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Green Innovation Hub in triple helix towards sustainable and future-proof city

From his office in the town hall of Almere, Geert-Jan Put can overlook the adjacent building of the Green Innovation Hub. To the right of that, he sees the building of Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. Within this view, much of the dynamism that the young city of Almere embodies converges, with innovation, sustainability, and education going hand in hand. BTG has been deeply involved in the development of this unique Hub from the outset. This prompted Petra Claessen to engage in discussions with Put and Hasib Moukaddim, the director of the university. Their conversation revolved around the city of the future and the significance of technology and sustainability, as well as collaboration in the triple helix.

A city that didn’t exist 50 years ago, soon to be the fifth largest municipality in the country, that encapsulates Almere’s story in a nutshell. Geert-Jan Put explains, “We are growing at a rate of 20 percent per year. The aim is to expand from 230,000 residents currently to over 300,000. The demand for sustainable and innovative living solutions is substantial. This means that growth is in our DNA, while we are gradually becoming a typical city dealing with maintenance, management, and replacement.”

The advantage of this young city is its ability to effectively showcase advancements in IT and technology, alongside sustainability. “This city also embodies a commitment to being green and healthy with ample space. It’s beautiful and challenging to integrate technology with sustainable green development. The Green Innovation Hub encompasses all these components, making it a perfect fit for us.”

Moving from plant to building

This aspiration is also reflected in the smart society that Almere is becoming, according to Put. “Consider the new neighborhoods here. For sustainability, for example, we are exploring bio-based construction methods—moving from plant to building, so to speak. We aim to create a sustainable and smart neighborhood that optimally utilizes technology and ICT, such as through home automation, not just in individual homes but throughout entire neighborhoods. Given the current era and challenges we face, conventional systems are no longer sufficient. Innovation, creativity, and maximal use of ICT applications are essential across all facets: in construction, in design, and in the neighborhoods themselves once they are established.”

He cites water and soil-guided development as examples. This ensures that a new neighborhood like Pampus is resilient to climate change and other future challenges. “Currently, we’re facing congestion in energy infrastructure and foresee congestion in water infrastructure. These are all issues that require careful consideration in how we approach our construction processes. The same applies to existing neighborhoods.”

Role of the Green Innovation Hub

Put sees it as his mission to mobilize the city’s innovative forces from an economic and social perspective. “No longer is it just the municipality dictating what’s best; rather, we collaborate with businesses, education, and of course, residents to shape our neighborhoods thoughtfully.”

At this juncture, the Green Innovation Hub plays a pivotal role as a place for meetings, inspiration, and exchange. “From the municipality’s perspective, I’ve been a key driver in establishing the Hub, along with the province of Flevoland, VodafoneZiggo, and BTG.”

Moukaddim adds, “Geert-Jan and I are both part of organizations looking at how we can collectively advance the city. This primarily involves future exploration. Within the Green Innovation Hub, largely facilitated by the municipality, education and business converge. Aside from education, our university also conducts a significant amount of applied research. For instance, we have a department of Urban Innovation, which addresses research questions pertaining to social, sustainable, and city-wide innovation. The municipality engaged with us to explore how we could contribute to the city’s development.”

He continues, “We are neighbors. It’s very advantageous that we are so close to each other, especially concerning knowledge and development. The potential is enormous, and we’re working hard to capitalize on it. On one hand, we seek partnerships where our students can contribute to solving issues. On the other hand, our department also receives inquiries from other parties, which we bring into the Hub. The strength of the Hub lies in collaborating with various educational institutions, alongside businesses and government, on projects. This synergy is where the real benefit lies because our students are the future professionals who will live and work here. Their innovative ideas are often fantastic.”

Connecting stakeholders

This collaboration is crucial, Put emphasizes. “This is how we, in a triple helix model, address the city’s challenges. Together, we are much stronger. It may sound obvious, but Almere is a young city without historical connections or established forms of collaboration. We’re building this from the ground up, and as a municipality, we play a crucial role. It’s rewarding because it allows us to constantly incorporate innovative concepts into our development. We’re essentially constructing a city of the future here.”

