Ger Baron, CTO municipality: AMSTERDAM IN TRANSITION
Amsterdam has been growing in phases throughout history again and again. Starting in the 17th century, when the first immigrants came to Amsterdam, about 14 thousand people were living in the city. Nowadays we tend to think it’s quite complicated to grow, when the local population rises by 10,000 or 50,000 inhabitants. “The real question is: How can we make a compact city with facilities in every neighbourhood? Liveability is most important.” To accomplish this, the Municipality of Amsterdam designed the Masterplan.
‘The Amsterdam 2040’ mega project outlines 7 spatial tasks to accommodate the city’s population growth and improve the city’s overall user experience. These are divided under three pillars: densifying, redeveloping and repurposing space. To make this plan a success transition is key and the biggest challenge is to understand what is set in motion. Transition is a combination of retrofitting at high speed, understanding and using what is already there, and constructing things that are flexible in the future.
Baron explains: “Even though the idea is that a city builds buildings that will last at least 300 years, there is no guarantee as to how these spaces will be used in the future. The buildings along the canals transformed over time from warehouses to a residential area, then to hotels, then offices, back to hotels, and then back to residential, only to be taken over by Airbnb.” In this sense the city is a platform on which change is happening every minute of the day.
For the last 400 years, Amsterdam has been an open platform where people work, live, play and share ideas. Today, an extra layer of technology is in place. More and more applications are being added to this platform. These applications can be physical or virtual. “Look at ‘Car to Go’, a mobility application that is combining both physical and virtual components on the platform of the city.” Baron states that we also need to think of housing more and more in terms of an application.
When a comparison is made between houses and cars, there is no doubt in mind that the way we live is far behind. “A house is like a Fred Flintstone kind of thing. The door is opened with an iron thing, it is probably cold, the lights need to be switched on and the curtain closed.” Now, in the experience of a car, there is no need for a key anymore. The seat is automatically heated, and the radio switches to your favourite station. “We start pushing updates daily, which in turn will have physical consequences, in this sense buildings will also fully become software.”
NO.3 GLOBAL INNOVATION INDEX
As one of the world’s most innovative countries, Holland outpaces the US, the UK, Ireland, Germany and more: “We love that index, because we ranked third.” According to Baron the reason for this culture of innovation can be found in the fact that the Dutch feel insignificant in terms of: “We have never set the agenda of the world and probably never will, so we are perfectly happy to follow what happens in the rest of the world and being pragmatic about it.” Furthermore, the Dutch like the creative destruction that comes with change. “We don’t care about banks falling, we are open to new stuff, and because we are not setting the agenda, we are also not depending on any agenda and believe that start-ups contribute to our success.”
The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area strives to be the best place in Europe for start-ups by developing the best start-up ecosystem. “Let’s begin with what we do and don’t do. We don’t subsidise them like a lot of countries do nowadays. They will be like; come over here and we will give you free workspace and 20,000 euro.” What Amsterdam does is improving the start-up infrastructure.
- In the first place by analysing what is there and what isn’t. This way it becomes visible that more investment capital needs to be attracted, and that there is a shortage of venues where a combination of small companies and big companies, like start-ups, scale ups and corporates exists.
- Secondly, research showed that a lot of the big companies don’t have an R&D (Research & Development) department or start-up ecosystem. This is not a good thing as especially this can help the companies grow. “We opened a up a dialogue about this issue.”
- Thirdly, a start-up program is being developed where 20 issues of the city are presented, and start-up companies receive the challenge to co-develop solutions, putting out products that are new to the market. “It is exciting that a lot of start-ups prefer working with us instead of a start-up program or an accelerator program. It seems that, for a lot of people, it is more important to contribute to the world we live in by solving a problem, then to get rich of an idea.”To develop more projects in the city of Amsterdam, more talented IT specialists are needed.
Amsterdam is suffering from a growing shortage of IT professionals. In the meantime, Amsterdam is transitioning from multi- modal transport to mobility as a service. “We need developers who understand customers and can help co-develop solutions based on customer needs and can connect different systems.”To this end, the city strives to attract international IT specialist to come and work in the city of Amsterdam. “There is always better talent somewhere else in the world. If you want to grow, bringing international talent into your own city is a must. The more international you are, the more you keep connected with the newest developments and stay ahead.”
To attract these internationals, the Municipality of Amsterdam has opened an expat centre that provides support to professionals who want to come over to work. Furthermore, it helps tremendously that Amsterdam is one of the first cities in the world that placed all the city national authorities in one place. “You basically step in and step out within half an hour, getting you legal administration in order.”This also applies to the city itself. Amsterdam is compact with all the relevant places being a maximum of 30 minutes apart. Another plus is that lots of events are organised where there is opportunity to meet others and share ideas. And, maybe most important, the Dutch are easy going and approachable: “If we look at politics and Prime Minister Rutte is receiving a foreign minister, there are 25 police officers walking alongside. If Rutte is going abroad to visit the US Minister, he is standing there shaking hands. People look at him flabbergasted: where is the security.”
The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area hosts a lot of multinational companies – good examples are Booking.com, Uber, and Netflix which embrace the international workforce with over a hundred different nationalities. “It is in their DNA, they just work in English, and started here from scratch, nobody cares about the Dutch language.” For the more traditional companies it is still a challenge to switch to English even though all citizens in the Netherlands speak the English language well: “When a quantity of Dutch people is out to lunch, it is ‘yes, we speak English, but not when we are having coffee.”
There is a huge shortage of IT professionals in the Netherlands. This challenge will only get bigger in the future. We believe that recruiting international IT talent to work in Amsterdam is the solution. To attract and retain international IT talent companies need to develop and enhance their international orientation. Esti developers, IT recruitment Amsterdam, guides companies to develop a company culture that will generate maximum employee engagement and in which international professionals thrive.