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City Highlight: Rotterdam

Rotterdam's rather unique urban infrastructure offers plenty of opportunities to achieve its pillars of Digitalisation & Sustainable and Renewable Energy. Their Roadmap leads the way!

July 08, 2019


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The Netherlands has developed a national Smart City Strategy and their five largest cities are translating it to their own city

June 10, 2019


City Highlight: Amsterdam

Amsterdam's approach to Smart Cities is clear and focused: sustainability!

June 10, 2019


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Welcome to Next Generation City

We just launched, and here's what to expect over the coming months!

June 10, 2019

City Highlight: Rotterdam


Rotterdam's rather unique urban infrastructure offers plenty of opportunities to achieve its pillars of Digitalisation & Sustainable and Renewable Energy. Their Roadmap leads the way!


Rotterdam is the second largest city of the Netherlands with over 640.000 inhabitants in 2018. It is a multicultural city with approximately 170 different nationalities.

Being vastly destroyed during the second World War, the city is rather uniquely characterized by a combination of a few historic parts in the city centre (such as the City Hall and an old harbor area called “Historic Delfshaven”) and a majority of areas that are newly constructed (for example the direct surroundings of what is now Rotterdam Central Station).  

Having such a uniquely characterized city infrastructure, there is ample opportunity for the city to invest in smart city projects. This is in contrast with cities that mostly consist of historic centres such as in Amsterdam, which have to find (usually suburban) areas to experiment with Smart City projects.

Rotterdam is also the host of Europe’s largest port. Until 2004, the Port of Rotterdam was the busiest port in the world (in terms of throughput1) and is internationally known for being the first port that makes use of Automated Guided Vehicles and automated terminals.

Smart City Strategy

With regard to Rotterdam’s overall approach to being a Smart Cities, this highlight again starts from the Dutch Smart City Strategy discussed earlier. Rotterdam’s focus as derived from the National Smart City Strategy is Sustainability. Their strategy is based on two main pillars: Digitalisation & Sustainable and Renewable Energy.

Together with the city of The Hague (which will feature next in Cities Highlight series), Rotterdam is part of the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam The Hague (MRTH). In collaboration, the MRTH created an overall roadmap for the economy; the Roadmap Next Economy2. This roadmap acts as a compass for the future, based on five paths of transition:

1. Smart Digital Delta

The first path of transition refers to the digital infrastructure and everything that is connected to it (big-data platforms, smart mobility, smart logistics, the Internet of Things). It encompasses all actions needed to increase the data productivity of the region.

2. Smart Energy Delta

The second path of transition refers to everything related to the smart use of energy, including the generation, conversion and storage of sustainable and renewable energy, as well as actions related to the overall energy grid in the region. The goal is a zero-emission region. 

3. Circular Economy

The Circular Economy path of transition targets the use and reuse of resources and waste flows within the region. This includes recycling, upcycling (creative reuse), use of bio-based materials and clean technologies. The goal is zero waste. 

4. Entrepreneurial Region

This path of transition includes all building blocks for new economy, such as new business models, new products and services, new ways of collaboration, transforming start-ups into scale-ups, changes in laws and regulation, the use of living labs and so forth. The goal is to find new ways of productivity.

5. Next Society

The final path of transition focuses on the society itself and encompasses different aspects of the future society such new agreements for the labour market, new competences and new methods of education, bottom-up movements, social entrepreneurs and social innovation. The goal is to build an inclusive society. 

“Digital Twin”

In the Netherlands, all addresses and buildings within all municipalities are managed in the so-called “BAG” (loosely translated as the “Basic registration of Addresses and Buildings”). This is often complemented with other object registration in the public space (trees, lighting, underground cables, etc.).

Mid-2017, the City of Rotterdam started working on developing and executing ideas on how to manage this basic information in the form of 3D. The city launched their own website which allows everyone to access the 3D model of the city3. Rotterdam calls this the ‘Digital Twin’. In addition to all the buildings in Rotterdam, the model also shows trees, lampposts, cables and pipes. All data is open and accessible for everyone and can be downloaded in the City GML-format. The city is actively involving citizens to see what information they want, and how this should be displayed.

It is currently an ongoing development to merge in other sources of information such as BIM-models and sensor data from all throughout the city which allows for much more open information and applications. Additionally, knowledge institutions, governmental institutions, game creators, innovations and entrepreneurs can already use the 3D data in their applications. Future applications range from real-time visibility of power and water flows to, potentially, creating simulations to help with urban planning on the long run.

