Cities Becoming a Luxury Good

On 25 mei 2016, in stedelijkheid, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read on Bloomberg.com of 24 May 2016:

In ‘Urban Living Becomes a Luxury Good’ of 24 May, Justin Fox of Bloomberg described how after the financial crisis Americans are flooding the city centres of the biggest cities. The suburbs are still there, but something fundamental has changed. Increase in employment in downtown areas of US metropolitan areas is as big as jobs growth in the urban periphery, but on the housing market downtown is the real winner. True, the share of Americans living in suburbs has continued to grow, but at the same time the real estate prices in the city centres have flipped. Both phenomena are linked to each other. The farther from downtown, housing prices steeply drop. Rich Americans now chose to live in downtown areas, which means a fundamental shift in living preferences. Fox: “The shift toward urban living was also most pronounced among whites, the highly educated and the 34 to 49 cohort.” Which means, Fox adds, that urban living is becoming a luxury good, a thing many Americans can no longer afford.

Fox’ conclusion is the cities must put up a lot more buildings in or near the city centres. Let me add that the same holds for European cities like Amsterdam. It reminded me of the contribution of MVRDV for the ‘Grand Paris’ competition of the French president Sarkozy in 2009 (picture). In ‘Paris Plus Petit’, the Dutch architects advocated more ambition, more optimism, more density, more efficiency, more ecology and more compactness. “Greater Paris needs a strong combination of responsibility and ambition to continue its development, to ensure its consistency and to develop a cohesion that can build a base for a collective enterprise to solve its problems, to enlarge its presence and attractiveness, to create an even more remarkable, exemplary city.” In Paris, after the competition the city chose for densifying the periphery by extending the regional metro-system, not for densification per se. In Amsterdam we should though.

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De omelet is gebakken

On 24 mei 2016, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord in de OBA op 23 mei 2016:

Volgens hoogleraar Frank Vandenbroucke (foto: Rob Stevens) is een sterk sociaal beleid op Europees niveau pure noodzaak. Zo’n sociaal beleid kan niet vanuit Brussel bewerkstelligd worden en zeker niet met een Big Bang worden ingevoerd, maar zal op alle niveaus, van steden, regio’s, natiestaten en EU, stap voor stap moeten worden ontwikkeld. Hoe dat precies moet gebeuren is inderdaad een groot democratisch probleem. Toch is het urgent. De ongelijkheid tussen en binnen de lidstaten groeit namelijk snel. Noord en Zuid drijven de laatste tien jaar sterk uit elkaar; de herverdelende kracht van de natiestaten neemt af; de EMU heeft dit alles nog verergerd. In de komende jaren, aldus de nieuwe universiteitshoogleraar aan de UvA, moeten belangrijke stappen in de richting van een breed sociaal pact worden gezet. Tijdens de vierde Amsterdamlezing van dit jaar in het tijdelijke Paleis voor Volksvlijt te Amsterdam riep Vandenbroucke, zelf oud-minister van België en tegenwoordig binnen de UvA bezig met onderzoek naar en debat over de maatschappelijke betekenis van de Europese Unie, met klem op tot actie.

In zijn heldere betoog vergeleek Vandenbroucke de economie van de VS met die van de EU. De eerste blijkt veel beter in staat om schokken in de economie te dempen dan de tweede. In Amerika schiet de federale staat individuele staten direct te hulp als zij door externaliteiten in de problemen komen. Weliswaar zijn de vangnetten in de VS minder riant dan in veel EU-lidstaten, maar de herverzekering door Washington is wel solider en ook onomstreden. Dergelijke solidariteit
mist Vandenbroucke in Europa. Hij sprak zelfs van een ‘Unie van wantrouwen’. Solidariteit alleen binnen de lidstaten noemde hij ‘parochiaal’. Herverzekering van nationale verzekeringen op EU-niveau vond hij niet alleen logisch, maar ook noodzakelijk, dus die zou nu ook hier moeten worden georganiseerd, zij het dan wel op Europese wijze. Was dit, vroeg het publiek hem, wel realistisch gezien de staat waarin Europa op dit moment verkeert? Was hij niet te idealistisch? Of was hij juist een typische Euro-technocraat die koste wat het kost Europa wil doorontwikkelen? Vandenbroucke begreep de zorg maar stelde met klem dat er geen weg terug is. Met de Muntunie heeft Europa een omelet gebakken. Daarvan, voegde hij eraan toe, kan men geen eieren meer maken.

