Toespraak minister Ollongren bij Smart Cities Congress

Toespraak van minister Ollongren (BZK) bij het Smart Cities congres op 13 en 14 mei 2019 in New York. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For New Yorkers, the history of their city starts with the Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant. Peter The Headstrong, or in Dutch ‘Koppige Peter’.

In the mid-17th century, Stuyvesant ran the Big Apple. Even then, the city was a melting pot bringing together Dutch, English, German, Scandinavian and French settlers.

However, the tie between your city New York and my country The Netherlands goes far beyond Peter The Headstrong. Deeper than the orange, white and blue flag of the State of New York. And deeper than the names Harlem and Brooklyn and Beekman Street on Manhattan.

The inheritance of the Dutch founding fathers is above all one of a zeal for freedom and a passion for tolerance. The preacher working hand in hand with the merchant. Big principles linked with small profit.

That has always been the way in the Netherlands, and by hammering home the importance of that mix, New York has continued to do what it learned from those Dutchmen: opening the gates to new ideas and to newcomers, on condition that they themselves pave their own way, by making themselves economically useful.

It is to those big principles and small profits that I once again appeal to today.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by showing you a short film fragment from 1998. 20 years ago, Dutch filmmaker Frans Bromet interviewed Dutch people about their views on the mobile telephone.

The mobile telephone has become an integral part of our life. In 1998, however, most Dutch people did not have one in their pocket, and had no intention of purchasing one.

“Why on earth would I want to be constantly available?”

Digitalisation is continuing to take up an ever larger part of our life. The influential tech thinker Kevin Kelly believes that artificial intelligence will be the fuel that powers the next Industrial Revolution.

The first Industrial Revolution saw powering up every conceivable system with electricity; now what we plug in will be intelligence. Streetlamps. Parking spaces. Garbage containers. Everything is becoming smart. And that is a fantastic development.

Smart garbage containers mean that garbage trucks can make fewer journeys, and that saves both money and vehicle movements. Visitors no longer have to search endlessly for free parking spaces. And smart lampposts save energy.  

Smart technology is making life easier for residents, local authorities and businesses.

But there is still something missing. The big picture.

Your own New York urban activist Jane Jacobs also went in search of that big picture. It is said that Jacobs often visited the roof of her apartment complex in Manhattan, and looked down on the hustle and bustle below – taxis, pedestrians, cyclists, all weaving their pattern through the streets – and thought to herself: ‘What a complicated, great place this is… and all these pieces of it, that make it work’.

Jacobs’ life and ideas have had a huge influence on the way we think about cities. The focal point of all her ideas is human beings; human beings and their sense of participating in a community, here and now.

Jacobs would say: first people then buildings. Based on that same logic I would say: first people and then machines, apps or algorithms.

So the question is: where does SMART meet the CITY?

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is here that the Netherlands should take the lead. It is here that Peter the Headstrong’s people come into the picture.

Even today we remain headstrong. Start by asking yourself: Who on earth would decide to live with 17 million people below sea level? Who on earth would decide to plant a population of 17 million people in a country that you can cross by car from east to west in 2 hours, and from north to south in just  3?

That could certainly be described as headstrong. But that headstrong decision to take up the fight against the water, and to put so many people in such a small space has not been without benefits.

We are constantly faced with the challenge of working together to the maximum possible extent;    to take on board the best engineering and design knowledge;    and to make the most efficient possible use of every square metre of land.

We have a deeply felt mentality of bringing and working together. A smart society, built on smart cooperation and smart citizens. Leading to smart solutions.

Take for example Rotterdam.

As a Delta city, Rotterdam is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

For more than 15 years, Rotterdam has been working on resilience across the board: water squares, more green, hundreds of thousands of square metres of green rooftops; all aimed at increasing the capacity of the city to absorb water. And now the smart dimension has been added: a rain radar helps prevent flooding and water damage.

Another example is Brainport Eindhoven. The smartest spot on the planet.

That is not a qualification I have given it. It was awarded by the Intelligent Community Forum based here in New York.

Brainport is home to fantastic companies. ASML in Veldhoven: 80% of all the world’s chips are produced by their machines. FEI, the company that manufactures the best microscopes in the world. TomTom, for autonomous driving systems. The Science Park at the University of Technology in Eindhoven for 3D technology. Philips Medical. The Design Academy.

Brainport has the answers to many of the questions for the future. Clean energy, the Internet of Things, sustainable mobility, food production.

Brainport Eindhoven cooperates with businesses, governments and universities. In the interplay that emerges from these collaboration partners, you see something remarkable happening.

I will give you an example: the Stratumseind in Eindhoven.

There are more bars on the Stratumseind than in any other street in the Netherlands. And that means plenty of public order incidents.

How do you make such an environment safer?

Stratumseind has been turned into a Living Lab. A testing ground for innovative technology.

The mood of the public is measured in a variety of different ways. As soon as a disruption occurs, the lights on the street are automatically switched to clear and bright, which causes people to change their behaviour.

In other cases, the street lights create a warm and pleasant atmosphere and in that way also help prevent incidents. Recent figures show that the number of incidents has fallen and that the sense of security among the visiting public has increased.

This of course is just a small-scale improvement. Just as the AMS for bikers. An app showing not only the shortest route, but also the coolest (meaning not warm) and the best air quality route. Shorter, coolest, cleanest, wouldn’t that be great in any city.

What if we could do the same on a larger scale:  

  • the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • the New York Green Deal.

Many young entrepreneurs want to see things done differently. They want to make the world sustainable while still earning good money.

Big principles again linked with small profits. New York has taught us that this is possible; that as long as you want it enough, you can achieve anything. We can learn from you.

But we too have plenty to offer. For example Daan Roosegaarde and Rem Koolhaas – world icons in the field of urban architecture and design. And Henk Ovink, who in this recent article in the New York Times is described as the man who travels the world on behalf of the Netherlands announcing that ‘climate change is neither hypothetical nor a drag on the economy, but a big opportunity for smart cities’.

I am convinced that if we – resourceful Americans and headstrong Dutchmen and women – today decide to go all-in on SMART, we will together have a perfect ‘five of a kind’ in tomorrow’s SOCIETY.