Smart City Living Labs & Entrepreneurship

Rotterdam is host of several urban areas used for experimenting with innovations. The Rotterdam Makers District consists of two areas on either side of the Maas (the river that runs through the city): Merwe-Vierhavens (M4H) and RDM.

RDM is a former dockyard, which has been transformed into a place where the manufacturing industry can thrive. Its pillars are innovation, education and research. Through numerous events and tours, it brings together all parties involved in innovative projects. It also hosts the RDM Campus where (technical-oriented) students participate in real-life projects of business (ranging from start-ups to mid-to-large businesses). While RDM is quite an established area, M4H is more in development. The City of Rotterdam and the Port of Rotterdam Authority want to transform the former harbour area to a place that offers housing recreational and hospitality facilities next to similar entrepreneurial facilities as offered by RDM4. It is a place where living, working and innovation join forces.

Moreover, Rotterdam also features several other places in which entrepreneurship is stimulated. An example is CityLab010, a program supported by the City of Rotterdam which supports citizens, entrepreneurs and business with their project proposals that solve societal issues. This happens in the form of financial support as well as coaching. The CityLab also features a features a start-up  program which aims to connect entrepreneurs to experts of the city, partners and investors.

Another example is Blue City, a former swimming pool facility known as Tropicana. It is the place to be for innovative projects on the circular economy. Aside from supporting start-ups with growing and being a co-working place, Blue City is also a showcase for circular economy projects. A concrete example is the re-use of the coffee leftovers for the soil that grows oyster mushrooms (which are on the menu when dining at its restaurant); the CO2 it outputs is used to produce spirulina and the mycelium in turn is used to produce packing materials5.

Port of Rotterdam

Rotterdam hosts Europe’s largest port. Its ecosystem consist of several focus areas, of which innovation is a major influencer. The port is known for its technology-driven operations, for example with being the first port in the world to use Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and automated terminals. Other examples of ongoing innovations lie in their digital infrastructure, as the port is working on merging and processing data collected by a large variety of sensors in the port using a cloud-based platform6.

In May of this year, the Port of Rotterdam sent a ‘hyper-smart’ container on a trip around the world7. The container contains sensors that measure changes in vibration, slope, position, sound, local air pollution, humidity and temperature. The container has also been equipped with solar panels, in order to determine how much power can be generated on the journey.

Aside from its technological implementations, the Port of Rotterdam also stimulates  entrepreneurship. In 2015, PortXL, the world’s first Port & Maritime Accelerator was founded. Their 3-months (100 day) program consists of scouting over 1000 start-ups that aim to provide business value to maritime sectors such as shipping and logistics, energy, ports and refinery8. They then select 20 start-ups for each region they operate in (Rotterdam, Singapore and Antwerp), which in turn receive mentorship, access to PortXL’s global maritime network and pilot opportunities with their corporate partners.

By making use of all the technology and innovation in the Port of Rotterdam, The Port of Rotterdam Authority wants to play a pioneering role and make the port of Rotterdam to be an inspiring example for the rest of the world by being zero-emission by 2050. It has numerous projects in the field of energy transition such as using residual heat from the port for district heating9.

Smart City Projects

There are numerous smart city projects being developed and already implemented in Rotterdam. Examples of ‘smaller-scale’ projects are rain sensors which prioritise cycling traffic over other vehicle traffic when it is raining and the use of sensors in the neighbourhood’s trash containers. 

In terms of mobility, the city runs various pilots on electric vehicles and smart charging. Moreover, Rotterdam also makes use of an autonomous shuttle to provide so-called ‘last-mile’ solutions between a public transport hub and a nearby office area. While currently limited to a separated lane infrastructure, plans are for the shuttle to merge in with the public road in 2020.  


Rotterdam is typically characterized by its unique urban infrastructure and uses it for innovation and entrepreneurship. The Roadmap Next Economy provides clear pillars that are used to evolve the city while still staying in touch with the needs and wants of the citizens. As second largest city in the country, it faces challenges with regard to housing, mobility and energy.

By making use of technology and data, and by stimulating entrepreneurship in various areas,  innovation is accelerated throughout the city. Its focus on sustainability and energy transition is a primary target for the city in its operations and the city is actively stimulating their inhabits (citizens, business and knowledge institutions alike) to do so as well.  


About the author:

Tijn Kuyper
Smart City Enthousiast | Entrepreneur

Tijn Kuyper


Founder of Next Generation City

MSc. International Management & Msc. IT and Strategic Management

It is my ambition to play a connecting role in initiatives that further shape the future of cities and society in relation to the technological challenges they face.