An active and growing collective has emerged in a street that has been nominated ‘the ugliest street in Amsterdam’ to develop a more attractive street.
Stretching over more than three kilometres, Weesperstraat and Wibautstraat house a considerable number of smaller businesses, as well as large (inter)national corporations and a number of influential health, education, cultural and political institutions. Perhaps it is the very multitude of organizations that have up to recently prevented serious attempts to start an area-based collective. There were a number of resident organizations that lobbied for a cleaner and greener street, but businesses operated relatively solitary.Yet, despite these adverse circumstances, an active and growing collective has emerged that aims to transform and reframe, rebrand and rename Wibautstraat and Weesperstraat. The initiative to develop the KM was taken in 2015, by the dean of the faculty of Digital Media & Creative Industry, one of the faculties that is located at the central Amstel Campus. The faculty had received extra funding from a national programme to set up a “centre of expertise”. Following discussions how to connect the universities’ activities to urban challenges – in line with the AUAS strategy – the idea was born to develop deeper and more long-term relations with actors in the direct vicinity of the campus. The vision behind this was twofold: first, to turn the area into a living lab, enabling AUAS students, teachers and researchers to engage with actors in the area for research or education projects, and second, to collectively develop the area into a more attractive street.
The university management installed a dedicated Knowledge Mile team from the very beginning. After a pioneering stage, the KM team took the initiative to institutionalize the KM into a BIZ (business investment zone ), similar to the BID (business improvement district) in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Evidence of success
One of the larger initiatives undertaken by the KM is the development of Knowledge Mile Park, a project aimed to provide more green space in the area. This has been a consistent wish of resident organizations, even before the Knowledge Mile existed, and led to a number of small interventions in the past. In particular, they aim for green space at the foot of buildings, in the strips dividing the driving lanes, on building facades and on rooftops. The municipality is also strongly involved.
Since Knowledge Mile Park was initiated by resident organizations, it is often referred to as a bottom-up initiative. At some point, however, it became highly embedded within the local government. The project is government-led, but collectively shaped, which created a risk of hold-out behavior.
Potential for learning or transfer
SMEs benefit from the strong marketing of the street. The Knowledge Mile team has been very successful in marketing their street.
The role of the AUAS is interesting as intermediary between the different stakeholders in the street and founder of the collective.It is impressive that the project and community manager have been able to generate so much enthusiasm among a group of stakeholders that felt like they had little to do with one another.
The challenges that the Knowledge Mile has set for itself, are a great example of what a collaboration can do for an area and the quality of life. For the Waste Savings Program, for example, all participants in the Business Investment Zone work together to reduce the amount of industrial waste and reduce the number of traffic movements for waste collection in the street. They identify whether they can process industrial waste in a circular fashion, which can lead to enormous cost savings for participants and improvement of the quality of life.