2005 World Technology Award for Environment: Hans Monderman, Netherlands

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  • Challenging technology protocols in transport sector

    Letter of nomination:

    The Commons, Paris, 20 June 2005

    Dear Colleagues and WTN Fellows:

    As a World Technology Network Fellow and previous recipient of this prestigious international award, I am privileged to be able to submit herewith my strongest possible recommendation for the 2005 individual award for outstanding achievement in the critical nexus of environment and technology:

    The work of the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman is challenging radically the criteria by which the contributions of technology to the solution of transport problems should be judged. He has compelled transport planners and highway engineers to look afresh at the way people and technology relate to each other. His work merits recognition by a World Technology Award for the Environment because of the profound influence it is having on the search for appropriate technologies.

    The outstanding accomplishments of Hans Monderman have over the last years of careful work built on three decades of earlier experience in transport/environment innovation in the Netherlands, and has taken it to a level that is now showing the way to cities and neighborhoods around the world. His highly original and indisputably successful approach is of the utmost sophistication when it comes to the application of technology: he has challenged it to the maxim and is leading the way in new thinking about transport, cities, and our environment.

    The "Monderman Model" is worthy of especial consideration in this technology forum not only because it succeeds in meeting its ambitious technical, environmental and safety targets in a growing number of communities of different sizes and types, but also because of the quiet and wise way that it encourages us to think about how we introduce and use the power of technology in our daily loves, both in our streets and indeed in all the corners of our daily lives. As you will see if you read on, he has in effect decided to take the approach of a technological minimalist, taking as his starting point the search for new ways to achieve key improvements in the interrelated areas of road safety, spatial quality, economic prosperity, and community capacity and confidence.

    Monderman takes it as given that motorized traffic is likely to remain an essential feature of European economies and their spatial fabric for several generations -- and in effect has taken this as his technical and policy target: a problem that simply will not go away. Against this background, Hans has then over the years passed in review all the technologies and practices that make up the street scene, and one by one stripped away all those which are showing themselves to be insufficient to get the job done or even counter-productive. As you will see when you read on, this turns out to be a rather long list and the final result looks more like an elegant proof in mathematics or chess, or a Bach suite for unaccompanied cello.

    And for those of us who understand that progress in science and society is always the result of a stubborn step-wise process in which the lead is taken up by those able and ready to build on the past, it is worth noting that Hans's accomplishments have deep roots. One of the better known is the Dutch Woonerf of "Living Street" project that had its origins in a first wild and basically unplanned (but not un-thought out) citizen initiative in Delft in 1968, and beyond that to scores of projects and demonstrations that have been going on in towns and cities around the world ever since the day when some of us understood that streets have in fact complex functions which are not only served by channeling large chucks of steel and rubber hurtling through the urban fabric as their primary contribution to man's well-being.

    To put you into the full picture on this, let me quote from one of his British colleagues, Ben Hamilton-Baillie who has been putting some of these ideas to work in Britain: "What is so remarkable about the man is that he has achieved such a transformation in thinking from the basis of a traffic engineer (not a profession famed for its profound thinking and original analysis). Through remarkable persistence, patience and professional commitment he has managed to put in place well over 100 "shared space" schemes, transforming the urban and rural landscape of his native Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe. I have never met a man so generous with his time, so modest and unassuming about his achievements, and so humane in his application of technology to the benefit of everyday human society."

    Within the last year, specialist and policy makers from around the world have been beating a path to his door as the word gets out of his approach and its successes. And while most of them in this first wave of international interest have come from other parts of the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Nordic counties, Switzerland, and the UK, this is clearly only the beginning.

    Finally and especially worth of note as scientists, technologists, inventors, firms and public agencies are trying to come to grips with the fact that our old habits and models are beginning to show their limits desperately now that we are multiplying our "first world" behaviors by numbers like six billion, the Monderman Model offers an approach that can be massively applied in the poorest cities on this beleaguered planet, and which moreover builds on practices and lessons which are already part of their daily lives. (For more on how this is working on the streets of Europe, have a look at The Kyoto Cities Blog: http://the-commons.blogspot.com/2005/01/220105-road-design-he-calls-it.html.)

    To add further weight and perspective to this nomination, I solicited comment and views from an international panel of recognized transportation, environment and public policy experts. The response has been outstanding, with letters of support coming in from more than a dozen counties in Europe, North and Latin America and Austral-Asia. Their comments and suggestions have been factored into this nomination which is, therefore, a group proposal.

    I rest my case.

    Eric Britton,
    WTN Fellow and Recipient of 2002 Environment Prize
    The Commons, EcoPlan International, Paris

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