likely to be more corporate, not less corporate.” He thinks a discussion on the value system is needed.

That’s exactly what we discussed in the masterclass. In New York we studied the universities of  Columbia, Cornell-Tech and CUNY, their plans for the future, their campusses, and their business models. We related all the information to the city,  to its plans for the future and its policy towards higher education. We visited New York and spoke to many stakeholders, civil servants and professors at the universities. The eighteen participants – all professionals working for cities or universities in the Netherlands – made proposals for each of these three universities. The team on Columbia University developed a concept for a university that is profitable in terms of city building and gentrification, without a negative impact on the neighborhood (West-Harlem). The second team on Cornell-Tech developed a concept for a university that fosters innovation, as a component of a true urban innovation ecosystem (Queens). The third, studying CUNY, developed a concept for a decentralized university that taps on local talent, trying to emancipate young people in the back streets of its city-region. Sure, we heard some neoliberal newspeak, but at the same time we found many opportunities to maximize the profits and enhance positive outcomes of new campus building. Instead of criticizing, we tried to develop new models that will help cities to thrive. For cities, universities and colleges are key!

Extreme concentration

On 4 november 2015, in innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ (2013) of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley:


Yesterday there was a round table discussion in The Hague on the future of the so-called Randstad. Does the Randstad function as one polycentric network of cities? The discussion was mainly on innovation and agglomeration economies, I suppose. Most people in this country think you don’t need big cities in order to be innovative. Better connect the existing small cities, they say, a policy the Dutch call ‘borrowed size’. The province of Brabant even claims to be the most innovative region of Europe. Its biggest city is Eindhoven, with less than 220.000 inhabitants. “You just need a campus,” they seem to think. How wrong they are. People better read ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. Chapter 6 is on ‘The rise of innovation districts’. Their message: “Our open, innovative economy increasingly craves proximity and extols integration, which allow knowledge to be transferred easily between, within, and across clusters, firms, workers, and supporting institutions, thereby enabling the creation of new ideas that fuel even greater economic activity and growth.” What kind of proximity do they mean? “The vanguard of these megatrends is largely found not at the city or metropolitan scale writ large but in smaller enclaves, what are increasingly being called innovation districs.” It’s all about extreme geographical concentration, not campusses, but innovative city districts.

So the new hunger for knowledge and open innovation has huge spatial implications. The proximity effect can even be staggering. “Stuart Rosenthal and William Strange find that the intellectual spillovers that drive innovation and employment drop off dramatically as firms and people move more than a mile apart.” Institutions of knowledge such as universities, medical centers and innovation institutes tend to be disproportionately located in big cities. Isolated labs and suburban research parks are outdated. Midtown locaties, with anchor institutions in the middle, come to the fore. Katz and Bradley: “In many respects, the rise of innovation districs embodies the very essence of cities: an aggregation of talented, driven people, assembled in close quarters, who exchange ideas and knowledge in what the urban historian Sir Peter Hall calls a dynamic process of innovation, imitation and improvement.” Boston – three times the size of Eindhoven, with Harvard, MIT, Boston College etc. – is a great example in the book. The Kendall Square area is thriving, even the South Boston Waterfront area has become a true innovation ecosystem. What is needed: complexity, density, diversity of people and cultures, the messy intersection of activities, the layering of the old and the new, an integration of uses and acitivities. All that is lacking in the Randstad, everything is dispersed, no open innovation.

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