Tagged : news

Dutch mountain: Joke or triumph?

The Netherlands, a country known for its windmills, cheese, wooden shoes, Delftware, dikes, tulips, bicycles and its giant two kilometer high mountain.

Huh? A mountain? I thought the Netherlands is the flattest country on earth.

Nope. Not any more. At least, not if a Dutch organization gets what it wants. This organization (Die berg Komt Er) proposes a two kilometer high mountain which will be erected somewhere in the Netherlands. Newspapers report ‘there’s probably enough space for such a mountain’. Also ‘there probably won’t be any negative side effects for the environment’. Yeah, right. Costs are expected to be around 70 billion euros (that’s over 90 billion Dollars). What the mountain will be used for? Agriculture, housing and skiing to name a few. Also the giant Dutch mountain will be used as a power plant. It should generate enough energy to power the entire city of Amsterdam with 100% renewable energy.

I thought the era of mega projects in the Western world was over. So kudos to the design team who had the guts of coming up with such a bold plan. Or is it just a publicity stunt? Are the architects of this Dutch mountain out of touch with the rest of the country? To be fair, the Dutch created 20% of their country themselves, by creating land from water. So there’s no doubt we’re technically capable (or find a way) of creating a two kilometer high mountain. But… let’s be honest, we (the Netherlands) don’t need such a mountain. Why not spend 60 billion euros to make the Netherlands the first carbon-neutral country on earth? Or why not build the Roadmap 2050 design of a carbon-neutral Europe, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas? There’s a saying, God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands. It’s ever more true when the Dutch create their own two kilometer high mountain… which I hope will never be the case.


Map of Eneropa, Rem Koolhaas’ renewable world: how a new power network could solve Europe’s carbon crisis. (image courtesy: OMA)

Supermarket pick-up point obsoletes traditional supermarkets


I read an interesting article the other day. Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket franchise of the Netherlands is busy developing a new strategy for selling groceries online. To date, online grocery delivery services are generally more expensive and aren’t viewed as an alternative to traditional supermarkets. With this move, everything could change. After all they’re by far the largest supermarket in the Netherlands.

So, what’s this new strategy? Instead of delivering groceries right to your home, they decided to… wait for it… not deliver groceries to your home. Huh?! Makes no sense? Well, actually it does. First of all, we’re talking about a 600 million dollar business for Albert Heijn (which operates in both the United States and Netherlands). Currently the online business doesn’t account for a profit. Within years, sales should be up to 2 billion dollars and they hope to make a profit. According to the company, selling groceries online is a profitable business. However, this profit evaporates during the last kilometer of the delivering process.

“Delivering groceries to peoples homes is expensive. Also, the customer needs to be at home to receive the groceries”, a spokesperson said. “It is more easy to order groceries by using your smartphone and provide us with a time and desired pick up location.”

That’s why the company is developing a system of thousands of supermarket pick-up points scattered throughout the country. To make this system profitable, they need to dramatically increase their sales. Since this supermarket is market leader, these developments could mean a breakthrough and offer possibilities for other (online) supermarkets as well. I think Albert Heijn just made the traditional supermarket obsolete.

Last week I wrote about the need of a new urban model. I briefly mentioned Albert Heijn (AH XL). I wrote:

Companies continue to scale up. […] Supermarkets like AH XL (large Dutch supermarket) and distribution centers only need a few strategic locations in order to serve the entire country.”

So let’s take a look in the future. First of all, supermarkets only needs a few distribution centers. Furthermore, thousands of supermarket pick-op points are created in the entire country (a supermarket pick-up point could even add value to certain properties, just as a nearby Starbucks store does). It will be possible to order your groceries via a dedicated supermarket app on your smartphone or tablet computer, provide the supermarket with a time and location, pick up the groceries and bring ‘em home.

