Collaborations and Creativity during COVID-19. How is Eindhoven Coping with the Crisis?

27.01.2021, Michal Manor

Citizens around the globe react differently to the ongoing pandemic. In the last few days, destructive riots took place in many Dutch cities. People were protesting in a violent way against the lockdown and the curfew. In Eindhoven, for instance, they set cars and bicycles on fire, wreaked havoc and looted shops at the central station. Despite this unrest, the city authorities have been actively trying to face the crisis and introduce effective solutions over the last months.  To discover the most notable examples of those, one of our community members, journalist and blogger Michal Manor, researched how Eindhoven - a smart and innovative city - coped with the crisis. Based on the interviews she did, Michal believes that Eindhoven is a tolerant city, promoting the values of cooperation and togetherness. She would like to take us back a few months before those riots started and share her insightful findings. In the second week of November, Eindhoven’s residents looked up at the sky and saw a bright blue light wrapping the city in a blue blanket and glittering red balloons that hung over a large part of the city buildings. The mystery was revealed towards the end of the week, it turned out that this was ‘Light is life’, an alternative COVID-19 version of ​[GLOW​](, the famous festival of light, which could not exist this year in its usual format. Instead of the regular event, they projected one of the largest light installations ever created. More than 1,500 blue LED lamps and 20,000 luminous red globes spread all around Eindhoven. The event uniquely connected the residents of the city, without having to leave their homes and sent a message of hope from Eindhoven to the whole world. {{Pic1: GLOW Festival. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke}} "During these times when we cannot visit each other, work together in the office, play sports or go out, it is more important than ever to feel connected," clarified John Jorritsma​, Eindhoven's Mayor. GLOW Festival is a good example of how Eindhoven, known as the ‘City of Lights’; the fifth largest city in the Netherlands, which is considered to be a smart city and one of the most creative cities in the world, is coping with the Corona crisis. The message was ​‘connecting the dots​’ and it really bonded the people from Eindhoven,” explains ​Erik Van Gerwen​, Travel PR & Media, from ​[Eindhoven365]( Citymarketing, “​Eindhoven was a living, global symbol of reconnection in these social distance times​. ​People felt proud of their city, united, it combined the whole community, the kids created lightboxes which hung on the windows. Though people did not visit the city as in years before, it obviously added value to the image of Eindhoven”. {{Pic2}} GLOW wasn’t the only event that got a different cover this year in Eindhoven, also the famous ​[Dutch Design Week​]( wasn't cancelled but got a very Impressive online version. “Both events were very successful,” declares Van Gerwen, “Actually it worked better than we thought. We learned a lot from it and it's going to change and improve the concepts. For instance, the next GLOW won't be again a tour through the city where millions of people are walking behind each other, from one to the next light art piece. They are going to spread all over the city and perhaps even the region, alongside live streams that will share the event all over the globe. For a mid-size city, it is very important to stay at the top of people’s minds. People said, “I heard about DDW or Glow, they did nice things, pity I wasn't able to join, Eindhoven is such a creative city.” So Eindhoven is still present in the awareness of the people.” {{Pic3: Eindhoven. Photo by Michal Manor}} # ​EVEN IN THE DARK, WE'RE STILL THE CITY OF LIGHT Eindhoven, like many secondary cities around the world, has been affected by the Corona crisis, especially in terms of tourism and small business. However, as a city that already knew great crises and dealt with them, Eindhoven doesn't panic and sits back and waits for the crisis to pass. The combination of creativity, initiatives and a strong and supportive community that characterize the city, are the key elements that make the entrepreneurs and organisations of Eindhoven initiate active steps for the crisis and for the day after. They also see the crisis as an opportunity. For example, ​the opportunity to develop the city centre in a future-proof manner, to remain distinctive and relevant in the future, in a unique Eindhoven way. “In the first Corona’s wave in the Netherlands,” tells ​Eugène van Gerwen​, Director of [Stad & Co](​, “The municipality of Eindhoven had asked my company to draw an action plan. The aim of the plan was to get the 'new' city centre up and running as quickly as possible, by means of creative solutions. A leading group of entrepreneurs was formed which created a new definition of hospitality: hospitality = safety. The safer the city, the more people will come. This must be visible in the layout of the entire city centre, including the public space. The leading group followed several brainstorming sessions in which crossovers were made between retail, catering, culture, creatives and real estate. The Municipality of Eindhoven, BIZ Eindhoven and Eindhoven365 joined in to facilitate the initiatives The action plan was based on three basic principles: 1. Activate, 2. Innovate, 3. Communicate. One of the elements of the action plan was ​crowd management. The aim was to regulate the flow of visitors in such a way that everyone can move safely - within the guidelines of the RIVM - through the city centre and at the same time to get the activity in the retail (and later also the catering industry) going again as much as possible. The streets of the city centre of Eindhoven were provided with aligned walking routes and arrows to prevent opposite flows as much as possible. Friendly city hosts pointed out to visitors the one-way situation and keeping a 'little distance' and answered any questions using a lot of sense of humour. The whole was supported with signs, text