Amsterdam’s Challenging Green Agenda

September 14, 2016

renewable energy
Electric cars fill Dam Square during cars2go launch in Amsterdam. Photo by Alphons Nieuwenhuis.

The city is striving for sustainability through broad, collaborative process.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — Speedily reducing a city’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to protect the climate may sound straightforward. Amsterdam’s experience as a front-runner in the global race to reduce GHGs, however, reveals that the process can be challenging.

To achieve its sustainability plans, the city is collaborating and seeking agreements with local industries, supply chain managers, real estate developers, as well as its bus and taxi companies. It has also established a revolving Sustainability Fund of almost €50 million (US $53.3 million) in addition to its existing €40 million (US $45 million) Climate and Energy Fund.

The city’s energy and environmental agenda, Sustainable Amsterdam, calls for increasing per-person renewable energy production 20 percent from 2013 to 2020 while increasing installed solar energy capacity from 9 MW to 160 MW and reducing overall per-person energy use 20 percent.

Challenges Remain

The city government in 2007 had planned to be energy-neutral by 2015, but not enough money was allocated to retrofit the hundreds of city-owned buildings that produce 29 percent of municipal CO2-emissions.

The city was also short on cash for replacing 110,000 streetlights with dimmable LED-lights. Progress toward the energy-neutrality goal has increased since last year, however, and the municipality is now on track to reduce its emissions by 45 percent in 2025 (compared with 2012).

The city is planning on an 18-MW increase in its installed wind power capacity by 2020―up 27 percent over current levels. The city also had planned to increase its solar generating capacity to 25 MW by 2016, but it is only at 16 MW. And whereas the city was going to drive 2016 per capita energy consumption down by 15 percent, it has only managed to reduce it by six percent relative to 2013.

Electric Transport

To stimulate electric vehicle (EV) demand in order to reduce air pollution, Amsterdam is increasing the number of its public EV charging stations from 1,000 in 2013 to 4,000 by 2018.

Whereas the city’s taxi and bus companies originally were strongly opposed to the city’s climate and energy program, the city has successfully enlisted their cooperation. All taxis within the city will have to be electric by 2025. The municipal bus company will have all-electric bus transport citywide by 2025.

Amsterdam will also increase the number of freight transfer hubs on its outskirts. There, gasoline and diesel-powered commercial vehicles will transfer cargo to low-emission or zero-emission vehicles to reduce the number of delivery trucks in the city.

Waste-to-Energy

Amsterdam’s solid waste is burned in an incinerator to produce heat and power for the city. The electricity goes into the grid, and the heat is distributed to residential and industrial customers. Over the seven years from 2013 to 2020, the city intends to increase the number of participating homes from 62,000 to 102,000 and to increase the percentage of the city’s separated solid waste to 65 percent in 2020.

Between 2013 and 2020, the city will provide an €8 million (US $9 million) subsidy to one of the city’s public housing corporations to retrofit 1,000 apartments to a zero-net-energy standard, encouraging other building owners to follow suit.

As Amsterdam spokesman Peter Paul Ekker put it, in Amsterdam, there is unanimous support for greening the city and making it more sustainable, “especially since we now also see that it brings new jobs, new wealth, [and] new business opportunities.”

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The reimagination of downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles has long been a city associated with the common ills of urban excess: sprawl, homelessness, and congestion. More charitable descriptions paint it as West Coast paradise, boasting sunshine and celebrities in equal measure.

A three-day visit to downtown Los Angeles exposed the nuances behind these stereotypes. Hosted by the Los Angeles Downtown Center Business Improvement District, which is focused on strengthening downtown as an innovation district, our visit began as a real estate tour but quickly revealed regeneration and innovation activity that confounded our expectations.

Downtown LA (DTLA)’s innovation district focuses not just on tech firms but also on historic LA industry strengths like fashion, design, and real estate. LA may have sat in the shadow of the Silicon Valley tech boom, but it appears to be revitalizing in time for the convergence economy, in which tech is no longer a separate sector but ingrained in all forms of economic and creative activity.

