Eindhoven was always an industrial place. It was never a real city. More a collection of villages like Strijp, Woensel, Stratum and others. It was Philips (the electronics company) and DAF (cars and trucks) that made the place look big. I was born in Veldhoven which is one of the smaller villages to the south east in the vicinity of Eindhoven. Today Veldhoven is the home town of ASML, one of the most interesting and well performing companies in the Netherlands in the computer industry. It’s now more then forty years ago that I lived there on a farm with my parents, brothers and sister and had to bike almost every day the ten kilometers to school. From the class I always knew directly what time it was, the school was under one of the icons of Eindhoven’s industry: the clock.
Eindhoven still has my interest. I left the place in 1975 to study and live in Amsterdam. But I visit the town quite often, some of my friends and family live there. Like many of these mainly industrial cities Eindhoven had to reinvent itself when the industrial companies choose to replace their production facilities to the lower wage countries. And Eindhoven did that in a remarkable way. And even though it took them quite a long time, it’s only since the last ten years or so that things really start to go.
I consider it very interesting to have a look at the factors that could be the basis for this success. Looking at other post industrial areas and cities in the Netherlands like Twente, Delfzijl, Vlissingen, the North of Limburg, there must be reasons for this success where others failed. Other cities inside and outside the Netherlands could learn, not to copy but to understand the strategies and the lines of thinking and acting. What works and what doesn’t. Discussing these things with mayors, academics and project managers I very often hear them say it is nothing more than sheer luck. But if Eindhoven shows us anything it is that there is hope for every shrinking city. That there really are things one can do. I’m not going to discuss all of that here today. But when I think about it there is one important element in my theory. Which is: Eindhoven found the right way to capture creative talent. The most important defining factor for the success in my opinion is the Design Academy and what it did for the new identity of the city. The second element is that in renovating Strijp S, an area of 300.000 square meters of empty floor space in industrial buildings in the heart of town, the opportunity was offered for this talented group to settle in living and working spaces. I am sure that not everybody will agree with me. They will mention the knowledge clusters like the University and the Natlab. Or the successes of PSV Eindhoven the soccer team. Or the jobs and the money that ASML has to offer. Or even the airport or the climate or the infrastructure or the Brabant hospitality.
But lets face it: Twente has all that too. Twente has a University, a very good soccer team, it has companies like Thales and Siemens, an airport, a railway line, a motorway, the same climate and the Twente hospitality. But it’s shrinking.