carts and LED screens. By explaining what is possible, instead of rigorously correcting and punishing undesirable behaviour, the measures were implemented from a positive perspective. In the second wave of the Corona a sound system has been installed in the city centre of Eindhoven. If it gets too busy in the coming weeks, visitors can be called to leave.” {{Pic4: Inner city of Eindhoven during the first lockdown. Photo by Michal Manori}} # UNITY IS A STRENGTH In Eindhoven, they believe in cooperation and like to work together. The many local social initiatives​ that have come into existence due to the covid-19 crisis can testify that. The hospitality and catering industry in Eindhoven, that was hit very hard during this crisis, is a good example of joining forces and combining creative solutions in order to survive. “The catering businesses in Eindhoven have drawn up a joint plan to do this in a safe and hospitable way,” indicates Eugène van Gerwen, “The joint plan - '​[Horeca Eindjevoor​](' - was to ensure that the catering industry can open in a safe and hospitable manner. Within the plan, the options for creating more space for the terraces in a responsible manner were examined for each area.” “People are working in the hospitality business because they want to please other people and they are very inventive,” describes ​Rob Bongers​, ​a ​consultant for the hospitality industry and an owner of a chain of cafes named [CoffeeLab​](, “In this crisis, they came up with new concepts and surprising promotions. Many entrepreneurs took that opportunity and offered a take away for a true home restaurant experience or packages of raw products for making meals along with videos explaining how to prepare them. They found new and creative ways to market their dishes and even gained new audiences. For instance, we at CoffeeLab make packages of coffee and Banana bread for people who used to stop at our cafe for a coffee and now work from home.” “I think, in a way, Eindhoven is doing better in the hospitality sector than Amsterdam,” adds Bongers, “In Amsterdam, many restaurants and bars are going to close, because they are based on international tourism and in Eindhoven it is more local.” After the city marketing initiated the​ “[Buy from local](”​ campaign, the residents of Eindhoven showed their loyalty by ordering takeaways, purchasing gift vouchers, posting good reviews, etc. Also, in Eindhoven, we openly share experiences and success formulas. Businesses that have been delivering and collecting for some time do not hesitate to share their knowledge and experience with their competitors. There are amazing collaborations in Eindhoven, such as pop-ups in stores that have a shelf left, delivering each other's orders, order vans that are lent to each other or accounts that are linked online”. “I am very proud of our entrepreneurs” comments Erik van Gerwen “Not only are they so creative but they do it together and reinforce each other. Unity is a strength. A true Eindhoven’s spirit.” Here are two examples of creative co-ventures in the catering sector during the current pandemic: 1. Local entrepreneurs, organized by PHOOD restaurant, decided to join forces and set up the Farm Box. A healthy meal box with local vegetables. PHOOD's chef developed the recipes that you can make yourself at home. 2. A group of top chefs from Eindhoven decided to provide 300 free meals a day for care workers in Eindhoven​. {{Pic5}} # DESPERATE PICTURE FOR THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY But despite the creative solutions and collaborations, the entrepreneurs are distressed. There does not seem to be any relaxation of the corona measures soon and that creates an extremely desperate picture for the hospitality industry for the next few months. ​Many catering establishments have been in financial difficulties since the start of the corona crisis​ and expect their turnover to fall by 50 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. “We, at the City marketing of Eindhoven, are trying to help them,” says Erik Van Gerwen, “We can't give them money, off course, but we help them to develop new concepts or help them present their own concepts. We give them assistance to create presentations and storytelling and display it via our marketing channels like “This is Eindhoven” website and the social networks linked to it. For instance, [​Eindhoven's website]( and the social networks linked to it are constantly posting restaurants that offer takeaways and many “support the local” campaigns. We are documenting in our channels lots of good ideas that add value to the city. Also, it's very important to pick up the phone when they call you and to share with them the marketing strategies or campaigns you are already preparing for the day after. That encourages and makes them think that people in the city are really helping them and making sure that they are not by themselves.” The joint ventures in Eindhoven are spread over many other sectors - for instance, the art and culture sector which was also severely injured. Several cultural institutions in Eindhoven joined forces and together organized #eindhovenfestival, an online festival during the Christmas holidays that included 70 acts in the field of theatre, music and culture. Eindhoven city marketing is promoting enterprises like this and others in their varied channels. {{Pic6: Photo by Michal Manor}} # WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE? “I’m optimist,” answers Erik Van Gerwen, “We learned a lot from the current crisis. It has made us stronger and we make decisions we wouldn't have taken otherwise. I'm convinced that after the vaccination starts, the market will recover very quickly and some markets will recover even quicker than other markets.I think, after the crisis, a lot of people will avoid crowded places like Amsterdam and prefer secondary cities.” “The coronavirus creates polarization but it also creates partnerships,” concludes Eugène van Gerwen, “I think after the crisis people would like to meet again and our challenge is to bring them back to the city centre and make the inner city an inviting and appealing meeting place again.”