Third Golden Age

On 5 juli 2015, in economie, regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Heard on 3 July 2015 at the Public Library in Amsterdam:

In 1864 a Christal Palace was erected on the Frederiksplein, Amsterdam. The great tall building of glass and steel contained a huge space for exhibitions, showing all kinds of innovations of the industrial capitalist era. The Jewish entrepreneur and medical doctor Samuel Sharphati initiated it, it was a copy of the Christal Palace in London (1851), the project was wholly crowd funded. After opening, it inspired many young entrepreneurs, amongst them Gerard Heineken, the founder of the Heineken beer company. However, the building burned down in 1929. The RAi on the Southaxis is its successor. Nevertheless, the Palace itself has always been considered a breathtaking building, the iconic start of the Second Golden Age of Amsterdam, which lasted until 1928 (Olympic Games). Many people hope it gets re-built. Therefore, on 12 April 2016 a new, temporary ‘Paleis voor Volksvlijt’ (Christal Palace) will be opening its doors in Amsterdam. A programme of twelve weeks of discussions and thinking about the economic future of the Amsterdam region is in preparation. A third Golden Age for Amsterdam might follow.

The Public Library on the Oosterdokskade, opposite the Marineterrein, will be turned into a true ‘Paleis voor Volksvlijt’. An inspiring exhibition on the future economy of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region on the ground floor will attract as many people as possible, thus creating an opportunity for schools, universities, companies and  civic authorities to exchange thoughts about the future regional economy. Even the exhibition itself, showing the future, will be co-created. On Wednesday 9 September 2015 there will be the second open forum in the Oba (Public Library) from 12.00 till 16.00 pm. for those who want to contribute. At 12.15 the alderman Eric van der Burg (VVD) will give his speech. In four rounds citizens can share their thoughts with twelve designers who eventually will build the exhibition that will assemble all insights, knowledge and inspiration. All citizens are welcome! Follow Volksvlijt2016 (Civic Economy) on Facebook and become member:

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Being successful

On 3 juli 2015, in infrastructuur, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Washington Post of 31 March 2015:

One of the questions the students, following the course on Cities in Transition at the University of Amsterdam, were asked was: by comparing Moscow with Istanbul, what are the similarities and what the striking differences? Similar is the heavy traffic congestion, for sure. Moscovites complain about it every day, although every successful metropolis in the world copes with it. So does Istanbul. A few months ago The Washington Post reported on it. In ‘The world’s most congested cities, by the numbers’, Nick Kirkpatrick presented an overview.  ‘Carmageddon’ makes every day a bad day in the city on the Bosporus, he wrote. GPS maker TomTom from Amsterdam ranked Istanbul number 1. Can you imagine? The company found that a 30 minute commute in the evening took 54 minutes because of congestion, for a total of 92 hourse of extra driving annually. TomTom’s annual Traffic Index explores traffic congestion in over 200 cities around the world and ranks a total of 146 cities. Congestion level in Istanbul: 58 percent.

Mexico City is number 2, Rio de Janeiro number 3. What about Moscow? The capital city of the Russian Federation ranks 4 on TomTom’s list. Congestion level: 50%. That means: a delay per day with a 30 minutes commute is 29 minutes, almost a doubling. How about a city like Los Angeles, notorious for traffic jams? The city on the American Westcoast, always called the real ‘Carmageddon’, ranks number 10. Most congested specific day: Firday 14 February 2014. In Moscow it was Thursday 25 December 2014. In Istanbul Friday 25 July 2014. Total vehicle distance: 91,364.773 miles. It seems 2014 was a very bad year for driving in your city. Or am I mistaken? Traffic congestion means growing fast and just being very successful as a city.

