#80 Rotterdam: Urban Planning for a Sustainable, People-Friendly City

Episode 86 June 19, 2024 00:32:05
#80 Rotterdam: Urban Planning for a Sustainable, People-Friendly City
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#80 Rotterdam: Urban Planning for a Sustainable, People-Friendly City

Jun 19 2024 | 00:32:05


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

This episode was recorded live at the Urban Future 2024 conference with José Besselink, Senior Urban Planner for the Municipality of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

With her, we discuss the city's efforts in creating pedestrian-friendly spaces, enhancing green areas, and promoting active mobility through initiatives like the City Lounge framework, the Green and Healthy Neighborhood program, and tactical urbanism projects. She highlights successful interventions, the importance of community involvement, and strategies to balance competing urban planning priorities.


Overview of the episode:

[00:01:51] Teaser Question: "If you could describe your work for the city of Rotterdam with just three emojis, which emojis would they be?"

[00:02:18] Our guest's background

[00:03:41] Investment in public spaces: Examples of transformative projects in Rotterdam

[00:05:39] Next steps: Future green city projects and their significance

[00:07:06] Greening strategies: Various approaches to greening the city

[00:08:10] Tactical interventions: Explanation and examples of successful tactical urbanism in Rotterdam

[00:10:34] Measuring impact: How to assess the success of tactical interventions

[00:13:26] Green and Healthy Neighborhood Program: Combining climate adaptation, biodiversity, mobility, and health

[00:16:52] Community involvement: How data and community energy drive project locations

[00:19:24] Promoting walking and cycling: Strategies and the importance of considering pedestrians

[00:22:01] Data insights: How data informs walking initiatives

[00:23:22] Accelerating change: Tools and strategies to move faster in urban planning

[00:25:39] Social aspects of mobility: Investing in the social dimensions of cycling and mobility

[00:26:57] Urban Decision Dilemmas: how would our guest navigate fictional city planning or decision-making scenarios?

[00:30:58] Ending Question: "To you, what is a Smart City?"


