Foto: Hester Blankestijn


Reinventing the city

A place where innovations grow and spread across the city and beyond

Being Europe’s most important cargo and fossil energy port has resulted in an economy that is still dependent on traditional industries. We expect many of these unsustainable business models to lose their relevance in a future that will be digital, circular and climate neutral. The city has outlined several policies to make Rotterdam a test-bed for local ideas and a place where these innovations grow and spread across the city and beyond.

Making way for big ideas

Innovators need space to experiment. Rotterdam has plenty of derelict real estate that no longer serves its original purpose. It is a long-standing policy of the city to transform these former factories and other abandoned buildings into hotspots for innovation. Huge chunks of former industrial zones have been transformed into international hubs for innovation.

A good example of the latter would be the Rotterdam Makers District which straddles both banks of the Meuse river. The district functions as a large-scale innovation ecosystem for the manufacturing industry and a testing ground a showcase for the circular economy of the city and the port. The added value that the Makers District has to offer is not just the result of the physical space, but especially that of a business climate that encourages and boosts collaboration and entrepreneurship. Cooperation with knowledge and educational institutions in the region is crucial, as this is where young people are introduced to the techniques of the future.

Situated in the port of Rotterdam, Plant One consists of constructing and operating a location where companies and research, testing and commercial production of sustainable technologies. Plant One Rotterdam distinguishes itself through its scale and the facilities for testing a wide range of techniques. One of the initiatives housed at Plant One is a testing acility for Zero Brine. Part of the Horizon 2020 Innovation Action Program, Zero Brine aims closing the cycle and improve the environmental impact of industrial production, by demonstrating how minerals, such as magnesium and clean water, can be recovered from industrial processes to be reused in other processes.

No rules for a new economy

Over 17.000 small and medium sized businesses provide almost two thirds of the jobs in Rotterdam. They form the bedrock of our economy and serve a vital role in local communities. Existing rules and regulations often unintentionally serve to preserve the status quo, effectively stifling innovation and progress. Unlike larger corporations, these small and medium businesses typically do not have the ability to directly change or get rid of unwanted regulations.

That’s why the Rotterdam City Council is organising so called ‘Regelschrapsessies’ (rule-scraping-sessions’). Small and medium business owners are invited to the table and discuss which regulations hamper their ability to grow and innovate. Eliminating unwanted regulatory barriers and constraints helps these smaller and medium sized businesses flourish.

Putting our money where our mouth is

Many innovations that start small, yet have a great potential for positive social, environmental and economic impact. The best way to realise this potential is to make sure the most promising ones become widely used mainstream services and products.  

The municipality has tremendous purchasing power, and as such can accelerate this process. All the coffee over 13.000 civil servants and their guest drink is sourced from Heilige Boontjes. This coffee maker employs and trains young job seekers with a marginalised background. The coffee they produce is sustainably and ethically sourced. Leftover sludge is used to grow Rotterzwam mushrooms. Not only does the city use its own purchasing power, it also has a Social Return on Investment requirement for all its suppliers. They need to reinvest at least 5% of revenue stream from the city (roughly 40 million Euro each year) into social initiatives that provide job opportunities for the less privileged.

Rotterdam Makers District
Plant One