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Next mobility

On 2 juli 2015, in infrastructuur, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Nieuwe mobiliteit’ (New Mobility) (2015) of Arie Bleijenberg:


Reveiling long term trends. Important news. They sent me a copy of ‘Nieuwe Mobiliteit na het autotijdperk’ (New Mobility After the Car Based Era), written by Arie Bleijenberg, TNO’s Business Director Infrastructure in Delft. They thought I would like it. Sure I do. It’s exactly what I think. The book is a kind of leaflet, easy to read. Here are the dominant trends: car use will stop growing, planes will take over, cities will grow bigger, so more biking, walking and mass transit. To boost the economy, down town areas should be connected with metro, far better public transport than there is serving them now. Of course public transport is more sustainable, but Bleijenberg thinks the economic benefits will be much bigger. So shorter distances, more density, all fitting a knowledge based economy. In order to be prepared, infrastructure budgets should be radically decentralized. From now on city-regions should decide on the spending of the public money, not the Dutch state any more.

Bleijenberg suggests the region close to the Amsterdam airport (Schiphol) should become the biggest urban hub. “More urbanisation of the Amsterdam region is needed in order to profit from the international hub function of Schiphol airport.” At least he thinks that would be the most sustainable, the most comfortable, the most promising solution. Travelling by air will become the new normal. Being connected to the airport, and at the same time walking in the middle of the crowds, is what we need. Intracity networks therefore should be reinforced. Because all this will become reality within thirty years, governments should change their policies now. In infrastructure planning it takes time – thirty years is nothing. That’s why budget spending on infrastructure should be radically decentralized. We need networks, but far different from the ones the Ministry of Infrastructure is still building now. So it’s urgent. 350 billion euros have been invested in infrastructure in the Netherlands; every year 6 billion euros is needed for maintenance. Bleijenberg’s booklet gives you food for thought. Not only planners. Hope the Dutch politicians will read it too. Especially those in The Hague.

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City collaboration

On 30 juni 2015, in wetenschap, by Zef Hemel

Read on the blog of Olivier Beauchesne 11 August 2014:

Olivier Beauchesne created a world map of scientific collaboration a few years ago. Last year he attempted to make a new one. Because most of the scientific papers are guarded, he worked with Scimago Lab feed, an active feed on social media. Scimago and he decided to collaborate. Great! His map shows the collaboration networks between researchers in different cities. It seems, he writes on his blog, that every researcher in every French city collaborates with at least a researcher in Paris. “Unsurprisingly, the map also shows quite clearly that the location (of) scientific institutions follows the population density.” Furthermore, he discovered close collaboration between cities and their former colonies. Paris is a star indeed. Next is Boston-New York. Tokyo and the Japanese cities show themselves. Seoul, Taipei, also very strong. Amsterdam too! Europe is dense, with Paris in a star-shaped network. The Eastcoast of the US is dense too, but more like a real network, a grid. So is Japan. The map looks like some spiderweb, silkworms that have weaven continents in cocoons.  There must be larvae hidden somewhere. Maybe a queen.

His next step was adopting the Louvain method. By using it, Beauchesne could identify global communities of scientists. Also these follow linguistic or old colonial lines. Fascinating stuff. Olivier presents himself on his website as “the lead data scientist at one of the largest online ad network.” I guess he is from Montreal. So living on the fringe of the networked collaboration of cities. What does it matter? He is able to make great maps! Best map of collaboration on a continental and global scale in the new knowledge based economy. Mind blowing!

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From the bottom up

On 29 juni 2015, in economie, innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Emergence’ (2001) of Steven Johnson:

OESO’s Territorial Review of the Netherlands 2014 advocated the making of a holistic strategic urban policy framework for cities by the Dutch government. Such a framework is lacking now. The Ministry of Interior Affairs started an open process this year for developing an ‘urban agenda’, which might become the agenda for a national policy for regional growth, equity and environmental sustainability the way the OESO suggested. Thus the discussion on agglomeration economies in the Netherlands became political. Political means: facts play a minor role, research gets biased, opinions rule, economists take over. From the very beginning there was a tendency to frame the whole discussion in the sense that socalled ‘borrowed size’ solutions between cities would solve all problems of lacking agglomeration economies in “a country in which no single urban area or region dominates over the others.” Economists suggested fast connections between cities would be a way out.

