The Brainport Smart District (BSD) in Helmond, the Netherlands, is where the latest insights on participation, health, data, mobility, energy, water, safety and circularity are used to create a sustainable environment. Thinking Cities’ Victoire Couëlle spoke to Anna Paar and Matthieu Graindorge about the this bold, new project

© UNSTUDIO, images by Plomp

Imagine a world where humans do not burden, pollute, or exhaust the planet. While that is an almost unimaginable scenario for many of us, others are doing more than just thinking about it. They are aiming at making it a reality. The Brainport Smart District (BSD), a smart city district in development in the city of Helmond, the Netherlands, is setting the bar very high indeed.

Functioning as a living lab for the development and testing of new products, services and systems, the innovation it brings will play a key role in improving the lives of the people who will live there and use the district, while keeping an eye on becoming an inclusive, easily accessible, self-sufficient, and low-to-zero emission urban example. Anna Paar, Program Advisor and Project Leader Mobility, and Matthieu Graindorge, Senior Project Manager – Smart and Green Mobility, answered our questions to better understand the project and its objectives.

Anna Paar

Helmond as a POLIS Member

TC: Could you tell us more about the Brainport Smart District and the goal of the project?

Anna Paar (AP): The Brainport Smart District has the ambition to be a living lab. Its idea was born at the Eindhoven University of Technology. We are currently building the first houses and we are planning a total of 2,000 dwellings, scheduled for 2030.

Matthieu Graindorge (MG): The City of Helmond has been at the forefront of innovation for the past 20 years. The City is aiming to gather private and public stakeholders, supporting and extending engagement of citizens in the development of innovative projects. Currently, the Brainport Smart District Foundation, which is composed of different partners (Municipality of Helmond, Eindhoven University of Technology, Tilburg University, Brainport Development and Province of North Brabant), is in charge of the project. However, the foundation aims at progressively taking a smaller role in the future, leaving it to the residents to take charge of the district and their own community.

© UNSTUDIO, images by Plomp

Helmond has aimed at gathering private and public stakeholders; as the purpose is to engage citizens in the development of innovative projects

Brainport Smart District © UNSTUDIO, images by Plomp

TC: What makes the Brainport Smart District stand out when compared with other innovation hubs?

MG: With the Brainport Smart District we bring innovation into the real world and directly at the heart of citizens’ homes. Our aim is to develop services that enhance people’s well-being and help them in their daily lives. We have an integrated approach, based on concrete projects, making sure that all aspects of the projects are balanced and can contribute to the creation of a more liveable urban environment. AP: Rather than approaching innovation in a linear/unidimensional way, we see innovation as being a multifaceted and integral part of everyday life. This is why we have developed eight programs, each focused on a specific facet of technological innovation: mobility, energy, data, participation, health, safety, circularity, and water. We want to make sure that all different aspects of innovation are taken into account and that they align with the ambitions of the program.

Matthieu Graindorge

We have developed eight programs, each focused on a specific facet of technological innovation: mobility, energy, data, participation, health, safety, circularity, and water

© UNSTUDIO, images by Plomp

TC: The Brainport Smart District strongly focuses on citizen engagement: what does this engagement look like and how does it influence new projects?

MG: The engagement of the citizens in the design and development of innovative projects is one of the main pillars of the Brainport Smart District. We want to make sure that the innovative projects that are developed are relevant and useful for the citizens. The significant role of citizens and their continuous engagement throughout the development of innovation naturally prevents projects to be too “gadget-oriented” at the expense of usability. This continuous engagement of citizens allows us to bridge the gap between the human and the technological aspects of innovation. AP: The living lab for innovations is also an opportunity for citizens to come up with ideas to further develop their own district. We regularly hold “innovation challenges” where citizens and businesses can directly submit their project ideas. One idea? Our urban farm, which is an interactive place where people can meet, grow, and sell their own produces, as well as an education centre for young children and a leisure area for senior citizens – a spot that brings together different generations and parts of the community.

TC: How is disruptive mobility integrated into the district’s design?

MG: Our goal is to design the district as a zero-emission zone, where no fossil fuel cars will be allowed. Of course, we intend on making the district accessible for everyone, allowing cars to park around the district and for people with mobility limitations to be able to travel within the district, but the mobility infrastructure itself will be designed in a way that prioritizes people rather than cars. Through the ReVeAL project, we have tried to design the most appropriate scenario to make this happen.

© UNSTUDIO, images by Plomp

AP: With the BSD, we have the opportunity to design streets that stimulate active mobility, making people feel motivated to bike and walk in their everyday travels. Rather than a mere passing place, we understand streets as a safe meeting place, where we can implement green areas and road curves to make sure that bikes do not go too fast. The logistics in the BSD will be unique, too: we are planning to implement mobility hubs at the outskirts of the district, where groceries and other goods could be delivered and then distributed to the inhabitants.

© UNSTUDIO, images by Plomp

TC: The project heavily focuses on self-sufficiency and self-organization. This will change the way cities are structured, but how will they impact the way people's lives are organized in the BSD?

AP: An important element of self-sufficiency is food supply – a concept that will be supported by the BSD through the creation of an urban gardening place located around the district. This urban gardening place will serve as a space where farmers and habitats will respectively be able to grow food and create their own urban farm. The district is designed to ensure that almost half of the food consumed can be grown in the district itself. We want to make sure that those who live in the Brainport Smart District have everything they need, from food to businesses and even leisure. The goal is to make sure that there is no need to go elsewhere for basic needs, thus minimizing the supply chain and carbon footprint.

MG: COVID-19 has radically changed our way of living, forcing us to work, study and, do nearly everything, from our own homes. However, this can become a choice, especially if we develop a pleasant environment adapted to our own needs as well as the rest of our nearby community. With the Brainport Smart District, we want to develop a more convivial community that takes charge of its own destiny. We expect people to live in the district in a different way than they do right now, having everything they need at a close distance and building more personal, deeper interactions.

Matthieu Graindorge and Anna Paar are, respectively, Senior Project Manager – Smart and Green Mobility at the City of Helmond and Program Advisor and Project Leader Mobility – Brainport Smart District. Victoire Couëlle is Communications Assistant at POLIS Network. Contact them:,,

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