Amsterdam and San Francisco Seek Solutions to Common Urban Challenges

by Jan 22, 2013Announcements

Dave Hahn

Dave Hahn is the Director of Digital Strategy for Meeting of the Minds.


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A group of 50+ entrepreneurs, students, urban planners, government officials & private sector executives gathered at the Dutch Consulate of San Francisco yesterday to compare notes on U.S. and Dutch solutions to shared urban challenges.

The event marked the beginning of a week-long visit from Amsterdam’s Deputy Mayor, Carolien Gehrels.

The event featured both American and Dutch speakers – Bas Boorsma from Cisco Systems presented a series of urban innovations that have brought Cisco directly into the life of Amsterdam, how he and his colleagues developed and implemented these projects, and why Cisco undertook these initiatives in Amsterdam. Smart Work was one of those featured projects. Perhaps the most important one of these projects showcased by Bas was “IP-enabled Public Lighting” for the city. This white paper – written by two of Cisco’s IBSG team and one Philips executive – describes the underlying ideas behind the Amsterdam “IP-enabled Public Lighting” initiative.

During the “2012 Meeting of the Minds” the lighting projects in Amsterdam were showcased during a presentation by two of those white paper authors. The video and the transcript provide a helpful overview.

The event was moderated by Gordon Feller, co-founder of Meeting of the Minds and Director of Urban Innovation at Cisco Systems, who also spoke about the importance of Amsterdam and San Francisco as hubs for emerging companies and technologies.

The three P’s of urban innovation are commonly thought of as Public Private Partnerships, but Deputy Mayor Carolien Gehrels spoke about three other P’s that have been key to Amsterdam’s success – People, Prosperity and the Planet. As she said, Amsterdam “made mistakes” in the past – particularly in the 1970s, when she says Amsterdam turned it’s focus away from fostering a healthy middle class in the city. One of the keys to Amsterdam’s resiliency has always been it’s ability to learn from past missteps, and Gehrels says they learned from this one as well. She warned that a prosperous, livable city needs a strong middle class and detailed steps Amsterdam has taken – such as investing in young, urban entrepreneurs – to pursue this goal.

Bas Verhart, co-founder of THNK and PICNIC, led a group discussion on common urban challenges and techniques for finding solutions.

The key to finding innovative solutions to urban problems, he says, is reframing the challenges, breaking paradigms and seeking out-of-the-box ideas. Verhart separated the group into working pairs and asked them to discuss the urban challenges that they are most passionate about, and to find solutions with techniques that might help them reframe the problems.

Some of the issues discussed included affordable urban housing, self-reliance, declining education, cultural isolation of minority groups, climate change & universal access for the visually impaired. Each pair worked together to reframe the problems and the resulting conclusions were presented to the group. Conversations continued throughout the following reception.

Many thanks to Bart van Bolhuis, Consul General of the Netherlands, and to his entire staff at the Dutch Consulate of San Francisco for a successful and enlightening event. Je weer te zien!

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