Utrecht is leading the way in terms of healthy city living

With urbanisation continuing apace, Utrecht is leading the way in finding solutions to how to live healthily in a city

  • By Jaarbeurs, the Economic Board of Utrecht, and the City of Utrecht | Friday, October 7th, 2016

Healthy urban living is at the heart of everything in Utrecht

Cities are at the heart of today’s environmental challenges and solutions. With 72 percent of Europeans living in urban areas, a number of social issues will have to be addressed by the cities of the future. CO2 emissions and pollution are rising, underlining the need for cities to opt for clean energy and thermal storage, while increased urban populations will enhance the need for access to clean water, jobs and new mobility solutions. Cities will also have to confront demographic challenges, such as diversity and the issue of ageing populations. For example, by 2030, people over the age of 65 will form a quarter of the Dutch population. This will bring challenges related to healthcare provision. Medical care is one side of this: prevention is the other. In effect, we need to create a sustainable and healthy urban environment so citizens remain healthier for longer.

The Utrecht way

Since Roman times, Utrecht has been at the crossroads of new ideas and talent. It provides a vibrant, creative and inspirational environment for innovation, making it not only the fastest growing city in the Netherlands, but also the country’s healthiest city. Together, the Amsterdam metropolitan area and the Utrecht region form the economic axis of the country, with four million inhabitants.

The Utrecht region is extremely well placed in terms of market opportunities in the field of healthy urban living. It is the Netherlands’ most rapidly expanding region, and faces the task of organising this expansion in a smart and future-proof manner, with a view to creating and promoting a healthy living and working environment. Consequently, Utrecht is keen to serve as both a test bed and a prime example to other cities in the field of healthy and sustainable development.

Utrecht is the European frontrunner in policies and solutions for air quality, smart mobility, sustainable urban planning, social inclusivity, renewable energy, green public spaces and urban biodiversity. The Utrecht region is also world-leading when it comes to research into smart, sustainable cities, as well as healthcare innovation, particularly in terms of active ageing and long-term care. Likewise, Utrecht is a global leader when it comes to research into public health, with a focus on cardiovascular research, food and health, and translational neuroscience. Regenerative medicine and the biology of stem cells is a speciality of the region, with the city being responsible for the first 3D-printed skull implantation in 2015.

Innovative ecosystems
We are building ecosystems that are dedicated to healthy urban living, bringing a variety of stakeholders together, including suppliers, users, the business community and citizens.The Economic Board of Utrecht (EBU) is a regional network. The EBU brings together businesses, public authorities and knowledge institutes with the aim of forming new coalitions which invest in issues related to healthy urban living. Effecitvely, the EBU is an enbabler, with the ability to offer access to capital.

We have the lowest CO2 emissions per person in the Netherlands, and Utrecht is one of the three largest cycling cities in Europe

Utrecht-based consultancy and innovation agency BeBright and cooperative bank Rabobank have started a national network for open care innovation. This ecosystem, consisting of stakeholders including public and private parties and universities that wish to contribute towards innovation, was conceived with the objective of bringing into reality innovative ideas that have the ability to contribute to a vibrant society, both in terms of quality of life and economic vitality.

Healthy mobility
In Utrecht, we believe healthy urban living makes people happier. Utrecht is at the intersection of water, rail and road infrastructure; every day, 285,000 travellers pass through Utrecht Central Station. Maintaining good access, while improving air quality and reducing noise pollution, is an ongoing challenge. This focus has made Utrecht a leader in innovative connectivity management. We have the lowest CO2 emissions per person in the Netherlands, and Utrecht is one of the three largest cycling cities in Europe. Cycling innovation is provided in Utrecht and abroad by companies such as PROOV, Ecofys and Royal Haskoning DHV.

Cycling highways have been built to accommodate the 100,000 cyclists who ride through the city every day. Electric vehicles – including boats – deliver goods and pick up waste in the city centre, and the world’s first smart solar charging station with vehicle-to-grid system has been installed in the Utrecht district of Lombok. This latter innovation enables the storage of solar energy in electric cars through bidirectional charging. By implementing the vehicle-to-grid project on a regional scale, Utrecht has created a living lab for innovative smart grid solutions. The companies Lomboxnet, Stedin, Nissan, Renault and General Electric are all involved in this innovation.

The innovation mile
Physically, innovations and ecosystems will find a home in the Jaarbeurs Innovation Mile (JIM), located near Utrecht Central Station. At the JIM, parties can collaborate on nutriton, logisitcs and infrastructure projects. The key point to note about the JIM is it is set to become an innovation breeding ground, where cross-pollination occurs, focusing on extradisciplinary and supra-spatial connections. It is a place that puts passionate entrepreneurs in touch with science, technology and education, and gives peers a place to meet one another. The idea is the resulting interaction will lead to innovative products. The JIM focuses on how we can combine increasing urbanisation with attention to care, energy, technology, data, nutrition, logistics and infrastructure.

Smart sustainability
The Utrecht Central Station area is part of one of the most significant transformation projects in the country. The objective is to establish the area as another living laboratory, which should provide further solutions for urban issues. The plan is also in line with the Smart Sustainable Districts initiative, a European programme in which various cities cooperate in the sustainable transformation of city districts. Utrecht Central Station area and Queen Elizabeth Park in London jointly launched
the programme in 2015.

In order to truly benefit from the opportunities healthy urban living offers, the Utrecht region must be able to forge smart and fast connections with other national and international regions, such as Eindhoven and the surrounding area, the Amsterdam region, and also regions abroad – those regions that posses knowledge and expertise in the field of healthy urban living, which could have a huge economic and social impact on the rest of the country if it is shared. Our aspiration is to render healthy urban living second only to water management as the Netherlands’ trademark.