And at a time where firms are revaluing proximity, vibrancy, and authenticity, DTLA could not be in a better place. While a number of U.S. cities subjected their downtowns to a range of urban renewal initiatives, the urban fabric of DTLA is largely intact. Vibrant areas like South Broadway feature boutique hotels, a dozen theatres, and clothing stores and bars that exist in historic infrastructure like reclaimed theatres. There is an urban feel that is authentically LA.

The initial renaissance of DTLA began in the late 1990s, after the residential units within its 65 blocks had dwindled to just 10,000.

Along with transportation improvements, permissive planning policies such as adaptive reuse—which allowed commercial buildings to be converted into residential use—were instrumental in increasing DTLA’s residential population. Since 1999, the residential population and housing units have tripled. With new bars and restaurants springing up on every corner, it is no surprise that three-quarters of DTLA’s current residents are aged between 23 and 44.

Building on this residential surge, an increasing number of businesses are now setting up or relocating downtown.

DTLA office space has not always been an easy sell. Employers balk at the prospect of subjecting their workforce to the punishing commute. And Bunker Hill and the adjacent Financial District, the epicenter of the central business district, offers little more than unpopulated plazas and cubicled office space.

DTLA has worked to serve its newfound residential population and attract more workers and companies by retrofitting buildings to modern aesthetic standards. The exposed brickwork and ceiling equipment of many DTLA offices like those of Nationbuilder, an online platform used for political and civic campaigns, is not just a statement of style but a conscious decision to make downtown office buildings feel hospitable to creative firms. The BLOC, a 1.9 million square foot retail development, is essentially a mall that has been turned inside out, with the roof removed to reveal an open air plaza, unrecognizable from the fortress-style building that once sat in the same spot.

While downtown’s office blocks are a fantastic asset in attracting innovation activity, the area also boasts a vast amount of warehouse space. These larger footprints, most often used for textile or food production, are attracting a range of activities that require space or, in the case of Tesla’s Hyperloop, secrecy. Such industrial firms are interspersed with new art galleries and a historic knitting mill, proof of the area’s artistic heritage.

The individuals leading the drive for a DTLA innovation district, such as Nick Griffin, director of Economic Development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, are realistic about challenges, such as the lack of quality public space, and proactive in leveraging existing assets, such as the large supply of creative office space.

These efforts and LA’s distinctive industry strengths are combatting one of the biggest challenges to attracting businesses downtown: the strength of competing areas like Silicon Beach, which includes Santa Monica and Playa del Rey and offers an established tech ecosystem alongside an attractive location.

Another challenge? Like many U.S. cities, LA bears the scars of suburban sprawl and a legacy of under investment in public transportation. Congestion is a constant complaint.

But here too LA is making progress.

In November, Angelinos will vote on an extension of Measure R—a 2008 ballot initiative raising the sales tax to fund core transportation projects—to provide sustainable funding for transportation infrastructure and improve access to the city center through the metro system.

Other ambitious projects, such as the Regional Connector, a light rail subway through the middle of downtown, will have a profound effect on the area’s connectivity. This project is not just about getting people to and from downtown—it will also have a transformative effect on public space. The city is working with Project for Public Spaces to redesign one of the Connector’s hubs, Pershing Square, with the aim of providing a public space where employees and residents can convene and collaborate.

Connectivity will play a vital role in the continuing success of DTLA’s resurgence. But the DTLA innovation district’s main opportunity lies in better serving and connecting the people who make it work. With hometown authenticity and civic commitment, DTLA is on its way to creating a city center that is greater than the sum of its parts.

DOWNTOWN LA IN NUMBERS

Size: Approx 8.6 sq. miles

Major districts: Civic Center, Bunker Hill, Financial District, South Park, Fashion District, Jewelry District, Historic Core, Little Tokyo, Exposition Park, Toy District, Central City East, Arts District, City West, Chinatown, and Central Industrial District

Residential population: 60,600
66% of residents are between the ages of 23 and 44

Average median household income: $98,000

Education status: 79% of residents hold a college degree

Average workday population: 500,000

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