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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Keesmaat will win

On 22 april 2016, in regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Heard on 21 April 2016 at the University of Amsterdam:

Burton Hamfelt, Canadian architect, gave a great guest lecture on Toronto in the Cities in Transition Programme at the University of Amsterdam. It was a tale of two Toronto’s: one suburban (the Ford Nation), one urban, one poor, one rich, one neglected, one mediatised. Over the last ten years Toronto has changed in a tremendous way, so did the way people talk about the city. In the sixties and seventies, Toronto was viewed as a boring, social city, nowadays it is a keen investment in real estate, an expensive city ranked high in many global city bench marks. Sure, Toronto is immigrant friendly and booming, every years it grows with another forty thousand inhabitants, the metropolitan region counts 6 million people, the city itself 2,8 million. There are no refugee camps like in the Netherland. Refugees are staying with Toronto families. Downtown is densifying in an unknown pace, high rise is the new normal, housing is getting unaffordable, it seems everybody wants to live on those few square meters, which is strange, because Canada is such a big country. Downtown is a walkable space, which has been turned into a festival playground. Polynuclearity seems to be totally absent. The only thing that counts is the land value in the inner section. Will it continue to rise? Can it hold on?

Hamfelt showed films of Jane Jacobs walking on the sidewalks of Toronto in the sixties, Glenn Gould driving through Toronto suburbs, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat talking to Richard Florida on sound infrastructure planning. Why is Toronto becoming a cosmopolitan global city, while other Canadian cities like Calgary are becoming provincial and even shrinking? And why are the suburbs neglected? It seems everybody wants to live in the city centre nowadays. Hamfelt tried to explain: it’s either you want a car or not. A car is expensive. If you don’t want one, you prefer to live in the city centre, if you do, your future is in the suburbs. Out of this  alchemy came mayor Rob Ford, who died last year at the age of forty-six. Hamfelt showed maps of Toronto, illustrating the political landscape after the last elections: it’s the landscape of obesity, is the landscape of the suburbs, is the political landscape of Ford and his populist party. Nicholas Köhler in The New Yorker of 24 March 2016: “Ford was articulating the grievances of a forgotten, largely suburban constituency, but his strategy also resonated with others, and on election day voters in some of the city’s most progressive neighborhoods cast ballots for him.” Hamfelt opposed the thick, vulgar Ford against the slim, intellectual Keesmaat. He thinks Keesmaat will win.

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Angst, sensatiezucht en idealisme

On 19 april 2016, in geschiedenis, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord op 18 april 2016 in de OBA te Amsterdam:

Christianne Smit, universitair hoofddocent Politieke geschiedenis aan de Universiteit Utrecht, vertelde afgelopen maandagavond een prachtig verhaal over de tweede Gouden Eeuw van Amsterdam in een volgepakte theaterzaal van de OBA, tijdelijk omgetoverd in het Paleis voor Volksvlijt. Het was de eerste Amsterdamlezing van dit jaar, georganiseerd vanuit de Wibautleerstoel aan de UvA, een reeks deze keer gewijd aan de derde Gouden Eeuw. Aan de hand van haar historische onderzoek, opgetekend in ‘De Volksverheffers: sociaal hervormers in Nederland en de wereld 1870-1914’ (2015), schetste Smit een tamelijk onrustig beeld van Amsterdam, toen de kloof tussen rijk en arm snel groter werd, veel migranten naar de grote stad trokken, het platteland leegliep en de samenleving uit elkaar dreigde te vallen. De parallellen met het heden waren opvallend. De Amsterdamse elite van destijds, vertelde ze, wilde de boel bij elkaar houden en het waren de liberalen die daartoe tal van initiatieven namen; veelal betrof het jonge juffrouwen, ongetrouwde dochters van rijke burgers, wier idealistische werk deels werd ingegeven door optimisme, deels door angst. Ze trokken de arme buurten in, vaak uit sensatiezucht, maar vooral om gewone mensen die achterliepen vooruit te helpen; ze wilden de arbeiders iets leren, iets bijbrengen, zonder dat deze tot de middenklasse konden toetreden, “want dat kon gewoon niet.” Zo begon de tweede Gouden Eeuw – door het creëren van een grootstedelijke gemeenschap, het ontwikkelen van sociale cohesie.

