Louis Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, visited Eindhoven in the second week of january. He was the key-note speaker at The New Horizon, the new years meeting at the Evoluon for over a thousand represenatives from education, industry and regional government from the Brainport region Eindhoven. We had a brief interview with Zacharilla prior to his speech.
This is your third visit to Eindhoven?
“Yes, and for me it gets better every time. I keep seeing more and more development. Three years ago when I went out to speak about Eindhoven, people would say: you mean Amsterdam don’t you? The people abroad weren’t quite sure where Eindhoven was, in terms of development. When I go out to speak now, 36 six months later, people don’t only know where Eindhoven is, they ask me: how do they do it? How did they achieve it? So that’s a very big change that Eindhoven has managed to create psychologically in the minds of communities and regions all around the world. I honour that because I know how hard everybody works here to create that image, from the mayor all the way down to people who work in various jobs. When I left for Eindhoven, my wife said: you’re going to your second home. I said I hope so, because I feel that way.”
What is the main issue that you picked up this time?
“Eindhoven is trying to do two things. That is obviously continuously to collaborate and to find ways to open up its economy. What I think is interesting in that is they’re not just thinking about creating new jobs, but creating new industries. I think that’s very important to global economy, because industries will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Creating a new job is in many ways replacing two jobs that were lost, and that’s not enough. What I also found interesting is that the day to day work running the city is extremely important. They are using technology to do that, but they’re also thinking about the future. They constantly think about what’s going on next. I know there have been some exercises within the Brainport organization to develop some models for what the future can look like. To be able to think about the future is a very good exercise but it’s also unusual. Most cities are so busy trying to worry about how the garbage is picked up, how the snow is removed, how to keep the airports running; that they don’t think about the future it often enough. But here in Brainport region Eindhoven they do and it has really made a big difference.”
Two years ago the Brainport region Eindhoven did win the title most Intelligent Community of the World. What must we do to become not only smarter but also stronger economically an socially?
You have to do two things: first of all you have to keep your talent here and you actually have to be speaking to a young generation of entrepreneurs and people who grew up here in the region and love it; convince them that their home is the best place to be. The best food you can have is like the best talent you can have: it’s home grown. And to the extent they are able to do that, they will have a significant advantage. Now the other thing is a little bit more complex but it has to do with what I call social antibiotics. You have to make sure that your society remains healthy, that you remain culturally aware of who you are. And the reason for that is increasingly the types of jobs and the types of work we do depend on creativity and they depend on how well we use our culture. Culture is actually creating capitals today and it’s a very interesting thing to see people go in and mine their culture the way they mine their coals or the used to mine timber, it a natural resource. So I think Brainport really has to continually emphasize the creativity in its culture and keep the young people motivated to stay home. That will allow people form Singapore or California to look at it and say, I wanna be there. Because I see something going on there that looks cool. When people, especially young people, think something is cool, they don’t care, they’ll drop everything and they’ll go. And if Brainport realize that and somehow manage to communicate that the path to the future is really wide and bright. I think it’ll be a great place to live.”
That’s a very positive conclusion.
“It is for me, yeah, I’m American, I tend to be positive about everything but I’m realistic. I know there’s obviously problems here too, there always are in the cities. But when I think about this place, when I study it, when I reflect on it, when I talk about it, I think the cities to look in 2050 will be places you never heard of today, like Eindhoven or Waterloo in Canada. They’ll be the ones to dictate where the rest of the communities go. They will be the front leaders, I really believe it.”
How did you spend your time in Eindhoven, besides speaking at The New Horizon?
“I walk into shops and ask people what they think about their city. That’s what I love to do. How long have you been living here? Do you like it here? Is it a good place for you to have a business? I like to get a feel for where the problems are, how people think about their city. And I ask them: do you know you’re an intelligent city? And most of them do now. They’re very humble, saying ‘I don’t know if I’m so intelligent, but I think the city is’. So that’s positive, it’s cool. People are keen on Eindhoven. I went also over to the Philips museum. I immersed myself in one of the great cultural icons of your community. And one that was responsible for its great rise, its fall, and its rebirth again. I tried to put that story together as I was going through it and what I saw was a lot of open innovation.
Were you ever wrong about what you saw?
In Eindhoven? I don’t know, I’m sure I’m wrong a lot. But you know, I’m not wrong about one thing, I’ve never been proven wrong despite many years of doing this, and that is, I’ll quote a poet: they can because they believe they can do it. Because communities are so important, they always will be protected by the people who love them. And that’s when good things begin. So that’s why we concentrate on building good communities. Whether our principals are correct, whether the way we approach it is the right way, I don’t know; what we try to do is to get people talking about what works in their cities. Communities can always get it right, because it’s where you live, it’s where you go home to at night, it’s where your family is, so people have a genuine human interest in their communities. When we say communities are going to be increasingly important in solving the world’s problems, we are being proven right. I think the national governments now fortunately are beginning to pay attention to what the mayors are doing. They’re using communities like Eindhoven as laboratories, the places where the new ideas come from. I think a new renaissance is about to begin.