Rotterdam is moving towards a new economy. We speak to the deputy mayor about how his city is changing and the ‘next economy’ roadmap
What impact is the ‘new economy’ having on Rotterdam and the surrounding area’s development?
There are many visible, invisible, social and spatial developments that have an effect on Rotterdam and its region. Rotterdam, in that way, is no different than other cities. The availability of fast Internet and WiFi makes it possible to work anywhere–café’s, parks etc. That has a profound effect on traditional workspaces like offices that become obsolete. At the same time people and companies flock to the city centre, reversing the trend of the last 30 years of people and companies moving to the fringes of the city. Rotterdam has invested a lot in strengthening the quality of life for its citizens, like upgrading parks, squares, public transport systems and the promotion of biking and walking. At the same time the city and its partners have invested in dedicated campuses for new economic development. The next step forward is the Roadmap Next Economy (RNE) which is our plan to transition the regional economy. The Roadmap brings together local, regional and national governments, knowledge institutes, start ups, SME and corporations aiming to formulate a long-term vision and short-term business cases that will (re)define our economic future. In the RNE we work closely together with Jeremy Rifkin and several other regions in Europe.
Has this ‘new economy’ helped to create key attractions and icons in the city?
The impact of the ‘new economy’ on the look and feel of the city is both very small and incredibly powerful. We find that the new economy uses the fabric of the city differently. Old companies want new buildings, new companies look for old ones. We see that architectural icons found in the city centre, especially those from the reconstruction period after the Second World War, (like Het Groot Handelsgebouw) are once again very much en vogue. New creative hubs have started both inside the city centre, like the Cambridge Innovation Center, and in older port installations and areas, like the RDM Campus, one of the world’s biggest ‘makerspaces’. These fledgling initiatives are small in size but have a big impact on the way the city is perceived by people and companies, both established and new. In addition, the new icons like De Rotterdam, the Markthal and the new Central Station have put the city firmly on the international map as a must see destination. This ‘new coolness’ has helped in attracting ‘new economy’ businesses.
Why do you think they have been so successful in improving the city’s image?
Over the last 20 to 30 years the city has invested a lot in improving the overall quality of life, so the foundations for the present success were already in place. But we were lucky that things happened more or less in conjunction, namely the end of the economic crisis, the uptake of tourism and the opening of new architectural icons and the rediscovery of the city as the place to be. This propelled the city onto the watch list of many corporate decision makers, financiers and the start-up crowd.
Will it continue to focus on tourism and aim to rival cities such as Bilbao with its Guggenheim attraction or will there be a renewed focus on traditional industry?
Economic transition is our main focus, we know that quality of life and a good business environment are key to our ambition to both strengthen the economic structure of the city and transform it. An attractive city, with top-notch amenities is a key asset to have and we will keep on improving our proposition. Tourism is a very good bellwether to gauge the attractiveness of a city and we will keep promoting the city to the tourism market.
What steps is Rotterdam taking towards managing the increased influx of tourists and workers?
Rotterdam is no Amsterdam or Barcelona in the sense that there is no acute necessity to curb or manage the influx of tourists. The success the city is experiencing is relatively new and we feel it can absorb many more tourists before it becomes a management problem. Having said that, the number of tourists has increased over the years by more than 8 million visitors, including 1.5 million hotel stays in 2015. Our ambition is to encourage return visits and to let people explore more of the city and the region, we want to make it easier to explore the metropolitan region. With regard to the growth of our workforce we are pushing hard to facilitate the growth of business in the city so that there is a broad offering of jobs, as the city grows. The same goes for the need for quality homes and schools. Rotterdam is fortunate to have–in contrast to many other cities–the physical space to accommodate the expansion that is needed.
What are the challenges that you foresee that could potentially hinder the growth of Rotterdam’s new economy? Both currently and in the future?
Economic development and economic transition in particular, is a hard and lengthy process that requires long-term commitment, leadership and stamina. That is never a given, you need to keep pushing hard if you want to achieve the ultimate goal–a bright economic future for our city. It requires everyone, government and business to work together on the same page of the same agenda. Rotterdam has a strong economy that is a valuable asset but can also be a stumbling block if vested interests are resisting the necessary change. That is why we brought everyone together in the Roadmap Next Economy because we believe we need to pull together; as we say in Rotterdam ‘alone you might go faster, but together you get farther’.