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome to Smart in the city, the BABLE podcast where we bring together top actors in the smart city arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. [00:00:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu and. I hope you will enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to accelerate to change for a better urban life. [00:00:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Smart in the city is brought to you by BABLE Smart cities. We enable processes from research and strategy development to co creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at BABLE Smartcities EU. [00:00:45] Tamlyn Shimizu: So I am live in Rotterdam at the Urban Future conference. I'm very grateful for this opportunity to be a media partner here and get to interview so many amazing speakers. One such speaker is here with me today. Her name is José Besselink, senior urban planner at Municipality of Rotterdam here in this lovely city. So welcome, José. [00:01:07] José Besselink: Thank you. [00:01:08] Tamlyn Shimizu: It's really an honor to get to speak to you and get all of your insights about what's going on in this city. It's actually my first time in Rotterdam. I've come to the Netherlands so many times and I haven't visited Rotterdam yet, so I'm really excited to get to visit here. Are you from here? [00:01:24] José Besselink: I was born and raised in the suburbs, but I went to the city of Utrecht for study and I stayed there. [00:01:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay, very nice, very nice. So before we get into all the dirt on what you're working on, I would like to warm up with a little teaser question. So if you could describe your work for the city of Rotterdam with just three emojis, which emojis would they be? [00:01:51] José Besselink: Lovely question. It's easy. It will be a pedestrian, a bicycle and a tree. [00:01:58] Tamlyn Shimizu: Oh, very good. Yeah, good choices, good choices. And I think you don't even have to elaborate on that. I think we'll get into why in the next part. Before we do, I want to learn a little bit more about you and what you're doing and who you are. What led you into your role today? Tell us a little bit more, please. [00:02:18] José Besselink: Well, as I said, I went to study in Utrecht urban planning. But as I was born and raised here in the area of Rotterdam, I really like to work as an urban planner here because this is a city where things actually happen. So that was about 16 years ago. I've been involved in lots of different projects for a long period. I've been urban planner in the city center. I'm currently involved in the domain of active mobility, green and health. And, well, regarding those topics, I did lots of different projects on both strategy level, policy level, as well as well concrete projects with tangible results on street. [00:03:16] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, sounds really interesting, and I would love to get a little bit of your thoughts and experiences on some of those 16 years of work. So over that time, you have seen a lot of investment, I guess, going into public space. So what are some examples that you've seen of specific projects or initiatives that kind of highlight really transformative spaces? [00:03:41] José Besselink: Well, back in the time when I worked in the city center, we had this framework called City Lounge, which was the main objective of creating a more, well, attractive, people friendly inner city. And from this framework, we started to deliver different projects on street. For example, widening the pavements, adding more green, adding more benches, those type of investments, and also bigger projects like, for example, the area of the central station where we now have more or less a red carpet inviting you to come into the city. We have invested in the main road in the city center called Singhul, where we now have a way broader sidewalk, a broader bike lane. We've added more trees there, and it became also more people friendly. Another important project regarding this city lounge concept was the park and walk strategy. We have invested in parking garages, which enabled us to create more space on street by eliminating on street car parking because we wanted people to park in these parking facilities. This created a way more lively on street. Well, the streets became more lively. We added more green. We were able to widen the sidewalks because of eliminating on street parking on one side of the street. And this has been crucial in reclaiming the streets in favor of people. [00:05:39] Tamlyn Shimizu: And for these projects, what kind of next steps are you taking? [00:05:45] José Besselink: Well, the current city administration, they are going to invest in seven big green city projects. One of them is Hofblang, which is on the northern part of the Colsingo area, and it's going to be redesigned in favor of pedestrians and cyclists. We are going to add more green there. It will be a water sensitive area regarding climate adaptation on the southern side of the city, there's also a few of those projects, two in the harbor basins, where we are going to develop parks. So adding more green, that is really crucial in creating a more attractive city. We are also going to deliver about the equivalent of 30 soccer fields of green extra to the city. The previous administration already delivered 30, and we're going to add that up to another 30. [00:06:52] Tamlyn Shimizu: Wow, really a lot going on as far as greening then in the city is a big concern there based on kind of the heat that's coming into the city. What are kind of the tactics there. [00:07:06] José Besselink: It relates to climate adaptation, biodiversity, attractiveness. We know that a greener city is a more attractive city. It entices people to go out for a walk or a bike ride. So you can think a lot of boxes. Investing in green. [00:07:24] Tamlyn Shimizu: Is there a certain way of greening that you're focusing on? Like, there's many different types of greening, right? Like on the walls, on the rooftops, more trees. Is there a certain focus? [00:07:36] José Besselink: There is starting on this level of these big city projects? Those are the massive, big investments with huge types of projects. But it's not only about these massive new parks. We also want to invest on