The Google refrigerator

A short while ago, I read about Google developing a refrigerator that is intelligent to know when it’s running low on certain groceries and ordering them from online grocery delivery services. Back then I thought it’s a waste of research dollars. But if you connect the dots (online supermarket, an app, thousands of pick-up points), think about the possibilities. Imagine the refrigerator being connected to your online supermarket app. The moment you’re running low on certain groceries it adds the item to your app (it might even search for the lowest available price. After all, it’s Google we’re talking about!). You only need to approve buying the item, after which it will be delivered to your desired supermarket pick-up point. That’s life made easy…

NB. Albert Heijn is owned by Ahold. This Dutch company also owns AH XL, AH to go, Gall&Gall, Etos, Stop&Shop, Giant, Martin’s and Peapod. It operates in several countries, including the Netherlands, United States, Germany and Belgium.

Did you know that he current office vacancy rate in the Netherlands is approximately 14 percent and may increase to 24 percent by 2013 should all major office users decide to adopt the “New World of Work” style.

Less office space needed

A new urban model

In the 1920s, experts estimated Amsterdam would grow to 960.000 people 80 years from then. They were wrong by a big margin (2000: 740.000 people). In October, experts again calculated Amsterdam (the Randstad) will continue to grow rapidly while the rest of the country faces a population decline (Volkskrant, October 2011). I believe experts are wrong again. Here’s why.

In the digital age we currently live in, everyone has a laptop and smartphone. Most people are connected via Twitter and Facebook and information gets stored in the Cloud. All these innovations make it possible to work anywhere and anytime we want.

These developments depart from the current urban model which is used by most experts. Put simply, employees wanted to live as close to work as possible while still retaining as much space and luxury as possible. For example, the Dutch city of Almere continues to grow because of its proximity to Amsterdam in combination with more affordable housing (more bang for their buck). But what if people could live even further away from Amsterdam without sacrificing their jobs?

In recent years people started to work from their houses more often. Distance becomes less relevant, since house equals workplace. Within years, current cities and the current urban model no longer suffices, thus suggesting a new urban model.  How do we get the Netherlands future proof?

Later this week I’ll post three of my solutions. Stay tuned.

Read about three of my solutions in part 2 of this blogpost.

A promising scenario

If twenty percent of the Dutch labor force spends one day a week working from home, it would generate some two billion euros a year. If people spend two days a week working from home, the benefits would go up to almost three billion euros. This is what made headlines today in the Netherlands. Newspapers cite research done by consultancy group PWC. As a result, we’ll see a reduction in the number of cars on Dutch roads. About 180.000 cars stay home. It’s an interesting piece of research. Below are some of my thoughts about it.

180.000 cars stay home

When I read this, at first I thought “wow”. That’s an incredible number of cars. According to the article, 1,7 million people working from home equals 180.000 cars less. Suddenly the number of cars sounds a lot less incredible. That’s why I want to know: How did they calculate this? I decided to give it a try.

– Dutch population: 16,5 million
– Dutch labor force: 8,5 million
– Total number of cars: 8 million
– For 40 percent of travels longer than 10 km, public transportation is used
– On a daily basis, 1 million people use public transport
– 30 percent of the total population uses a car
– 1,43 people use a car on average (less during rush hour)

Interesting you might say. But what’s you’re point? Well, based on this information, 360.000 to 637.500 cars would stay home. Which is a lot more compared to PWC’s calculations. I guess my question stays the same. How did they calculate this?

A promising scenario

Perhaps most promising is the scenario researchers used. A scenario in which twenty percent of the labor force spends one or two days a week working from home. And they’re not talking about the distant future. Nope, researchers used the year 2015. So imagine a scenario for 2020 or 2030. Will we see half of the labor force spending three to four days a week working from home? If so, imagine how a city or an entire country would look like.

Downside

Benefits would come from the reduction in cars on the roads – which in turn would cut traffic, improve air quality and cut accidents. Also companies can reduce their office costs and home workers are more efficient, PWC says. Sounds great?! Not so fast. Despite the positive aspects, home workers also tend to overwork, and it is proven to be difficult to keep work and private life separate. And this makes sense. If you have the ability to work wherever and whenever you want, you’ll also feel the pressure of doing so. Resulting in longer work hours, more stress and less private space (after all, house equals work). It’s the architects job to prevent this from happening, which will be a major challenge. Working from home should be a benefit. Not a downside.