Burgemeester Lecture for the delegation of Uppsala Regional Forum
Speech Mayor Jan van Zanen
Utrecht, Municipal Office, 27 October 2017
‘Regional leadership for regional development’
1. Introduction: a successful region
Dear guests of the Uppsala Regional Forum,
At a first glance, Uppsala and Utrecht, both lively university cities, situated around the country's highest church towers, within a rather small distance from the national capital, seem surprisingly similar. So I have good hope that you feel home in our city and region, which I often introduce as 'the heart, the very heart of the Netherlands'.
Of course, I don't know exactly how far you got with your quest for the secret of Utrecht: the background to our region's high ranking in the EU Regional Competitiveness Index. I saw in your programme that yesterday, you met several representatives of our municipal organization, the Economic Board Utrecht, the Utrecht Science Park and Utrecht Inc. This morning you met our deputy mayor Van Hooijdonk. So you should already know that our secret is not some economic 'Pippi Långstrump', picking us up with her creativity and superhuman force. Nor is it our own local children's heroine, Miffy, who is pushing us up to the top of the bill. Although the museum devoted to her, does attract thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Sure enough: the city and region of Utrecht are doing well. Our working population is highly educated. Our business climate is attractive, as are our region's cities and villages to live and work. According to the European Commission, our region scores in the areas of macro- economic stability, infrastructure and education. Our region's basic political and social institutions are solid and our citizens generally fit and healthy.
There is one factor the European Commission does not mention explicitly. That is our location in the heart of the Netherlands. This factor should not be under-estimated. But not even this, together with the complex of factors I already mentioned, fully accounts for the success of our region. You still need impulses like the current transformation of our Central Station Area, urged by the prospect of a huge increase in its use. And initiatives like the Utrecht Science Park, where knowledge and entrepreneurship meet. Yesterday afternoon you were informed about them. Both are vital to our success as a region.
2. Triple Helix
Personally, I think that the main force behind our success may be the Utrecht tradition of cooperation. It's a cooperation that more and more obtained the shape of the well-known 'Triple Helix' model. The beneficial working together of business companies, knowledge-based and governmental organisations. In our knowledge economy, innovation and economic development can only be achieved when such a cooperation exists. Optimizing the gathering, sharing, application and valorisation of knowledge, and the creation of social values.
In our region, a special Board was founded in 2012 to deepen this cooperation: the Utrecht Economic Board. Both the City and Province of Utrecht and 12 regional towns are engaged in the Board, one of its prominent members being the Utrecht University. Yesterday, during your lunch, the Board has introduced itself to you. Its main goal is to propagate our main, shared story: the creation of a green, healthy and smart region. Themes with regard to which our city hosts a lot of economic potential.
The Economic Board sets up collaborations that lead to innovation, job creation and economic growth and accelerates initiatives by opening doors to knowledge, skills and funding. Consisting of a Board and a support organisation, it combines the forces of entrepreneurs, chairmen and scientists. Together, they have set up a strategy for regional economic growth.
Not only do new products and services make everyone's life greener, healthier and smarter. They also ensure economic growth and increase the market share of Utrecht businesses. We are convinced that this kind of cross-sectoral cooperation enables us to cope with important challenges of our region, like an affordable health care, a well-balanced labour market and the wise use of natural resources.
Dear guests from Uppsala,
It seems impressive: to be placed first on national or international listings. Which, in our case, at least proves that the Region of Utrecht shows up rather well economically. That does not deprive us of serious challenges. I already mentioned three of them (health care, labour market and the use of natural resources). Our main challenge is to keep a good balance between urbanization and mobility. Which is relevant, because at this moment, Utrecht is our country's fastest growing city. Within 15 years, our city will grow with about one fifth. Without our maximum effort, the city will get silted up and loose much of its attractiveness. That's why we developed our own view of mobility with the emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists. Inspiring citizens, scientists and entrepreneurs alike to invent, develop and valorize good ideas.
Our labour market is another great challenge. How do we, for instance, match the surplus on the labour market in the field of financial services and the shortage in the area of IT? And how do we connect the spin-off of our very prominent public knowledge institutions to our business world?
The third challenge to mention, is the widening gap between healthy and less healthy population groups. To fill in this gap, our care system has to change fundamentally, with, for instance, a much greater emphasis on prevention instead of care. Strongly related with this, are the growing problems with debts, another challenge of our city and region and one that you may recognize from your own experience at home. Here, too, we have to lay more emphasis on prevention.
