Sunday, April 15, 2012

An international Mediatour of the Netherlands

It is ironic that recently I found myself in a public debate with Vancouver journalist and broadcaster Michael Smyth over the merits of Sister City relationships and the benefits of travel between cities and countries around the world. I say ironic since today I begin a seven day Mediatour of the Netherlands at the invitation of Johannes Vervloed, the Dutch Consul General in Vancouver, along with architects and journalists from Guatemala, Brazil, Germany, India, Egypt and the Netherlands.

As readers to this blog and the Vancouver Sun well know, I have always been fascinated by world travel, and in particular, the lessons that various countries can teach other countries. Some of the ideas that I collected during my nine month around the world Sabattical can be found at (But I must warn you, it does go on much too long and it is best to have some good alcoholic beverages to accompany it!

My arrival today in Amsterdam follows a number of diplomatic meetings related to the initiation of a sustainable building network between the Netherlands and Canada. The first meeting occurred in the Hague in January, led by Anke van Hal, a profesor in sustainable building at Nyenrode business university and TU Delft, in collaboration with Annemarie van Doorn of AMN Amro and the Dutch Green Building Council, and Irene Salverda of the Association for Canadian Studies/Milieu Centraal.

This was followed by a meeting in Vancouver during Globe 2012 which was attended by a broad range of Vancouver architects, engineers, academics, and developers. The Canadian Embassy will host another conference in the fall of 2012 in Ottawa.

The proposed network would support Dutch and Canadian entrepreneurs and academics to create and improve international business and academic opportunities in the field of sustainability and the built environment. While it is easy for most Canadians to understand why the Dutch have much to teach us; after all, this is a country of windmills that has always done more with less-it will be more interesting to explore what we have been doing in Vancouver, and elsewhere in Canada, that will be of interest and benefit to the Dutch.

The discussions to date have identified similarities and differences between the Dutch and Canadian sustainable building technologies. It is noteworthy that in Canada, energy is still relatively inexpensive (gasoline here is almost twice the price of Vancouver) and Canadians are not motivated to save energy the way the Dutch and other Europeans are. However, Canadians are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to cut CO2 gasses, and whether this is sufficient to change habits remain to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether there is sufficient support from a federal government that often speaks in three letter words...OIL!

Over the coming week, I will be exploring Amsterdam's new docklands developments and new communities being built on man-made islands from dredged sand. In the docklands I'll keep my eyes open for Amsterdam's famous Container Housing, some of which provides expansive student housing. I will also be visiting (no doubt with some envy) the extensive new Dutch business centres where four hundred companies, including many leading multinationals have located.

Other highlights of the tour will include a visit to Almere: City of Growth to learn about the Dutch experience with the creation of sustainable new towns. (Yes, I'll have photos of UniverCity to show!)

In mid week we will be in Rotterdam, a major port city that has a lot in common with Vancouver. While there we'll have a Press Preview of the 5th International Architecture Bienalle-Making City , something I am very much looking forward to.

Later in the week the tour is off to Dordrecht to visit the very first Ecolodge. And while others head off to the Villa Flora, the new main building of the internationally renown Floriade, I will be meeting with local officials and academics who are keen to further explore what Vancouver and Canada can contribute to an ongoing Sustainability Network.

In between the tours, I suspect there will be an opportunity to drink some local beer and find something to eat as well.

The Netherlands and Canada have enjoyed a very special relationship since the end of the second world war. There is much the two countries have in common; however there are many key differences. It is my sense that we can learn much from the Dutch in terms of what to do, and they can learn much from us in terms of what not to do!

Let's see how right, or wrong I am seven days from now.


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