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Back-to-the-city movement

On 19 mei 2016, in wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The New York Nobody Knows’ (2013) of William Helmreich:

On 12 May 2016 Richard Florida wrote an article in Citylab on a new report of the NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy on gentrification in the Big Apple. The researchers divided 55 New York City neighborhoods into three categories: gentrifying, non-gentrifying, and higher-income. Gentrification is happening in 15 neighborhoods (27 percent), 7 are non-gentrifying, and 33 neighborhoods are higher-income already since 1990. The gentrifying neighborhoods were all in Upper Manhattan and in Brooklyn (Williamsburg/Greenpoint). Rent increase in Brooklyn is “a whopping 78 percent”, in West-Harlem and the Lower Eastside more than 50 percent, in Morningside Heights 30 percent. Florida: “Gentrification in New York City is the outcome of a series of economic and demographic trends that have transformed the city more broadly – notably, the surge in more educated, affluent, younger, and single people headed back to the city.” Average households income are rising. Young, educated people all seem to concentrate. The population of New York City as a total is rising again too, also in the non-gentrifying and higher-income neighborhoods. So, do gentrifiers displace the poor? No. In reality poor ànd rich, they all have to deal with steeply rising rent burdens.

The article, sent to me by Lars Boering, managing director of World Press Photo, reminded me of the chapter on gentrification in a great book written by William Helmreich. In ‘The New York Nobody Knows’ (2013), this professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of CUNY, explored the city by walking 6000 miles through its streets, thus reaching out for every corner and alley. His conclusion is: “When all is said and done, gentrification is a complex issue. It has swept through many parts of the city and has been helped along by many interests. It is changing the face of New York and will shape its future for decades. By observing it on the ground, it becomes possible to see these complexities from different angles, many of the positive, some not necessarily so.” In the Netherlands people think gentrification is dubious. Dutch opinionmakers better be envious, walk 6000 miles in New York City, or read ‘’The New York Nobody Knows’. There’s reason to be far more positive.

Metropolitan governance issues

On 16 mei 2016, in bestuur, participatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in Brookings.com of 29 April 2016:

This week, some ninety students Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam will finalize their course on Cities in Transition by passing their exams. Six weeks long they have studied urban transitions in Moscow, Istanbul, Seoul, Toronto, and Amsterdam, all related to globalisation ànd regionalisation. They read papers of Allen Scott, Saskia Sassen, Peter Hall, Engin Isin, Michael Porter, Thomas Courchene, Ian Buruma, and John Friedmann. They discovered that many cities outperform countries. Last week lecture and workshops were on governance issues. How can the global city-regions of the future be governed and how will metropolitan planning look like if city-regions will be connected in global urban networks? We discussed this issue in the temporary People’s Industry Palace (Volksvlijt 2056) in the Public Library of Amsterdam. Wonder if they also read Kemal Dervis and Bruce Katz. In their article on the website of the Brookings Institution, the two – Dervis the vice-president and director of Global Economy and Development, Katz the cross-disciplinary Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution –, claim that governing cities will be the central challenge facing nearly all countries over the next century.