Opmerkelijk was dat veel van die initiatieven rechtstreeks afkomstig waren uit Londen, dat niet alleen in de ernst van de maatschappelijke problemen Amsterdam verre overtrof, maar dat ook aan de lopende band innovaties produceerde.  Want zo zijn metropolen: hun oplossingsvermogen is veel groter dan die van kleine steden. Smit noemde het echtpaar Barnett dat met Toynbee Hall in East End het eerste buurthuis ter wereld stichtte. Ze organiseerden er leesclubs, cursussen, concerten, debatavonden en lezingen. Rijke studenten uit Oxford en Cambridge konden er aan den lijve ondervinden hoe het was om als arme stakker te leven. Toynbee Hall, een robuust Brits landhuis te midden van krotten, was niet minder dan een sociaal laboratorium dat ook in Nederland de aandacht trok. Smit noemde het Volkshuis in Leiden (1899), de Toynbee Vereniging (1895) en Ons Huis in de Rozenstraat in Amsterdam (1892). Ook Floor Wibaut zou na zijn verhuizing naar Amsterdam aangestoken worden door het virus en een Toynbee vereniging oprichten. Smit wees erop dat nog steeds overal in Amsterdam buurthuizen bestaan, net zoals er nog talrijke openbare bibliotheken functioneren. De sociale innovaties van destijds waren dus buitengewoon succesvol. Ze horen bij een infrastructuur die het idee van democratie moest helpen verspreiden en het pad effenen naar emancipatie. Nee, de socialisten liepen in deze niet voorop. Die wilden hun eigen buurthuizen, maar ze wilden bovendien een schietbaan om de revolutie voor te bereiden, echter een vergunning daarvoor kregen ze niet. En toen de buurthuizen en bibliotheken iets te succesvol bleken, nam de overheid het van de weldoeners over. Maar dat was veel later, zo rond de Eerste Wereldoorlog.

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Beyond Big Plans

On 15 april 2016, in duurzaamheid, economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Beyond Seun-Sangga (2015):

Last Thursday Hyeri Park, an urban planner from South-Korea who’s living in the Netherlands, gave a great lecture at the University of Amsterdam on ‘Seoul Mutations. Another Story after Fast Urban Growth in Asia’. Mrs. Park told the students about the ‘Miracle on the Han river’, which took place in the sixties and seventies, and also she focused on what happened afterwards. In only fourty years, the South-Korean capital grew from 1 million to 1o million; the metropolitan region nowadays counts almost 25 million inhabitants – half the population of the Korean peninsula. In 1997 came the crisis, and another economic crisis followed  in 2007. She pointed at how poverty since then is growing, and how the rich are getting richer. She introduced the policy of New Town Development of 2008, when the government tried to intervene and turn poor neighborhoods in the cities’ north into more prosperous districs. This new policy failed: big plans did not work out. The property owners, backed by construction corporations, were actually in control. Corruption is rampant. So the question is, how can a city like Seoul develop itself in a more balanced and sustainable way?

In ‘Repositioning of the City Regions: Korea after the crisis’, Mr. Won Bae Kim wrote that the competitiveness of a city region depends on a whole series of factors, including its process of governance, the social and economic infrastructure, the quality of its human capital, the quality of its natural environment, and the capability of its local institutions. The key factor in affecting the rise and fall of local economies like the one in Seoul lies in local adaptability. Mr. Kim thought a radical departure from the centralized model of governance of the past in Seoul is needed. Alternative forms of governance are to be developed. That was in 2001. This week, Mrs. Park gave great examples of horizontal strategies in Seoul, some of them based on a conference she and Mrs. Vitnarea Kang organized last year in Seoul City Hall, called ‘Beyond Big Plans’. The new approach of the Seun Sangga area for instance is promising. You might call it a ‘platformization’ of a poor neighborhood in the inner city, an area where traditional industrial clusters are becoming more productive, while introducing new ones and accommodating dfferent users. This bottom-up strategy, which focuses on cultural heritage, walkability and public engagement, is far more fertile than the traditional neoliberal masterplanning of the starchitects and urban designers. The government needs to involve different stakeholders in the decision-making process and reflect their interests in their future plans. Seoul is in the process of adopting these kind of open strategies. Very promising indeed.