a lower scale, on a neighborhood level, and, for example, on rooftops, schoolyards. So we invest in green on different skills. [00:08:10] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay, yeah, very interesting. You mentioned to me before around tactical interventions that you like to use in urban planning. Maybe first, can you just explain what are tactical interventions? For those who don't know? [00:08:25] José Besselink: Tactical urbanism is a way of urbanism, connecting short term actions to long term strategies. It is about showing the city of tomorrow today, and making people more aware of what their streets, what their city could look like. [00:08:43] Tamlyn Shimizu: So is it another word for pilots? [00:08:46] José Besselink: Sometimes, yeah. But it could also be place making or experiments. Those words. You can use those type of words for technical interventions? [00:08:56] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, very good. Maybe you can describe some successful tactical interventions that you implemented in Rotterdam. [00:09:03] José Besselink: For me, it started with facilitating parking day back in 2014. I found about this initiative coming from San Francisco every third Friday of September, a yearly event, so to say, people worldwide, they are reclaiming their streets, they are reclaiming parking spots, so to say, for the purpose of, well, green for people. And I figured this concept, it totally connects to our city lounge concept, as we want to green the city, as we want to make the city more people friendly. Back then, I worked with a manager and a director that were very willing to create change, and I was able to roll out this project. We have facilitated parking day. Back then, people were able to just claim a parking spot. And we, as a city, we, so to say, feeded the meter. And from this day on, I started to do more pilots and experiments. I met up with local heroes sharing the same ambitions as I did. We organized happy streets, we did terrace sparklets, we've invented the bicycle parklets. And lots of experiments since then have been conducted in the city of Rotterdam. [00:10:34] Tamlyn Shimizu: Really cool examples. Just a question that occurred to me. How can you measure the impact of. [00:10:41] José Besselink: These tactical interventions by happy faces? [00:10:46] Tamlyn Shimizu: My happiness. [00:10:47] José Besselink: Yeah. [00:10:48] Tamlyn Shimizu: Or you hear about the stories of people maybe changing a little bit of their beliefs or by adapting maybe to a different type of life. [00:10:56] José Besselink: Yeah. And for example, with this bicycle parklet, this is an intervention where we, together with the local community decide on which parking spots we will implement a parklet for a period of three months. And if there's no complaints, then we will make it permanent. So this is another, well, way of monitoring. If there's no complaints and on the other side, people are using actually these sparking spots, then it's successful. [00:11:30] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. So what do you think are the tactical interventions that have not worked, the. [00:11:43] José Besselink: Ones that we have approached as maybe an end on itself? To me, the biggest lesson learned was that we should always relate these tactical interventions to the long term strategies as part of the planning process. So it's the first step, more or less, in a process of redesigning a street. Just a tryout, a trial and error, and what works, works, and we can make it permanent. But if it doesn't work, we should be bold enough to just choose another well road. And I would say we should always ensure a follow up. We have had examples where the pilot itself was pretty successful, but we were not able to make the tactical temporary situation permanent or it took too long. So there's now one example where we are able to make temporary bike lane permanent, but the temporary situation has been for more than three years, and that's too long. [00:13:05] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, a lot of the times what we see is just the time factor. Right. On things just taking way too long. And so then the impact is a little bit lost, right? Yes. Yeah, that makes sense. So I want to ask you about the green and healthy neighborhood program. Can you maybe elaborate a little bit more on that? [00:13:26] José Besselink: Yeah. So this is connected, actually to this greening the city program. I mentioned the greening the city program, where we invest on big projects and at the same time in projects and quick wins on a neighborhood level. The colleagues of our city maintenance department, they have been working on a program related to climate adaptation together with the local community, which is a very successful program. Me, from my side, from the urban planning department, I started working on projects related to walking and cycling and green routes in neighborhoods. And we figured these approaches, they are connected more or less. And at the same time, we go out on the streets, we go out into the neighborhood in the same neighborhoods from different programs and perspectives. So for the citizens, for the residents, it is way more transparent and easy if they could just have one program or approach. So we decided to combine and join forces and this has now resulted in an approach that we have called the green and healthy neighborhood approach. And in this program, we connect climate adaptation to greening the streets, biodiversity, mobility and health. So it's across domains, which is a pilot on itself. The approach is about conducting projects on street together with the local community. We contract someone from this community, more or less, I would say a professional citizen, that is representing a bigger group in the community and that is willing to create change in their neighborhood related to green. We work together with this community and with this, some intermediate person in the neighborhood, we connect them to the back office of the municipality. In collaboration, we can deliver different projects, and it's mainly quick wins. Maybe it's a facade garden or a rain barrel, or other little, well, greenification projects. And another aim of this approach is that we are creating a community related to those topics of green and health. And this helps