We need more common sense here. A bigger picture. In ‘Emergence’ (2001) the New York based writer Steven Johnston wrote about ‘the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software’. All these organisms, he explained, change and develop from the bottom up. “When enough individual elements interact and organize themselves, the result is collective intelligence – even though no one is in charge.” In chapter 2 he explains how this bottom up process leads to the complex order of big cities. This complexity is the result of many local interactions. Then he criticizes one of his friend’s ode to LA freeway culture. While travelling by car, he writes, the potential for local interaction is so limited by the speed and the distance that no higher-order level can emerge. “City life depends on the odd interaction between strangers that changes one individual’s behaviour: the sudden swerve into the boutique you’ve never noticed before, or the decision to move out of the neighborhood after you pass the hundredth dot-com kid on a cell phone.” For innovation there has to be permanent subtle feedback between agents. Fast transport is no help in that sense. So stop thinking in terms of borrowed size. This will not lead to greater complexity, collective intelligence, innovation. Also read Gerard Marlet’s advice in ‘De aantrekkelijke stad’ (The Attractive City, 2009, p. 384-385): “Urban networks are counterproductive”.

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The soft side

On 25 juni 2015, in innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Regional Knowledge Economy’ (2009) of Otto Raspe:

 Hightech-onderzoek bij Philips.

The discussion on agglomeration economies, innovation clusters and regional economic growth is a difficult one. Why? Well, because it all has become very political. So what does science tell us? In ‘The knowledge economy and urban economic growth’ (2009), Otto Raspe – a regional economist working for the National Planning Bureau for the Built Environment in The Hague – tried to relate R&D, innovation and knowlegde workers to regional economic growth in the Netherlands. His paper was published in European Planning Studies. “This paper does not open the entire black box of agglomeration economies – but contributes to the discussion by determining different kinds of localized knowledge densities within economic growth clusters.” Governments and institutions, Raspe points, always focuss on R&D as sources of growth, because this input factor can be stimulated by subsidies. But there are more spatial knowledge indicators: knowledge workers (ICT-sensitivity, educational level, creative economy, communicative skills) and innovation (technological and non-technological). R&D in the Netherlands differs from the rest: south and east are in front of R&D-employment specialization.

But in terms of innovation and knowlegde workers, the highly  urbanized Northern part of the Randstad area – Amsterdam and Utrecht – is leading. ‘The rural regions and the regions in the national periphery of the Netherlands are lagging behind in intensity of this employment.” Most spatially concentrated are the knowlegde workers. Also in terms of innovation, “municipalities in the Randstad region, larger cities and central areas of urban agglomerations still come to the fore as the foci of innovative activities.” Then he concludes: “High R&D-levels are not a sufficient growth condition for economic growth in urban clusters – the knowlegde workers and innovation dimensions are significantly better linked to localized economic growth in the Netherlands.” The ‘soft’ side seems to be far more important than the ‘hard’ technological side. But governments always stress R&D. They love technology. Better focus on industrial and distribution activities (which they already do) and on localized clusters of producer services in big cities (which they do not). Although not opening the black box of agglomeration economies fully, Raspe did a great job. Now let’s wait for new government policies.

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No growth

On 24 juni 2015, in economie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in FD of 1 March 2015:

Why does nobody wants to know about shrinking cities in The Netherlands? Because Dutch municipalities still own 75% percent of all the land available for building homes, office space and business parks. They paid far too much for it: 13 billion euros. They all should reduce their land prices with at least fifty percent, Het Financieele Dagblad calculated. This they will not do, the newspaper wrote on 1 March 2015, because then they will go bankrupt. With buying all that land in the nineties and beginning of 2000 they hoped to make big profits. No way. Worse even, they lack the money now and there will be no growth at all. Their debt is big, so their losses will be big too. Only 20 percent they amortized. The provinces of Flevoland (Almere), Overijssel and Zeeland cannot sell their land without making heavy losses. Instead of amortizing, they boast they will grow bigger. Even cities like Rotterdam and Delft are in big trouble. Two thirds of the land they will keep, hoping to sell it in de future. 