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Dream your own future

On 5 april 2016, in economie, participatie, by Zef Hemel

To be visited from 12 April till 3 July 2016 in the Public Library Amsterdam:

On Tuesday 12 April 2016, the People’s Industry Palace (Paleis voor Volksvlijt) in the Public Library of Amsterdam will open its doors. Twelve weeks long, citizens, young and old, from different backgrounds, from all neigborhoods and neighboring cities, can visit the exhibition and experience the economic future of the Amsterdam metropolitan region: not as consumers, but as makers of their own future. Moreover, the twelve installations that will be on show in the seven-story public building at the Oosterdok are the result of many workshops over the last year, when hundreds of citizens discussed with twelve artists the future of food, health, industry, media, logistics, entertainment, tourism, ecology, circular economy, smart city, sustainable development, selfsufficiency, in their own city. Based on the people’s ideas, knowledge, and personal experiences, each of the artists then developed his or her own speculative concept on the future for the exhibition. Volksvlijt is a project of collective imagination. Adults becoming children again. ‘Dream your own future’. 

The concept of Volksvlijt more or less is based on the 19th century phenomenon of Christal Palaces, a European movement of optimistic and progressive city exhibitions, which started in London, 1851. These city exhibitions were organized not only for bankers and rentiers to persuade them to invest in industry and urban infrastructure, but also for citizens, inviting them to become entrepreneurs, get educated, start reading, embrace technology, thus fighting hunger and poverty. The result of this powerful social-economic movement was a great new civic institutional infrastructure in our cities of public libraries, public schools, universities, concert halls, housing corporations, etcetera. In his masterpiece ‘Cities in Evolution’ (1915), the Scottish planner Patrick Geddes painted it  as a promising Neotechnic world. So this could happen again. Volksvlijt is an experiment in testing a new kind of open planning in a city like Amsterdam at the beginning of the 21st century by using an old, extensively tested concept. Feel like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, enter the palace, and forget Dostoyevski’s ‘Notes form the Underground’. If we’re not optimistic, we all will fail. Let’s celebrate our cities!

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Jane Jacobs again

On 1 april 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in OECD Territorial Review of the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam-The Hague (2016):

With the financial support of the Ministry of Interior Affairs in The Hague, the OECD published a report on the regional economy of the two Dutch neighboring cities Rotterdam and The Hague. It’s worth reading, especially for the students  following my course on global cities at the University of Amsterdam. How competitive are these two cities in the South Wing of the former Randstad area or, better, why do they lack competitiveness? The OECD concludes that “the distinct socio-economic profiles of Rotterdam (centred on the port and logistics activities) and The Hague (specialised in public administration and services) have contributed to weak functional integration of the MRDH area,” and also the “two cities have not traditionally considered themselves as natural partners”. Commuting flows between the two cities are extremely low, even though the distance between them is less than 30 kilometres. And yes, it’s the most densiliy built area in the Netherlands. ”However, the MRDH lags behind the Dutch average in terms of educational attainment, disposable income and employment.” Globalization is testing the capacity of city-regions to exploit their comparative advantages. MRDH is losing ground. “It has struggled to recover from the 2008 global crisis and continues to be outperformed by other metropolitan areas in the Randstad.”

So what does the OECD advise the Ministry and its two cities? Its key recommendations are:  it’s a long way to go, and best would be “focusing inward to promote greater integration of the MRDH while looking outward to boost the national and international profile of the region”. Personally I hope they will not boost the national and international profile too much. The two cities are quite good at that already. Better look inward. That’s also what I teach my students, I mean, the sustainable development of a city-region requires giving greater attention to the creation and conservation of regional wealth. Especially now that globalization is testing regional economies, big projects are no help, nor does city marketing. Focus on your regional assets. So let’s quote the great American planner John Friedmann, who wrote: “Sustainable development is never bestowed from the outside but must be generated from within the regional economy itself.” Or I would suggest reading Jane Jacobs again: Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984.