us, from a city perspective, to focus on the investments that we are doing in this neighborhood. Because related to this greening program, we have a huge budget to invest in green, and what better way of investments is to do it in this area where it's where the people are willing for more green, where they want more green in their streets. [00:16:52] Tamlyn Shimizu: So do you go to the communities that have already expressed, like, have expressed interest to you, that they say, we really, really want green in our streets? Is that how you go, or how do you determine where to go? [00:17:06] José Besselink: It's dead next to an approach more based on data. So we will go and work in communities where there's energy, where we know that there's people into greening their streets. That's one focus. On the other hand, we use data, for example, on heat island effects, or simply a lack of green, maybe obesity. So we use data and we use just the energy that we feel, because we only want to work with people that are willing. [00:17:52] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What do you think? So you're trying to combine, and as you said, it's a pilot in itself, right? Combining climate adaptation, biodiversity, mobility, health, all these domains. How can you coordinate this and kind of ensure this effective collaboration between these domains? [00:18:14] José Besselink: We are in the midst of that. [00:18:16] Tamlyn Shimizu: So you haven't figured out yet, but you're going step by step, I guess. [00:18:20] José Besselink: To kind of, and I would say we're always trying to find peers and like minded colleagues. This is how this project elaborated, started to meet each other on different aspects, or we were attending the same meetings and we found, hey, we should collaborate more, and we are working in the same way. So there was this connection, we are so more or less peers within the municipality, and we truly believe in the same. We have the same vision, we have the same mission, and that's where we meet. And this is how things just evolve. [00:19:08] Tamlyn Shimizu: Creating this joint vision together and then moving forward from there. Yeah. [00:19:13] José Besselink: So fostering a collaborative environment within the municipality and at the same time with the local community. [00:19:24] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, very important. So we're touching on mobility, but dancing a little bit around it. I want to ask you directly now, so what strategies are you employing in Rotterdam to promote walking and cycling? I mean, people will look at Netherlands and say, oh, you already have enough of that, right? Maybe first address that point. Is there enough going on? Are people still using too many cars? [00:19:52] José Besselink: I would say people could cycle more and people could walk more. Yes, definitely. [00:19:57] Tamlyn Shimizu: Always improvement. [00:19:59] José Besselink: Always. The Netherlands in general is famous for cycling, but we tend to forget the pedestrian. So we do have lots of policies and investment programs on cycling for years. And in 2018, in the time that I was working as an urban planet in the city center, I figured we totally forgot about a pedestrian. We did invest in public space, of course, but it was not that obvious to make pedestrian projects on its own. [00:20:33] Tamlyn Shimizu: So what strategies are you using to encourage walking? [00:20:39] José Besselink: For example, we started with creating the strategy on itself, and what really helped in that is we hosted the Walk 21 conference back in 2019, and this has accelerated setting the agenda on walking. So we started after the conference by making a framework. We always start with policy. So the ambition on walking rather than walks, 2025, it was implemented in 2020. And then we started with an action plan. And in this plan we have divided different projects and programs. The first pillar was related to more the physical environment link and place. Then the second is more related to behavioral change and, for example, stimulating walking groups. And this project was also related to green, again Green. And the third pillar was related to data because there was a lack of knowledge on walking, on pedestrian flows, on data, on walking in general. [00:22:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. What did the data show you about walking? [00:22:06] José Besselink: We did one really fun survey about. We asked people to point out hearts and broken hearts on a map for both places that you really love and really enjoy from a pedestrian perspective. And the broken hearts were related to, well, ugly places, places where they were not safe or there was no space for you to walk, stuff like that. And we use this data combined with, for example, the width of the sidewalk or other topics related to walking. We've also made a walkability monitor, and this really helped, focusing on where to invest in walking more. [00:22:54] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, really interesting. Case. So I like to always ask, basically, we're moving very slow, and I think we mentioned this already, but we're moving too slow on many of the things we're doing. Right. And that's just a matter of bureaucracy or many other factors. Right. So I'm just wondering, from your perspective, what tools would you need to move faster to accelerate the change that you want to make? [00:23:22] José Besselink: I was already mentioning this conference, and this was actually an accelerator. If it wasn't for this conference, pretty sure that we wouldn't have been able to set the agenda on this topic of walking that fast. So it's maybe timing. The timing was right and this conference helped as an accelerator. But another thing I would say in moving faster is collaborate more. It might sound contradictory, but by collaborating you can join forces, you can sum up the budgets, and by that you can deliver faster, because you just collaborate more and you're able to tick more boxes on different topics. [00:24:17] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, I mean, it seems so simple and we say it so much, especially at events like this, at urban feature. Right? It's all about collaboration. What would help us collaborate more effectively, do you think? [00:24:31] José Besselink: Go and have a coffee with like