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Eindhoven is spawning innovation in terms of urban planning, development and housing. A visit with its quickly growing population shows that the biggest issue with bringing new technology to the way people live may be their comfort with data security.

Like a patissier guiding a giant icing nozzle, Theo Salet builds up layer upon layer of greyish goop. He’s not making a cake, though – this Eindhoven University of Technology professor is perfecting a technique to build the world’s first concrete 3D-printed home.

It seems barely a month goes by without news of an urban innovation in the Dutch city. From Salet’s 3D-printed housing scheme of five Stonehenge-like houses, to the creation of the Brainport “smart district” to test technology and community initiatives, to a “living lab” of cameras, lights and microphones for crowd experiments on the popular nightlife street Stratumseind, Eindhoven wants to be a place where the future is already on trial.

It wasn’t always this way. Yasin Torunoğlu, deputy mayor for housing, districts and participation, says the city’s drive for innovation stems from the early 90s when two dominant employers disappeared: Daf went bust and Philips moved manufacturing to China. “Dismissal letters fell through the letter boxes like advertisements,” he says. “That was a really tough period. Then the mayor and the heads of the chamber of commerce and the university said they needed to combine their powers.”

They set up a stimulation fund based on “triple helix” collaboration between government, business and knowledge institutions to attract new firms. “That’s where [our] Brainport idea came from, so we weren’t dependent on two or three factories but constantly working on social issues that provided business and jobs,” he says. “We’ve become the city where knowledge-intensive companies base themselves and combine with designers: we have the nerds and the hippies.”

Now the city’s population of 227,000 people more than doubles during the annual Dutch Design Week, startups and homes have filled former Philips buildings in the Strijp R district, and there’s a thriving international community. In 2017, according to the CBS Dutch national statistics office, 22.6% of the Netherlands’ population of 17 million were first- or second-generation immigrants. In Eindhoven, the figure was 33.5%.

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