Part of a four-part series related to creating more sustainable, resilient transport infrastructure. Other articles in the series include Full-Seats & Other Secrets to a More Sustainable Transport Future, and “Future-Proof” Technology Will Support Cities’ Sustainability and Resiliency Goals.
Nico Anten, is Managing Director at Connekt, an independent network working to improve mobility in the Netherlands in a sustainable manner. He comments on how the Dutch have approached building resilient and innovative infrastructure, the country's ‘can-do’ mindset, and how it can the lessons learned by the Dutch can be applied on a global scale.
The Dutch are resilient by nature - if only because our small size and geographical position require it. About one third of the Netherlands lies below sea level. A millennium ago, Dutch communities began organizing to manage water systems and build dikes to protect against flooding from the sea and rivers. By the 13th Century, the Dutch created local water boards, some of the oldest forms of democracy in the world, still in use today. We’ve learned five key lessons which other countries can embrace to build resilient, sustainable infrastructure to boost their economy and positively impact citizens.
United You’ll Succeed, Divided You’ll Fail
If we hadn’t learnt to be resilient and find collective solutions to life-or-death matters, this small country would not be the seventeenth-largest economy in the world today. The Dutch people are known for their commercial spirit, open-mindedness towards people from different countries, international ambitions, and innovative ways of thinking. We can only propagate a ‘participation society’ because we trust that people feel the responsibility to connect and care for others, just as people joined local water boards to collectively protect the low countries from flooding centuries ago.
King Willem-Alexander summed up the Dutch ‘participation society’ in his 2013 speech noting, “In today's world, people want to be able to make their own choices, manage their own lives and take care of one another.” It is this coupling of independence and community efficacy that has made the Netherlands such a resilient country.
Think Integrally and Adapt Fast
You could say that we are integral thinkers out of necessity, because the Netherlands owes much to its stakeholder-based approach towards economic development. In the early stage preparations for automated driving, we stimulated a public-private collaboration and invited the authorities, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the automotive industry, insurance companies, and planners to the table. The fact that Dutch people are open to innovation and innovative technologies implies that we’re also open to and curious about other people’s thoughts and ideas. The Dutch are an audience that is ready for innovation and thinks about the consequences of having a connected car and a connected home, and being a connected person. By analogy, we do not primarily approach Hyperloop as an infrastructural challenge, but a social challenge: how does Hyperloop fit in the lives of people?
Integral thinking incited the Netherlands to participate in the European Truck Platooning Challenge and, during the 2016 EU Presidency, make Smart Mobility the central theme of the Informal Transport Council. We believe that real progress demands far more intensive international cooperation between the European Commission, EU member states and the industry, including the consumer as both the starting point and the final goal of the process.
Good Protection From Flooding Is A Necessity, Not A Luxury
Throughout the world the Dutch are famous for having built a flourishing economy and a prosperous society in this vulnerable, low-lying, water land. After the North Sea flood of 1953, a Delta Works Commission was put in place to research the causes and develop measures to prevent such disasters in the future. They revised some of the old plans and came up with the "Deltaplan.” The Delta Works (Dutch: Deltawerken) is a series of construction projects in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers whose aim was to shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. The Delta Works helped solve the flooding problem and has a conceptual framework called “the Delta norm” that can be used to inform decision-making around investment in flood defense.
In recent years, cities around the world have been hit by flooding: Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, floods in Peru, Southern Thailand, São Paulo, the list goes on. The pictures testify to the fact that flooding is always disastrous, just as it was in the Netherlands in 1953. There are victims to mourn, the damage is immense. People lose their homes, their livelihoods, their everyday surroundings. It puts society in disarray. A decade on, the city of New Orleans is still recovering from the major flood that ravaged it. Good protection from flooding is a necessity, not a luxury. So too is tackling pluvial flooding and efforts to ensure a sufficient supply of clean freshwater for the sake of our health, nature and the economy. And this is what the Netherlands can offer: our Delta program approach has become a successful export product.
Think Across Borders
The Netherlands wants to be and remain a global leader in smart mobility. To do so, we’ve had to think about creating mobility solutions across borders. “The old dividing lines are disappearing, as vehicle, road and traffic merge into one integrated system, while the playing field is not regional, not national, but international,” according to Marije de Vreeze, ITS Manager at Connekt. It’s one of the reasons why we have the Dutch Smart Mobility Embassy to promote Dutch expertise worldwide, and Dutch companies like NXP and TomTom work on Smart Mobility on a global scale.
The Dutch commitment to investing in smart mobility solutions is demonstrated nationally in various investment programs and test projects but also internationally by, for instance, the Declaration of Amsterdam 2016 on connected and automated driving that came about under the Dutch EU presidency. In this Declaration, member states, the European Commission and private sector have agreed on joint goals and joint actions to facilitate the introduction of connected and automated driving on Europe’s roads. This should prevent a patchwork of rules and regulations arising within the EU, which would be an obstacle to both manufacturers and road users.
Integrate and Embrace New Innovations
The Dutch are early adopters out of necessity. We have to be, because we are so small. In Dutch we have the expression, “If you’re not big, you have to be smart.” Our hunger for innovation explains our reputation as a trading nation. The early 16th century technology revolution in shipbuilding led to a competitive advantage in shipping. We are one of the world’s first modern economies, since merchant capital in the 17th century made the Dutch aware of the need to manage risk – leading to the first organized stock exchange, and later to the first liquidity providers.
Smart Mobility and new transportation technology are top-line priorities in the Netherlands. Due to our high population density and high-tech community, there is a demand for greater transportation choice that incorporates technology and keeps people connected. The Dutch government is making substantial investments in innovative traffic management and new forms of smart mobility, including new technology and services that give travellers real-time driving and travel advice during their journey. More than 20 companies are working on the rapid introduction of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) that could become one of the most valuable investment opportunities in public equity markets.
Our concept of resilience is all about integrating the best ideas. Perhaps that’s why we do not just believe in the promotion of Hyperloop, but we also strongly believe in finding out how the Hyperloop system can enhance our mobility system and play a role in greening transport and smart mobility.