minded people. That's what I do all the time. I would say I'm a networker within my organization. I'm always in search for colleagues or change makers within the city that are sharing the same ideas and objectives with me. And if you start working together, you will just. Yeah, if you start working in a more collaborative way, the results is always better. [00:25:11] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. Well put. Well put. So now I would like to ask you if we talked about anything, if we missed something when we were talking together just now that you really want the listeners to know, now is the time for you to have your open floor. If you would like it, you don't have to take it, but if you like it. Is there something that we missed in the conversation that you think is really important for people to know? [00:25:39] José Besselink: Maybe. I would like to mention the social aspect of mobility. We tend to approach mobility in a technical way. Investing in infrastructure, investing in, for example, bicycle parking. And I'm not saying that's not important, because this is, well, the basis, but we should not forget that we are working for people. And for example, the social aspect of cycling in Rotterdam, we have this approach. It's a holistic approach, where we, besides investments in proper bike lanes, we also invest in bicycle classes. Because unlike the main idea of the Netherlands, not everyone here knows how to ride a bike. So we have a program for people to do cycling classes I believe that mobility is just a means and that the objective is to create a city for people, for happy people. And this is why we should not forget about the social aspects of mobility. [00:26:57] Tamlyn Shimizu: Good point, and thanks so much for elaborating on that. Now we have our fun segment, and the one that I've chosen for you today is called urban decision dilemmas. You steer the story, crafting cities one fictional challenge at a time. What's your move? So let me paint a little bit of a picture for you first. So I think it won't be so fictional for you. I think it will be pretty aligned with what you do. So you are a lead urban planner for a city tasked with revitalizing a struggling downtown area. The city council has given you a budget to address the needs of local businesses, residents, environmental groups, the tourism board and the transportation department. A lot of competing, competing authorities there. So how would you balance these competing priorities to revitalize the downtown district effectively? What strategies would you use to ensure economic growth, sustainability and community well being? What would be, like, the first thing you would do in this situation? [00:28:05] José Besselink: Wow, you're giving me a blank canvas here. [00:28:08] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. [00:28:08] José Besselink: And I would say, I would like to give this city a blank canvas. We should start with maybe tactical interventions, mainly focused for me on walking and cycling, create more space for people, because we know that it's the pedestrians and the cyclists that spend the most money in our streets, in our shops. So regarding these entrepreneurs that you're mentioning that are also on board, I would try to convince them that a more people friendly, pedestrianized city center is a thriving city center, and we should start to invest there in public space, in adding more green, adding more benches, widening the sidewalks, adding more bike lanes, etcetera. [00:28:59] Tamlyn Shimizu: Very good. What about the residents who will complain about not having parking there? [00:29:04] José Besselink: That's why we would use these textical interventions, because this is also part of a participatory process. We involve the local community. We let them have their say, of course, in what they are willing for their streets. What is it that is the thing that you want the most in your street? And we can just deliver. We should do it in a collaborative way with the local community, an integral and integrated approach between the different domains of the municipality. And then we can make a happy city for people. [00:29:48] Tamlyn Shimizu: And what about the tourism board? That they really want to bring lots of people there. They want to make it really, really attractive for many different types of tourists. What would you tell them? [00:30:02] José Besselink: I would say it's residents first. And if we make it attractive, for the local community, the next step is also to attract tourists. We know that tourists do walk a lot. They want to explore the city by foot. So that's why I do believe that investing in a more pedestrianized area will definitely make it more friendly for tourists as well. [00:30:32] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, I believe so as well. So really, you're saying these are not competing priorities? [00:30:37] José Besselink: No. [00:30:38] Tamlyn Shimizu: They can all get on the same boat and be successful? [00:30:42] José Besselink: Yes. [00:30:43] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. Sounds good. Sounds good. It's always easier said than done. Right? But it sounds perfect to me. So with that, I have to ask you our final question. It's a question we ask every single guest. And that is to you, what is a smart city? [00:30:58] José Besselink: A smart city is not about any technical thing, it's about people. [00:31:04] Tamlyn Shimizu: Very well put. Thank you so much for that. Then with that, I just have to say thank you so much for coming on. I really enjoyed your perspectives and giving me more insight into a lot of the different projects that are happening in Rotterdam. So thank you so much for your time. [00:31:20] José Besselink: Thank you for having me. [00:31:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. My pleasure. And also want to give a big thank you to urban future for hosting us here. And as always, thank you to our listeners who make this all happen. So don't forget, you can always create a free account on BABLE Dash smartcities EU. You can find out more about projects, solutions, other implementations there. Thank you very much. [00:31:41] Tamlyn Shimizu: Thank you all for listening. [00:31:42] Tamlyn Shimizu: I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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