Powering forward

On 30 oktober 2015, in economie, innovatie, technologie, by Zef Hemel

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


The US economy is broken. How to repair it? Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley wrote a book about ‘how cities and metros are fixing our broken politics and fragile economy’. It is similar to Benjamin Barber’s ‘If Mayors Ruled the World’, only more in detail. Katz and Bradley are working for the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, a nonprofit public policy organization, one of Washington oldest thinktanks, maybe even one of the most influential thinktanks in the world. Their message: the US government can’t solve the huge economic and competitive challenges its cities are facing, so networks of metropolitan leaders are stepping up "and powering the nation forward." They give examples of New York, Denver, Northeast Ohio and Houston. Katz and Bradley think power is shifting again in their country. No longer the federal state is the central agency in moving the country forward. The American revolution, they write, was an urban revolution, so the new economic revolution will be urban again.

The example of New York is exactly the one the Masterclass NYC of the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam is studying in depth right now: innovation and the next economy. It is the case of ‘the applied science initiative’ of mayor Bloomberg in 2011-2013. The initiative was based on the idea that innovation is closely intertwined with new developments in science and technology, but that New York was weak in engineering. There were too few engineers and similar technical professionals based in New York City. Technology strength often clusters around universities, so universities are basic to the infastructure needed. Katz and Bradley: "There is, of course, a deep irony in the fact that technology, which was supposed to cut ties between people and places and allow people everywhere to work from almost anywhere, turns out to flourish in fairly compact geographic concentrations." A host of studies have shown that clusters spur entrepreneurship and boost start-up initiatives. "Universities do not usually by themselves create clusters, but they can be powerful factors in maintaining and energizing them." So that’s why New York launched an international competition in which the prize was a new school of engineering on Rooseveldt island. Cornell University and Technion in Tel Aviv were the winners in 2013. The building of the new campus has already started. We visited the site two weeks ago. It will open in 2017. "This process will be a model going forward for any kind of technology-oriented development."  Also in Europe. In the biggest European cities and metros, I mean.

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Remote worker

On 11 september 2015, in infrastructuur, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 20 May 2015:


I was asked to give a lecture on open planning for a team of politicians from Bavaria, Germany. They were visiting Amsterdam, hoping to learn more about local policies on biking. After my speech on globalization, information technology and planning (!), the team would make a bike tour through the inner city of Amsterdam. The weather was excellent. We were waiting for a laptop. When I told the president I had come to the hotel on my bike, he almost could not believe me. Could I prove it? I showed him my iPhone and opened the app. Wow! Human had registered all my bike trips: a total of more than one and a half hour already, just that morning. He said he never had heard of the app. Is it popular? I told him using the app is fun. It is stimulating. Human is only two years old but popular already: almost 2.000 citizens are tracking their activities in Amsterdam. I took the real time city map, showing a spatial pattern of all those acitivities. Human, I added proudly, is an Amsterdam invention. But later, having reread an interview with the director of Human, I’m not so sure anymore.

Paul Veugen (30) and his team developed Human. Human was awarded a Webby in New York last year. The Webby is the Oscar for the Internet. Human measures your activities. Veugen is from Tilburg. After having finished his study he moved to Amsterdam, “because here is the ecosystem of people doing the same things.” His dream was to develop an app that would be used by millions of people. Human is an Amsterdam based company, but the company has no office here: the developer of the mobile application lives in Sweden, the app-builder works in Canada, one of te marketeers is based in London. The team, some six young people, moved to San Francisco in 2013. There, at the kitchen table in an appartment near the Golden Gate bridge, they invented Human. Since then Veugen travels between Amsterdam and Silicon Valley. He calls himself a ‘remote worker’, a worker who has no steady workplace. So is Human really an Amsterdam app? Manuel Castells should tell.

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Startup delta

On 27 augustus 2015, in regionale planning, technologie, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 25 July 2015:


It’s called a ‘briefing’. Subject: Silicon Valley. In The Economist of 25 July the message was: “the tech boom may get bumpy, but it will not end in a repeat of the dotcom crash.” It was a description of how the Greater San Francisco region is doing, a metropolitan ensemble of more than 5 million inhabitants on America’s Westcoast. It’s doing just great. One of the entrepreneurs in the valley confessed: “Living in San Francisco today, with its bustle and big ideas, feels like living in Florence during the Renaissance.” Florence must have been a great place, for sure, but also an expensive city at the time. The journalist admitted: “In every coffee shop from downtown San Francisco to Palo Alto you hear complaints about eye-watering property prices and unbearable traffic.” The bay area on the map – ‘valley of the kings’ – looked more like the Egyptian Nile valley during the reign of the pharaos than the valley of the Italian Arno, at the time of the Medici family. The map shows the biggest companies are located south, near San Jose: Apple, Google, Facebook. But north, in the city center of San Francisco itself, there are the new headquarters of Uber, Dropbox, Pinterest, Airbnb, all young and private companies.

Even techies prefer to live in the city now, in an urban environment. Property prices in San Francisco are soaring as a result. “Districts that were once affordable, like Soma and the Mission, are being overrun by engineers and entrepreneurs, pricing out people who have long called them home.” Even venture-capitalist firms have left the suburban neigborhoods and highway-locations near Stanford University or Palo Alto; they all moved north, “to be near the young, urban entrepreneurs who find the Valley distant and boring.” What’s happening in the valley, is what you also see glimmering in the Dutch delta. If the Netherlands want to become a ‘Startup Delta’, which the Dutch government seems to be after, then the spatial configuration that fits this ambition is an urban one, highly concentrated, in Amsterdam. Property prices are steeply rising there, so that means the government should build more houses as concentrated as possible, in the city where the technies and entrepreneurs want to live. And stop facilitating spatial dispersion.

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