Dervis and Katz think a fundamentally stronger understanding of how governance relationships are structured and function is necessary. “This is critical at a time when inequality among cities – even within the same country – is growing at a rate just as worrying as inequality within a particular urban economy.” Brookings Institution will start a research on how urban and metropolitan governance nowadays works in a comparative context. “We will try to learn from those that have been most successfull and understand the underlying reasons for success as well as the remaining challenges.” My students know this, they have prepared themselves. End of the week they can reflect on how the key powers and responsibilities are distributed in different nations and cities among different levels of government and how difficult it is for city governments to deal with fiscal constraints and debt burdens. Their comparative research on governance issues in five global cities ended in Volksvlijt 2056, Amsterdam. The exhibition annex program illustrates how thousands of citizens can get involved in these governing issues and help generate a kind of collective intelligence on a regional scale, only in twelve weeks time.

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The real blind spot

On 13 mei 2016, in landschap, regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Blind spot’ (2016) of Vereniging Deltametropool:

Got a free copy of ‘Blind spot’, a Dutch glossy on metropolitan landscapes. Huge pictures, huge maps, huge volume. The well designed publication “aims to illustrate the quality of a metropolitan landscape contributing to the economic success of the region by analyzing and drawing comparison from ten international case studies”: Rhein-Ruhr, London, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Paris, Johannesburg, Milan, Taipei and Deltametropolis. Deltametropolis is a summation of cities and villages in the Netherlands, totalling a number of 10 million inhabitants, which makes a territory more than double the size of the former Randstad area. That means half of the country is included, half is excluded. The authors claim the one half is a metropolis. Which it is not, of course, because it is more countryside than city, a chaotic suburban landscape filled with highways, airports, railway tracks, shopping malls, green houses, factory outlet centers, golf courses, stables, office parks. Still, the promotors think it is green and it should be protected. That’s why they are lobbying with the help of this new glossy, comparing their work with those of colleagues in London, Paris and Rio. “Do we use the metropolitan landscape to our economic advantage and do we invest enough in its development and conservation?” Apparently they want more investments in landscape designing and engineering, so they are lobbying for themselves, hoping for a strong client. And yes, Dutch landscape architects were hard hit by the financial crisis.

Distressing is how these architects and government institutions systematically misinterpret cities and governance issues of metropolitan regions. “Despite several attempts since the 1950s, the ‘Randstad’ metropolitan region in the west of the Netherlands has never produced a single metropolitan government. The rural and equalitarian spirit of Dutch politics, with preference towards several smaller independent cities as opposed to a single cosmopolitan center of power and culture, largely explains the lack of an overarching governing body.” Apparently they lack a planning background. I mean, which of the ten metropolitan regions mentioned in this glossy has an overarching governing body? Zero. Why? Because they develop themselves bottom-up. Why exaggerating the Dutch metropolis? It simply does not exist. Why asking for a strong government? Central government in the Netherlands is already too strong. The whole atmosphere of the glossy gives off an odor of strong centralized authoritarianism: a romantic yearning for large scale design interventions, big money, state power, top-down planning. Nothing learned from the crisis. That’s the real blind spot.

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Veiligheidsutopieën

On 11 mei 2016, in openbare ruimte, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord in de OBA te Amsterdam op 9 mei 2016:

Centrale vraagstelling van Marieke de Goede, hoogleraar Politicologie aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam, was: wat gebeurt er als overheden private bedrijven vragen om op te treden als quasi-politie in het bestrijden van misdaad, corruptie en terrorisme? De Goede sprak de derde Amsterdamlezing van dit jaar in het tijdelijke Paleis voor Volksvlijt aan de Oosterdokskade te Amsterdam, een serie lezingen van de Wibautleerstoel over de toekomst van Amsterdam, Europa en de wereld. Haar onderwerp: speculatieve veiligheid in Europa. Ze vertelde over 9/11, de bevindingen van de 9/11 Commission, allerlei nieuwe vormen van terrorisme en de EU-samenwerking die hierdoor een impuls heeft gekregen. In dit nieuwe veiligheidsbeleid wordt veel verantwoordelijkheid gelegd bij bedrijven: banken, vliegmaatschappijen, Twitter, Facebook. Zij moeten de overheid tijdig waarschuwen, wet- en regelgeving dwingt hen om uiterst alert te zijn. De richtlijnen buitelen zelfs over elkaar heen. Bedrijven investeren fors in zoek- en speuracties. Er ontstaat een ingewikkeld landschap, hele complexe regelgeving waarin de publieke ruimte steeds meer wordt afgebakend.