Our ultimate goal remaining a healthy, attractive and vital city where everyone can feel happy. Yesterday, our staff member, Peter Steijn, informed you about the main, uniting and focusing theme we chose for the future of our city and region: healthy urban living.
3. Regional cooperation between municipalities
There are two more topics I would like to inform you about. Later on, I'll introduce you briefly to the cooperation of the G4, our country's four largest cities. I'll start with the cooperation between the towns and cities of our own region.
Every European country has its own experience with regional cooperation. Unique for the Netherlands is our long experience with so-called public bodies other than provinces and municipalities. Already since the middle ages, Dutch landowners have coordinated watermanagement in so-called water and dike boards. The oldest one, still existing, dating from 1255. The territories that were newly reclaimed in the 20th century, were, initially, also governed by special public bodies. I do not exaggerate, claiming that without these public bodies, neither the Dutch nor their distinguished and less distinguished guests would have kept dry feet.
In the past sixties and seventies the first urban regions were formed. In 1995, followed by the regional government of Utrecht. Its task mainly covered the areas of town and country planning, housing, the regional distribution of industrial and office parks and retail facilities and, finally, regional transport. The governments of Utrecht and other regions were, in general, rather effective. Nevertheless, they failed. In the first place because their democratic foundation was insufficient. Although our own deputy mayors and members of city councils acted as board members. In the second place, the rivalry between regions and provinces and the bureaucracy displayed by regional governments became too evident and deprived them of their political and public support.
In 2014, national government decided to abolish all regional governments. In our region, most of the duties were taken back by the Province. But already before that, Utrecht and its 9 surrounding towns and villages had decided to continue their cooperation, but in a different, much more informal way. This afternoon, the Mayor of Houten, Mr De Jong, is going to tell you everything about the new regional cooperation between 10 municipalities under the flag of 'U10'. This doesn't take place by means of more bureaucracy, but is based on confidence, transparency, and everyone's firm belief in his or her own power and responsibility. During regular meetings, deputy mayors put forward propositions and coordinate plans. City and town councils are connected. And if one of the U10 towns does not join the others, there is no problem. And on the other hand: with regard to important issues like housing, our cooperation even includes six more on top of the regular U10 partners.
One of the great gains of this lighter, more informal structure is that we cooperate in many more fields of policy now. To mention a few issues added to the list recently (apart from the usual ones in the field of town planning and mobility):
- the creation of new town quarters without natural gas;
- regional coordination during the introduction of the new rules for town and country planning;
- the contracting-out of transport for special target groups;
- the possible cooperation between municipalities and health insurance companies.
You may have noticed the links with our coordinating motto of healthy urban living.
In general, the U10 coordinate many of their actions in the areas of:
- a more circular economy,
- energy saving,
- council and public housing,
- regional strategies for tourism and our retail sector,
- the installation of broadband internet network in rural areas,
- the care for vulnerable people including refugees,
- and, finally, employment.
I will not enter at length into any of these issues. But I'm sure you recognize many of them from your own experience at home.
I promised, dear guests, to add a brief explanation of the cooperation of the G4, the country's four largest cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). Contrary to the Swedish situation, all four large Dutch cities are part of the same agglomeration, the Randstad. Our rather informal cooperation includes a joint lobby in our capital and in Brussels and a regular exchange of experiences and knowledge. There are regular video conferences between the four Mayors, too.
It's time to summarize my reflections. In 2007 the United Nations announced that for the first time in history more people lived inside than outside cities. Everywhere in the world both the number of cities and their size increase. Our great challenge is to keep our cities healthy and livable. The region of Utrecht, offering a remarkable concentration of knowledge and spirit of enterprise, faces this challenge by adhering to the idea of 'healthy urban living'. Many forms of cooperation on all levels are brought in to achieve this. For you, I listed some of these forms of cooperation, which doubtlessly contribute to the success of the Region of Utrecht.
Maybe that's the secret you were looking for and some aspects of my survey may indeed be of use in Sweden, too. As I know for certain, by the way, that there are many issues about which we can learn from you.
Here, in the region of Utrecht, where we know that solutions are not just coming from national government, we are convinced that the only way to face the future as a city and a region, is to cooperate even more closely. With partners defining even more urgency. Calling on each other even more frequently. Pursuing even more energetically the happy city we are all dreaming of. Thank you very much.