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Spatial horror scenario’s

On 25 maart 2016, in toerisme, by Zef Hemel

Experienced by driving on 24 March 2015:

Got a phone call of a researcher. She wanted to know my opinion on a campaign Amsterdam Citymarketing is starting to bring tourists to unknown neigborhoods in Amsterdam. They’re aiming at relieving the pressure on the inner city with all its museums, theatres, shops and hotels. People living there are complaining. And yes, tourism is booming business. I told her you don’t have to campaign, because it is already happening spontaneously. Tourists are renting bikes nowadays. Better leave it, because the next problem will be nineteenth century neighborhoods like De Pijp becoming tourist destinations too. With tourists flocking in, all these neighborhoods will lose their creative, gentrified ‘authentic’ character. By campaigning, you will only speed up this process. Moreover, Amsterdam as a total will become even more a tourist destination. Tourists from all over the world will think: it’s such a great city, with so many opportunities in all these neighborhoods, which means they will stay even longer. The result will be that tourism in the inner city will not decrease at all, but will double instead, no triple, will profit from these campaigns anyway. She said she had never thought it that way. I think she was perplexed.

Such an ingenious thinking of those city marketeers. It reminded me of post-war planning in the Netherlands. Planners thought it would be better to distribute housing and business more evenly over the country in order to relieve the pressure on the biggest cities in the Western part of the country (Amsterdam and Rotterdam). The state took the lead and started building new towns and industrial growth poles, favouring peripheral regions, subsidizing culture, companies, infrastructure and municipalities in poor and outlying  provinces. Now let’s see what has come out of it. Drive through this small country and be honest: it has become one big mess, one big traffic jam, congestion everywhere, even in Groningen and Drenthe. And no problem whatsoever has been solved. Policies aiming at dispersing activities always result in the opposite.  In the end they are no less than spatial horror scenario’s. Better concentrate things, better build great cities, focus on great inner cities, add more quality, and enjoy!

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17 million, at last

On 21 maart 2016, in demografie, by Zef Hemel

Read in the Dutch newspapers today:


We Dutch expected to reach a population of 20 million in the year 2000, we only got 17 million in 2016. Today, nr. 17.000.000 is welcomed. Still, people do think this country is crowded. True, all over the Netherlands commuters are stuck in heavy traffic jams, and by building new roads and adding ever more trains we still are not able to solve this problem. We seem to prefer to sit in our cars, waiting and looking at our spoiled countryside, feeling bored.We have become masters in infrastructure building; the number of fly-overs has doubled, tripled, over the last twenty years, but we lack real nodes. While the number of centres has exploded, our cities lack vitality. Most of our cities are tiny compared to what you find in other countries. If you drive through them, they’re all sleepy places. Culture is not concentrated, art and culture, all based on the principles of the welfare state, are evenly distributed and heavily subsidized. With the exception of the inner cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, there are no crowded streets, no high rise, no queue formations, no mixed use, no busy, highly specialized districts, no metro systems. Most of us drive cars. Urbanity is missing.

Just imagine the Netherlands were one big city. Then one could compare it with Moscow, Istanbul or Los Angeles, all three cities of 17 million inhabitants. The urban economy of LA is double the size of the Netherlands, in terms of economic growth Moscow and Istanbul are overhauling the Low Countries. If we had followed them, the rest of the Netherlands would be nature reserves now. Would anybody then have thought this country is too crowded? These 17-million cities are true beehives, economic powerhouses, with great public transport, wonderful culture, a thriving 24-hours economy, and beautiful parks and nature. All their economies are booming, migrants get relatively easily integrated. So this feeling of crowdedness in the Netherlands is largely based on spatial preferences for garden cities, small towns, low densities, suburban living, say, a very expensive and brittle spatial configuration generating a dominant feeling of crowdedness. The Netherlands is the least densily built city in the world.    

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