Het veiligheidsbeleid krijgt zelfs speculatieve trekken omdat overheden tegenwoordig voorbereid willen zijn op het onverwachte. Veiligheidsdiensten willen nieuwe vormen van terrorisme als het ware kunnen voorspellen. Vooral 9/11 heeft in dit opzicht veel betekend. Van preventie gaat het naar ‘preemption’, het willen ingrijpen nog voordat het kwaad is geschied. De Goede noemde dit ‘een nieuwe veiligheidsutopie’. Dit nieuwe toekomstgerichte veiligheidsdenken, vertelde ze, zet in op fantasievol omgaan met gegevens, op nieuwe vormen van scenarioplanning en zelfs oefeningen in de realiteit, daarnaast op het onderling verbinden van allerlei databestanden, waardoor alledaagse transacties ineens in de frontlinie komen te liggen. Hoe verhoudt het nastreven van deze utopie zich tot privacywetgeving en tot de vrijheid van meningsuiting van individuele burgers? De EU, vertelde De Goede, heeft op dit laatste altijd de nadruk gelegd, maar ze liet aan de hand van voorbeelden ook zien dat de Europese politici na elk incident verder opschuiven. Bedrijven en banken krijgen hierdoor steeds meer macht. In Groot-Brittannië heeft Barclays zelfs rekeningen ingetrokken van klanten omdat deze bedragen overmaakten naar Somalië. Wat moet je als burger wanneer je bankpas wordt ingetrokken? Kortom, onderzoek naar dit complexe en dynamische veiligheidslandschap is dringend geboden. Graag wilde ze weten of er ook bankiers waren in de zaal. Die waren er niet, helaas.

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Where will the Chinese tourists go?

On 2 mei 2016, in Geen categorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Aerotropolis’ (2011) of John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay:

 

Last Thursday I met Wade Shepard, author of ‘Ghost Cities of China’ (2015) in Amsterdam. It was his first time in the Low Countries. Wade, who is from Buffalo USA, is living in China for a long time now. I showed him around in Volksvlijt, the exhibition on the future of the Amsterdam region in the Public Libraby. We talked about China and the future. He told me he is writing a new book on Chinese investments in infrastructure and business abroad, based on the new imperial policy of the Chinese government: buying land, building infrastructure, moving people around in Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Investigating the new Silk Road from the heartland of China to Europe the Chinese are planning, made him think he should visit Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Are the two Dutch cities preparing themselves for Chinese capital? Amsterdam airport always was innovative in developing concepts; its Airport City the Chinese are copying now on a grand scale. What next? And what is Amsterdam’s latest response? And will Rotterdam attract Chinese railcargo via the new Betuwe railtracks? And where will all the Chinese tourists go?

His talk reminded me of the book Greg Lindsay wrote on John Kasarda’s ‘Aerotropolis’ concept. The last chapter of the book is on China. Lindsay focuses on the instant megacities on the Chinese coast, that are based on industrial clusters and air cargo, capable of supplying the entire world with goods. “China is taking Kasarda’s logic of the Aerotropolis – an urban machine not for living but for competition – to global scale.” The story of modern China, he stresses, is the story of second-day air. “Research by the World Bank suggests the reason China’s megacities have grown so big, so fast is that the returns to scale have grown so massive.” In its Eleventh Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government ammounced that it would build a hundred new airports by 2020. Besides airports, China laid many miles of high-speed railroad track, thus developing “a world-class system for moving people and goods quickly, cheaply, and reliably across any distance…. There is nothing to stop them.” By the time they’re finished in 2020, 82 percent of the population – 1.5 billion Chinese – will live within a ninety-minute drive of an airport, nearly twice the number today. Before long, China’s tourists will outnumber their goods. Fascinating, isn’t it?  So is Amsterdam ready? I told Wade about the new Chinese six-star hotel coming to Amsterdam. Wade and I started smiling.

