Hanging Out With Harry Verhaar

Together with some fellow bloggers, we had the opportunity to do a Google+ Hangout with Harry Verhaar, Director of Strategic Sustainability Initiatives at Philips Lighting, and drop him some questions about livable cities, the future of urban lighting and good urbanism.

According to Verhaar, who recently returned from the World Urban Forum in Naples, a city’s livability should no longer be measured by GDP only. New indicators should be found to compare the performances of urban areas and to help them perform better in the future. The focus should be on the accessibility people have to main elements such as water, food, health and materials. When people have good, easy and equal access to these amenities they would consider their city more livable in general, in Verhaar’s vision. Global brands like Philips can play an important role in developing these amenities, and are potentially interesting partners in the city making process in the 21st century. With three questions, we explore this role of big brands in future cities.

1. How does Philips envision its own role in city-making in the 21st century?
Philips traditionally serves the world with light. Since the beginning of the 19th century, Philips is the world’s leading company in lighting. Light is incredibly important in cities. Not only because it makes up 50% of the energy bill of most cities, but also because light makes urban area’s save, and livable. A lot of money can potentially be saved on light. Not by shutting it down, but by using the latest technologies. Philips is working on plans that enable cities to lease light instead of buying lamps. This way they can use the latest environmental friendly techniques, and save money. Except for computer and mobile phones, people in general use old techniques. They don’t replace their old machines for new ones as soon as a newer version is available. This happens with lighting too. Cities have invested years ago in lighting solutions and are bound to old stuff and high bills. Philips is rethinking the way they offer their product. Instead of offering lamps, they want to offer light. By setting up new leasing services they hope to help cities with their lighting issues.”

2. Are cities interested in mega deals with brands like Philips?
“In general, cities are interested in this new approach. They are willing to talk to about the challenges they face. Good examples do help here. In Copenhagen for instance, Philips have had good experiences with implementing their CityTouch technology, a smart system that allows cities to provide light where and when its needed. Together with using new LED innovations this system can lead to savings in energy expenses of up to 70%.”

3. Philips also talks about livability in under developed cities in Africa for instance. What can light mean for these cities?
“When electricity was invented and distributed around the world, one of the first things people did was use it for light. Artificial light basically means stretching the day. This comes with huge chances for business and economy on every scale. Lighting has had a huge impact on cities in the Western world. All developed cities made a great leap forward as soon as electricity and light became available. Lots of countries in Africa are still waiting for light and the connectivity and economical potential that comes with it. But also on a smaller scale light can have an impact on the city. Small shops can be open longer and offer services throughout the evening and nights, while earning a better income and improving safety on the streets.”