Twente is a metropolitan area in the east of the Netherlands. Metropolitan maybe a big word here, these three cities, Almelo, Hengelo and Enschede have a mainly industrial past of textile and machine building among them while around 650.000 people live there. Twente is on the eastern border of the Netherlands, 200 kilometers from Amsterdam.
I went to Hengelo to discuss scenarios for the future of Twente. I worked in this area for more than a year, developing new strategies to vitalize their industrial heritage. That’s some time ago now and this meeting gave me a chance to get involved again in a discussion about the areas future. The meeting was focused around four scenarios based on models made by the Dutch Central Planning Office (CPB).
It was interesting to see how much the ideas of the ‘creative economy’ have been adapted by the planners. There is no more any discussion on the assumption that industry will become less important and that future growth has to come from research and development activities. As well as there is no discussion about the fact that cities will play the dominant role as nodes in networks and centers of innovation.
The four scenarios that were discussed, Talent Towns, Egalitarian Ecologies, Cosmopolitan Centers and Metropolitan Markets, all had some realistic parts in it.
I think it is more important to discuss the different strategies and make some choices then to really choose between the models that are for one reason or the other mainly politically orientated.
The Dutch government already recognized the necessity of a diversification of the economy in 1960 by establishing a University in Twente when the first textile factories were closing. This Technical University plays an important role in the local economy but never managed to be the magnet of the regions knowledge economy.
The cities and the University are not very well connected. The campus is somewhere in the middle in a nice woody setting. But the University and the cities do not really connect, maybe one of the cities, Enschede, profits, the others don’t. It may be a quality for the University but it certainly is not for the cities. The important question here is what can the cities do to make talent stay?
The network on the local and regional level has to grow much stronger. Maybe the discussions on the future scenarios can be a step into that direction.
The Twente University is very strong on nano technology. One of the experts, Virgil Rerimassie of the Rathenau Institute stated that nano technology on it’s own can be interesting but that this is not enough. He mentioned the combination of four new technologies: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive technology that can offer a powerful combination and can thus lead to a big number of new innovations that will completely change our society. Building networks on a lager scale seems to be the message here.
Spending money on new infrastructures has always been the easy answer for many politicians and bureaucrats to tackle economic backlash. Maybe the infrastructure we need today to establish the new networks is completely different from the infrastructure we were used to.