 

De reus is ontwaakt

On 26 april 2016, in politiek, wetenschap, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord op 25 april 2016 in de OBA te Amsterdam:

De Amsterdamlezing van Rens Vliegenthart, hoogleraar Communicatiewetenschappen aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam, stond gisteravond in het teken van Europa. Hoe berichten de media over Europa en worden wij burgers door die berichtgeving beïnvloed? Vliegenthart begon met op te merken dat liefst 80 procent van alle Europese wetgeving nog altijd geen enkele media-aandacht krijgt en dat lange tijd Europa überhaupt geen onderwerp was waaraan kranten, tijdschriften of televisie aandacht besteedden. Europa leek op een reus die sliep. Een regelrecht dieptepunt waren de verkiezingen van 1999, toen in Nederland slechts één nieuwsitem rond Europa werd geteld, en nog in 2004 voerde kamerlid Ton Elias campagne met de leuze ‘Europa best belangrijk’. Daarna ontstonden binnen de EU echter politieke conflicten en volgens Vliegenthart trekken conflicten altijd media-aandacht. Sindsdien wordt er levendig over Europa bericht en voeren wij burgers over het onderwerp felle discussie. Europa is daarmee voor ons veel belangrijker geworden. Het Oekraïne-referendum, hoe verwarrend ook, vormt daarvan het voorlopige hoogtepunt en de stemming over de Brexit in juni zal, verwacht hij, nog meer belangstelling genereren. De peilingen lieten dit zien, en ook hoe deze door optredens van politici worden beïnvloed.

Vliegenthart vertelde boeiend over de driehoek politiek-media-burgers en hoe deze voortdurend op elkaar reageert. Het onderzoek op de UvA meet en telt al deze interactie; daarvan gaf hij interessante voorbeelden. Maar mensen in de zaal vonden zo’n driehoek een te eenvoudige voorstelling van zaken. Actiegroepen, NGO’s, lobbyisten, bloggers, sociale media als Twitter en Facebook roeren zich immers ook. Het landschap is veel complexer. Vliegenthart was het hiermee eens en bevestigde dat modern media-onderzoek eigenlijk bestudering van big data vereist. Toch wilde hij benadrukken dat sociale media vooral door politici worden gebruikt en dat journalisten hier rechtstreeks van aftappen. En lobbyisten werken liever in een schemerduister, dus hun werk brengen wetenschappers moeilijk aan het licht. Als voorbeeld noemde hij het gebruik van Twitter door Geert Wilders. Wilders communiceert niet via de media, maar werkt met tweets: Twitter gebruikt hij als een enorme roeptoeter. En Europa? Vliegenthart bleef positief. Europa staat nu volop in de belangstelling. De reus is definitief ontwaakt. Voor een ineenstorting van de Unie was althans hij niet bang.

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15 Years of Amsterdam School

On 25 april 2016, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Seen on 24 April 2016 in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam:

Great exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam on interior design of the Amsterdam School artists De Klerk, Kramer, Krop and Van der Mey. On the top floor of the museum, over 500 objects are on show in some fifteen rooms, each one with its own theme and atmosphere, all chronologically organized. Each room captures the visitors, together they let people experience a unique history of Amsterdam urban art. Indeed, it’s an explosion of exuberant works of very talented sculptors, designers, and architects. Why Amsterdam? How come? The movement of the Amsterdam School, now hundred years old, emerged after the New Art and Art Nouveau schools, it began in 1916, when the phantasmagoric Scheepvaarthuis at the Prins Hendrikkade opened its doors,and ended in 1928 with the celebration of the Olympic Games in Berlage’s Amsterdam South extension. Then Wall Street crashed, which ended all building not only in Amsterdam, but in all cities of the world. A depression followed, nation-states took over, a war seemed inevitable. Cities burned.