So this makes the discussion on the spatial future of the Netherlands at this moment rather awkward. The Ministries of Finance and of Interior Affairs know it. I’m afraid the Dutch government will have to clean up the mess and hold the twelve provinces responsible for this fiasco. But they wait. Why? Because they are responsible too. No policies in VINEX for shrinking cities. There was a political ban on red and green contours in the Fifth Report on Spatial Planning. Worse even, they skipped the Fifth Report. It’s VINEX and its successors that made local government dream, and made them hope for more and speculate on growth. Friso de Zeeuw, director at Bouwfonds, first introduced the concept of the ‘rompertje’ on Dutch television in December 2008. This infant bodysuit projected on the map of the Netherlands illustrated the area around Greater Amsterdam and Utrecht that continues to grow; all the rest would shrink. Even this ‘rompertje’ is shrinking. Its nucleus is Amsterdam plus its rich, hilly landscapes on both sides: Utrechtse Heuvelrug in the east and the coastal dunes in the west, the urban region where alle the knowledge workers live. So blame the person who tells them they will gonna shrink. And hate the biggest city that will gonna win.

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Making a mess

On 23 juni 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 20 June 2015:

Felix Rottenberg is a former political leader of the Dutch Social-Democratic Party (PvdA), also an anchorman on Dutch television. In his weekly column in the Amsterdam based newspaper Het Parool he reacted on my proposal to double the size of the Amsterdam agglomeration by building in higher densities. It reminded him, he wrote, of Joop den Uyl, a powerful alderman in Amsterdam in the beginning of the sixties, who wanted to transform Amsterdam into an efficient American city. While most of my collegues ridiculed me after publication, Rottenberg tried to understand. “Hemel learned all the books on urbanism by heart. He doesn’t speak nonsense, he thinks eclectically and analyses the development of megapoles, de biggest urban regions – key players in the global economy.” So Rottenberg took me seriously. But he has doubts. High rise, he states, is not livable, suggesting nobody in Amsterdam will gonna live in those apartment buildings. To illustrate his point he referred to the ‘Wolkenkrabber’ (Skyscraper) in Amsterdam, built in 1933. At first nobody wanted to live in those apartments on the top floor. Too windy. Too dangerous.

Striking how Rottenberg plays the old man, looking back on history. “Urban planning in Amsterdam has always been decided on by great designers.” Then he mentions Berlage and Van Eesteren. “His successor as the head of the department for public works, Mrs. Jacoba Mulder, who had to stop Den Uyl in his ambition to add more high rise in the Bijlmer, admitted that one had lost view on the human scale over there.” So that’s his point. Rottenberg is fearing a professional error of judgement of urban designers. “Does Hemel hear the echo of her (Mulder’s) meaningful words?” Yes, I remember Jacoba Mulder and I know what happened to the Bijlmer. I’m though not an urban designer. My concept of ‘open planning’ is based on a ‘wisdom of crowds’. Hemel fears Dutch government and provinces. This government and those provinces might keep on promoting new infrastructure, distribute ever more low density housing, office parks and shopping malls along the highways, making a terrible mess of this once beautiful country. Young people will leave if the babyboomers continue their destructive spatial-economic policy. By the way, what’s wrong with living in a comfortable flat in a city of two million inhabitants? People even love Kleiburg, de Bijlmermeer! Fifteen million can stay where they are, growing old in VINEX. No problem.