For Geert-Jan Put, the Hub acts as a link from the municipality outward, focusing on ICT, tech, and sustainable concepts. “This collaboration, these meetings, this connection—these are crucial. With startups and scale-ups, when people meet and exchange knowledge, something always emerges. Innovation and creativity cannot thrive without such a facilitative environment. We’ve only recently opened here, but I’m convinced this will give the city an extra boost. We’re also connected to a network of other hubs within the Dutch Metropolitan Innovations (DMI) ecosystem. We’re taking the lead in that, and it’s important to me that we continue to develop it robustly.”

Continued growth

Both the municipality and the education sector aspire to expand the educational offerings to include a university. Ideally, this would also include technical education, according to Moukaddim. “The municipality and government’s ambition to create a university offering here is something we wholeheartedly support as a university of applied sciences. It would be wonderful if, after completing their HBO (university of applied sciences) education, students could pursue further studies here at a university. It’s heartening to see a generation emerging that wants to stay in Almere. There was a time when people left to study elsewhere and didn’t return. Now we see a generation saying the city is vibrant and they want to stay here. However, they often reluctantly leave because of difficulties in finding housing here.”

Concerns about digitalization and inclusivity

Put expresses a concern, “In the Netherlands, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of digitalization and urban broadband. However, I see that investments are lagging behind, and we risk falling behind. Strong direction from the national government is crucial for this.” He and Hasib also share concerns regarding inclusivity. Put explains, “Within our organization, we strive for inclusivity, but societal pressures are affecting this. We must continue to promote inclusivity because it’s crucial for creativity and innovation. It’s an investment we must continue, even during leaner times.”

Moukaddim wholeheartedly agrees, “With more elderly and fewer young people, we cannot afford to lose talent. Therefore, our mission is to make HBO education accessible and sustainable for as many people as possible. When you have all segments of society on board, that’s when you can truly innovate and be creative. No challenge is too big then.”

Role of BTG

BTG has been actively involved in the Green Innovation Hub from the beginning. “It’s very important,” emphasizes Geert-Jan Put. “I believe we can greatly strengthen each other. BTG has a vast network and many of your stakeholders are also involved in issues related to smartening and sustainability of cities. It would be wonderful if we could connect that network with the emerging network here.”

Hasib Moukaddim sees even more connections, “Many of BTG’s members have our students participating in their projects or working there. So, our collaboration within the Hub is an evolution of our existing partnership. Especially as we address broader ICT issues within the Hub, this connection will become even more visible.”

Hasib Moukaddim

Hasib Moukaddim previously worked as a group leader in closed youth care and has been with Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Almere for 12 years, the last 6 as General Director. Over 13 years ago, in collaboration with municipalities, the province of Flevoland, and the Ministry of Education, the decision was made to establish a dedicated university of applied sciences in Almere. This endeavor has been successful, as Windesheim Almere has consistently been ranked among the top universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands according to Elsevier Weekblad.

Moukaddim serves on the supervisory boards of organizations such as Youth Care Friesland and the iHUB Alliance. He has also served on the board of directors of the Almere Culture Fund and the supervisory board of the NTR.

He also received personal recognition recently, winning the Global People Award in the category of manager as a role model who inspires others in the field of inclusion. “I have invested a lot of my energy in striving for inclusivity in recent years. I use my role and position to promote this message as widely as possible. This award is a wonderful acknowledgment of that.”

Geert-Jan Put

Geert-Jan Put is Head of Economic Development and Land Affairs at the municipality of Almere. “My role involves overseeing the economic development of the city, initiatives like the Green Innovation Hub, and managing land affairs related to housing and business park development. We collaborate extensively with the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (MRA) to plan office and business park development sites effectively and manage space claims, given the immense competition for space. Additionally, I serve as Chairman of the Dutch Association of Land Development Companies.”

BTG branchevereniging ICT en Telecommunicatie Grootgebruikers, June 11th, 2024