Pity that the organizers didn’t tell the whole story of Amsterdam’s Second Golden Age. All these great works of art were only made possible thanks to the fast economic growth of Amsterdam, which began after 1864, symbolized by the opening of the Amsterdam version of Crystal Palace – het Paleis voor Volksvlijt. True, there are historic films to be seen at the entrance. These fragments show a vibrant city life at the beginning of the twentieth century, the new port and the tramways, new buildings, still slums and poverty, but mostly optimistic people walking, driving, going to the movies, recreating in their new neighborhoods. Clocks are symbols of the new times. They seem  to emphasize a bright future, no looking back as if people forgot that all this great art was built on the Dutch colonies, the Great War, Sarphati, human thrift. So only after fifty years of hard work and city expansion the citizens could harvest. Amsterdam doubled in size. Amsterdam South is the fruit of this grand era. In 1929, when it ended, Berlage was halfway implementing his plan. It ended when the Dutch government intervened and started cutting the municipal budgets because of the crisis. Do visit the South expansion and experience a true urban renaissance! It lasted only fifteen years. Afterwards it never happened again, at least not in this city. Amsterdam became a sleepy, provincial town.

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Unsustainable Urban Delta

On 22 april 2016, in duurzaamheid, economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 15 April 2016:

Last week they forced me to move to another lecture hall at the University of Amsterdam. They told me the Dutch prime-minister Mr. Rutte was expected to come. He would give a lecture on ‘How the Netherlands is functioning’, and he needed my room. So I asked my students to move to the next hall and listen to my lecture on Global Cities over there. Afterwards I was wondering what Mr. Rutte had told his audience. In the newspaper next day I read that he had been speaking of the Netherlands in terms of a smart, innovative country we should be proud of. We’re one of the best in the world! Very stimulating indeed. But then he made a mistake. “It’s not a problem at all that the Netherlands lack megacities,” he lectured. See our country as one big colaborating city. When Amsterdam goes on a trade mission and sees opportunities for food or agriculture, the mayor invites the rector of the Wageningen University to join him. Then you could say: Wageningen is not Amsterdam. But on a world scale, Amsterdam is Wageningen-West.” Very funny. Mr. Rutte better had joined my students and learn more about Global Cities. (Photo: Mats van Soolingen)

Are the Netherlands one big collaborating city? Surely not. If the country is conceived as one big city, it would be one of the most polluted and least sustainable cities in the world. The ecological footprint of the Netherlands is one of the heaviest. If everyone were to adopt the Dutch lifestyle, the planet’s natural resources would be exhausted by 2030. But that’s no problem to our prime-minister. The same day he made his bold statement at the University of Amsterdam, he also launched the ‘Sustainable Urban Delta’-campaign at the Innovation Expo on the banks of the river IJ. Can you believe it? In terms of global hectares, the Dutch footprint measures 6.34 gha. This is twice the size of the Brazilian footprint and six times the size of the Indian ecological footprint. For the earth to support itself, scientists estimate that an ecological footprint of 1.8 gha is permissible. More than twenty years ago researchers reported that the Netherlands required a land mass fifteen times its current size to support of Dutch consumption levels of food and resources. So shame on us. Our prime-minister should aim for one big megacity of 17 million inhabitants, to begin with doubling the size of Amsterdam. That would make a difference, also in terms of innovation. But he will not. He’s only focused on boosting the economy, summoning his subjects to collaborate, without comprehending that megacities are true economic engines ànd far more sustainable than a conurbation of many small cities and villages. How sad.

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