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On 22 juni 2015, in sport, stadsvernieuwing, stedenbouw, by Zef Hemel

Read on of 2 December 2014:

Old Oak Common NovaLoca blog

Last week a television team from London visited Amsterdam. They were doing research on land development in the Bijlmer district, Amsterdam Southeast. I met them in the Ajax Arena stadium. Why? London is planning a huge brownfield development in Old Oak, which is a poor neighborhood in the west part of the city. The capital city of the UK is booming, crossrail is being built, HS2 (the highspeed train to Manchester) might be coming, a new railway station and a crossrail interchange – the biggest of the country – are planned in Old Oak (opening in 2026), so the site looks very promising for developers. The mayor, Mr. Boris Johnson, said the area might even become a ‘mini-Manhattan’. Football club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) said it wants to build a 40.000 seat stadium in Old Oak Common, plus 24.000 new homes, a proposal which is supported by a vast majority of the local citizens. But a few months later, in December 2014, one of the landowners, Cargiant, announced it would draw up rival plans. It started a collaboration with a developer, London & Regional Properties, and declared it would fight any plans by the football club. It wants to gain a compulsory order (CPO) for the land.

Is a new stadium desirable for this area?, the London team asked. How important was the Arena for a neighborhood like Amsterdam Southeast? The team wanted to learn from the Ajax Arena case. I told them that for the Bijlmer area the opening of the Arena in 1996 was a sheer blessing. And a surprise. In twenty years time it became a true icon in this poor Modernist neighborhood, that had a bad reputation. It attracted companies that otherwise would never have come, retail entered the area, entertainment flourished. Hotels are opening its doors, tourists are coming, the neighborhood is becoming more and more attractive, there is a positive vibe. The refurbishing of the existing interchange of railway and underground was also a great help. Public investments are always needed. But most important were the social benefits: citizens feel proud of the stadium, they do not want to leave the neighborhood, land value is rising, no gentrification has been evoked, nobody gets pushed out. How come? It is because the city owns the land. It does the planning. The development goes step by step, we’re involving all the stakeholders. All parties aim for health, wellbeing and sustainability. No masterplanning. Open planning.

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Polynuclear nonsense

On 19 juni 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The World Cities’ (1966) by Peter Hall:


Dutch planners love polynuclear patterns of urbanisation. They think these patterns are the most sustainable. Polynuclearity, they say, is the best you can get. The Dutch became world champions in developing polynuclearity and are still proud of it. It became part of the Dutch planning paradigm. It has to do with planning history. The Golden Age of Modernist planning were the sixties, when the young Peter Hall praised the socalled Randstad concept in The Netherlands. In his ‘The World Cities’ (1966) the Randstad is one of the seven ‘World Cities’, next to London, Paris, New York, Ruhr Area, Moscow, and Tokyo. Mind you! The little country next to the big Germany was praised by a young teacher from Birkbeck College London, who described it as a planning paradise. It made Peter Hall world famous, at least in The Netherlands. Problems of a world city in general, Hall declared, were its sheer size, its fast growth and complexity. Big cities would become too crowded. The biggest problem by far was the city-centre. So Hall advocated solutions he adopted from his hero-pioneer Ebenezer Howard. These were all utopian ideas – nineteenth-century schemes which were very anti-urban, something of a fusion of city and countryside. It was all nonsense of course, but Hall became the evangelist of decentralization: build new towns! Add green belts! Develop new centres! Dismantle the exisiting city! The Dutch promised to do all this. They were full of good intentions.

Polynuclearity fitted remarkably well in the existing Dutch geography of small cities, lacking real urban centres. So ironically the only thing Dutch planners had to do was avoid the coming of a big city. Which they did with fervour. Postwar planning in The Netherlands became vehemently anti-urban from the start. Polynuclearity is not wrong of course. If only you develop it within an existing agglomeration. The Dutch polynuclear pattern is different. It isn’t sustainable. The ecological footprint of The Netherlands is one of the worst in the world. Congestion though isn’t evil either, on the contrary, it is admirable, something really to aim for. And megacities are, in fact, the best and the most sustainable you can get. If only you keep them livable. For that, you don’t need huge amounts of countryside, but parks, not highways, but public transport, not many centres, but one big city-centre with many subcentres. Peter Hall thought the megaregion was not social. Again he was wrong. He just hated heterogeneity, diversity, chaos, density, and he was afraid of complexity. So are the Dutch. And the problem is: they all agree.