Smart(er) Days in Amsterdam: Day 1.0

By: Andrew Butcher

…building community awareness and climate literacy feels like a constant practice that transcends nationalities.

– Andrew Butcher

Thanks to the German Marshall Fund, I find myself amidst the city of canals, bustling bikeways, and light rail in the land of windmills and wooden clogs. The goal is to evaluate Amsterdam’s and the Netherlands’ sustainable energy, climate policy and smart city goals* with a delegation from Charlotte, North Carolina; Torino, Italy; and, of course, Pittsburgh.  My partner from The Burgh is none other than Debra Lam, the City‘s first Chief Performance and Innovation Officer.  Over the course of the next week, I will be sharing a few thoughts and insights gained through the trip with guest interviews, guest blogging and quirky observations paired with the occasional wonky indulgence.

Debra Lam and I wearing our shades outside the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Amsterdam.

Day 1 involved meetings with Amsterdam’s Office of Physical Planning Energy and Climate Team as well as The Government of Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs.

It is clear there is a very real investment in innovation and public-private partnerships from the national to municipal level.  The identification of top sectors prime for growth, a national commitment to “get projects done” via a Green Deal, or Amsterdam’s creation of a Climate and Energy Investment Fund to spur business and innovation that help meet climate neutrality goals are all good examples of how staking goals and agendas fosters a sustainably driven economy.

On the flip side, despite widespread awareness, concern, and making clean energy, sustainability, and climate change readiness priorities it still takes even the windmill-loving Dutch significant planning, coordination, investment and stakeholder engagement to even agree on a plan of action.Hence, building community awareness and climate literacy feels like a constant practice that transcends nationalities.

Further, Debra provides an important but sobering reminder that a national commitment toward energy policy or climate change strategy is critical to local action. Cities like Pittsburgh can take the lead, but carbon and infrastructure go beyond traditional government boundaries or jurisdictions. Policies can be proposed and enforced, but real change involves a cultural shift of mindset, a behavioral change of habit.

Along these lines, it will be interesting to see how Amsterdam’s initiatives fit both into a broader European effort to focus on transforming local economies as well as comparisons to Pittsburgh’s Smart City, Open Data, sharing economy and sustainability practices.

Stay tuned!

– Andrew

* There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the actual qualities that make up a “smart city”. For my purpose I will use a thoughtfully crafted definition from a Fast Company article, which defines a smart city as one that “use[s] information and communication technologies (ICT) to be more intelligent and efficient in the use of resources, resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life, and reduced environmental footprint-all supporting innovation and the low-carbon economy.”

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