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Urban Innovation, Circularity and Resilient Cities – Amsterdam & Utrecht

ULI Study Tour: Amsterdam & Utrecht 2018

If you have a top list of cities to visit that exemplify leadership in health, innovation, circularity and human centric development then Amsterdam & Utrecht should be high on the list!

The 2018 ULI Urban Innovation Study Tour took place in the Netherlands where we visited leading developments, explored inspiring regeneration districts and met with innovation and city leaders that reshaping vibrant innovative communities.

Our tour began at EDGE Olympic, formerly a traditional office building that has been transformed into a 11,107 sqm co-working office centred on innovation, circularity, sustainability and wellbeing. Cees van der Spek from EDGE Technologies shared how their organisation has transformed from a traditional developer into a new form of tech-property organisation with an ethos to continually push the boundaries of environmental development and human centric innovation.

Behind Edge Olympic’s sun filled atrium, sleek working booths, a nursery of plants and Cuddle Puddle (presentation area) lie 40,000 sensors that constantly monitor the buildings CO2 levels, occupancy, and natural light levels. This source of data provide occupiers and managers with a constant source of insight to ensure a healthy working environment but also underpins the buildings integrated platform. Van der Spek shared how data and insights from the building are not only supporting the building and its occupiers but also influencing their Product Blue Print, a framework for the design and management of their future developments.

The second stop of the tour took the group to SE Amsterdam and the the Bijlmerbajes, Bajes Kwartier, a 7.5 ha former prison that is being transformed into a mixed use development by developers AM and master planners OMA. Coincidentally the day we arrived was the launch of the redevelopment with the demolition of the fortified walls, which would see a once closed and infamous development start its journey to become a vibrant new neighbourhood and destination. Interestingly the new development will retain the 6 iconic prison towers and transform these into a mixed tenure development that not only is highly sustainable but also energy-neutral.

Circularity was a key theme throughout the day and we concluded day one at Circle, a restaurant and pavilion built on the principal of scaling the reuse of materials. The stunning design and clever reuse of materials was truly impressive with re-purposed materials such windows from former office blocks, re-cycled concrete and insulation made from 16,000 pairs of jeans from ABN-AMRO’s employees. However, most interestingly Circle is not a single concept building but the beginning of a new movement that illustrates ABN AMRO’s ambition to fosters new ventures, systems and thinking to drive forward the circular economy and sustainability.

Day 2 and the final day of the tour took us to Utrecht, a city redefining itself as a centre for business, creativity and innovation. Utrecht is highly connected to cities across the Netherlands and Europe but historically lacked connectivity across its own municipality. City leadership and a rethinking of the city centre has led to the municipality creating a new city centre that connects the old town centre with the railway station and in the process unlocks developments that will bring forward new business, residential and public realm.

Utrecht regeneration is also reflective of the city’s growth as the fastest growing city in the Netherlands, where the population will increase by 17% to 400,000 inhabitants by 2025. Focusing on a city that is resilient to future climatic and human centric needs the Municipality of Utrecht is creating new neighbourhoods in the inner-city areas that push the envelope on density and mobility that support healthy and vibrant communities. One of the leading development for the city is the Merwede Canal Zone (Merwedekanaalzone) a 60 ha former mixed use industrial zone that is being regenerated into a 10,000 dwelling neighbourhood and business area. Marcel Janssen the cities Spatial Planning Director took us on a whistle stop tour of the area and shared how carefully connected districts will enable healthy lifestyles, new areas for creative industries and carefully considered dense developments with easy access to the city centre. To further support a greater density but also meet the needs of future connectivity many of the Merwedekanaalzone residents will be offered mobility passes that allow them to make appropriate transport choices that suit their daily needs and reduce car ownership.

Urban regeneration supports one aspect of creating climate resilient cities, however further strategies are needed to support the wider community and existing residents. To engage and support the wider community Utrecht is also leading city for the IRIS Sustainable Cities Project, an initiative that harnesses the benefits technology, innovation and data can bring to the city, to support an integrated approach for the delivery of new efficient and user-friendly technologies in the fields of energy, mobility and ICT. Haye Folkertsma the IRIS Programme Lead and his team shared how the cities academic, municipal and businesses are working in partnership to support a growing test bed for city level solutions but also delivering programmes that support the cities ambition to be energy neutral by 2030. Most interestingly Folkertsma highlighted how the city sees itself more as the data market place and is creating an open data platform to drive forward innovative business models, where data can be traded for the greater benefit of the city in trusted environment.

The tour concluded with the Utrecht’s largest and most ambitious regeneration project, an area surrounding the Central Station that connects the Old City and its canals with the station. A walking tour led by Marlies de Nijs, Senior Planning Officer for Utrecht explored the integration of heritage and new developments but also shared how the Municipality of Utrecht have brought a diverse group of land owners together to deliver an integrated regeneration approach. The integrated approach has allowed the city to create a new city centre, an area that was once dominated by cars and impermeable access to a what is today, a connected vibrant art, business, residential and retail precinct. In Dutch tradition cycling underpins the regeneration and the site hosts the worlds largest cycle storage for 30,000 bikes, while walkability and ambitious sustainable buildings further demonstrate the cities leadership in meeting the needs of future climate resilience.

The ULI Urban Innovation Study Tour brought together a diverse group of urban professionals to explore how emerging developments, cities and digital innovations that are creating resilient and vibrant cities. The tour has highlighted that the Netherlands is supporting a rapid engagement in urban innovation with policy, business and communities striving to deliver healthier and resilient cities. Ambitious climate goals may underpin this movement however the scale of engagement across Amsterdam and Utrecht that support innovative urban approaches and systematic change to ensure cities are more resilient should be applauded.

We look forward to hearing how lessons from Amsterdam and Utrecht influence other cities and also sharing the 2019 tour programme with you shortly.

Please find a link to the 2018 Study Tour Photo Album below including articles from attendees of the tour.

Towards the Circular Economy through Urban Innovation by Lucy Matchett, Hillbreak

ULI Urban Innovation Study Tour 2018 Album

Special Thank you: We would like to thank the following people and organisations for their support,  ULI Netherlands, Loes van Driessen and Remco Bruijns; Ronald Huikeshoven and his team from AM;  Troy Hayes and the team at Troy Planning; Cees van der Spek from EDGE Technologies, Marissa van Leur, Marcel Janssen, Haye Folkertsma, Arthur Klink, Thomas Kruse and Marlies de Nijs from the Gemeente Utrecht.

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