On 9 november 2015, in economie, stedenbouw, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Ghost Cities of China’ (2015) of Wade Shepard:

Tomorrow I will give my yearly lecture in the bachelor study course ‘Perspectives on Amsterdam’ at the University of Amsterdam, theme: Political Economy. This time I will focus on the Zuidas (Southaxis) project, the new CBD of Amsterdam. Will it be successful? How much will it cost? Why build it? While preparing my lecture, I reread in ‘Ghost Cities of China’ about the building of CBD’s in Chinese cities. The American journalist Wade Shepard describes in the book how all the cities in China are developing their own Central Business Districts. Shanghai was first, with its Lujiazui business district in Pudong; Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south followed. Shepard writes that it didn’t stop there: many other Chinese cities started building their own versions of the Pudong model, also the very small ones. “Hence in 2014 the CBD is a near ubiquitous landmark in China’s cities.”

In 2003 the Ministry of Construction tried to get a handle on the CBD building boom. It was a problem, because building a CBD is a very expensive undertaking and might cost each city a fortune. But still it continues. Shanghai plans to have at least even three CBD’s on the east, west and south sides of its urban core, while Beijing envisions four CBD’s. Of course, the model was borrowed from the West. Paris, London, New York all built their CBD’s in the recent past. But the USA has only two: New York and Chicago. All the Chinese cities though hope to become a financial hub of their own region, or even the entire country. Shepard concludes that all those CBD’s are now so common that it is necessary to have one just to keep up. And of course only the business districts in the two biggest cities are prospering. The vacancy rate in many provincial cities is now more than 40 percent. Still, many more will get build in the near future. Shepard: “So it is clear that China’s CBD oversupply can only get a lot worse.” Almost the Dutch VINEX-model, I would add, with every provincial city building its ‘Central District’ near the railway station. Meanwhile, with Amsterdam’s Southaxis competing with La Défense, Paris, and Canary Wharf, London.

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Constantine’s dream

On 6 november 2015, in geschiedenis, by Zef Hemel

Seen in The Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, on  11 October 2015:

The exhibition in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), on Dam square in Amsterdam, is on Rome, the capital city of the Roman empire at the time of the emperor Constantine, after the edict of Milano (313 AD). I visited it on a Sunday afternoon with one of my daugthers. At that time Rome was a city of one million inhabitants, the biggest city in the world. A reconstruction of the huge statue of Constantine with a copy of the head of the emperor and its fingers are its center piece; it was stunning, impressive, if only by its sheer size. And then there was his dream or vision or celestial sign, at the exhibition on copies of paintings in a reconstruction of one of the Vatican palace chambers: his seeing in his sleep at the battle field of the cross, and his redemption. The unique story was well exposed: the transformation of Rome, the building of the new churches in the city, the new freedom, the old gods, many of them still of Egyptian or Greek (Dionysos) origin, the rise of the Christian god, the celebrated works of the  apostles Peter and Paul, the first Christians, it was all there.

However, what I missed was the decision taken by the same emperor Constantine to build a new city in the East: Constantinople, inaugurated in 324 AD, as the new capital of the Roman empire, later to become the wealthiest and most powerful city on earth. The new city would be free of the pagan past and would be Christian from its first day. It was the emperor’s real dream. So I reread ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ (1776-1781) of Edward Gibbon. Gibbon’s long decription of the unique geographic location, created by nature, its wonderful climate, its healthy environment, its safe position on the border between Europe and Asia. It would be a city that could easily feed its own population; all the resources and freight would sail on ships, on any wind, to its shores on the Bosphorus. But then Gibbon also comments that Constantinople was not Babylon or Thebe, the antique Rome, London, or even Paris. It was far less powerful. Gibbon hated Constantine, so he judged Constantinople also a weak city. Building the new city, he wrote, costed a fortune, and many Roman citizens had to move eastward, leaving a enfeebled hometown behind. But less than a century later, Constantinople would challenge the power of Rome. Its foundation, growth and success are worth a second exhibition. Why wait?

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On 5 november 2015, in geschiedenis, infrastructuur, planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Building Gotham’ (2003) of Keith Revell:

Penn Station is the busiest station in the Amtrak system.

We met at Penn Station, New York. From there we would take the train to Boston. He had the tickets. The station, dating from the sixties, looked like Dante’s Inferno, but then as if you’re in a science-fiction movie, from the Jetsons, a world deep under the ground. My friend – also a planner – said I should read ‘Building Gotham’ of Keith Revell if I wanted to know more about Penn Station and its history. The book, he said, describes the engineering works of New York City from the end of the 19nth century untill the beginning of the Second World War, the Progressive Era. And yes, Keith Revell, a historian from John Hopkins University, did a great job by studying the regulation of skyscrapers and railroads in the city. All the great experts – mostly engineers – who were doing those difficult urban projects, were his heroes. The first chapter is about ‘conceiving the new metropolis’; next a chapter on private infrastructure follows, one on public infrastructure, and the book ends with a chapter on urban and regional planning – zoning – as a new expertise. So after our trip I started reading the book. A great book.

In his preface Mr. Revell writes that at first he thought his project would be an inquiry into the ways that the concept of efficiency affected the building of New York. Instead, he discovered quite something else. “As I learned more about what the experts engaged in those projects were doing, I discovered that efficiency played a less important role in their worldview than interdependence – the latter far more powerful concept with profound political implications.” He calls it ‘a civic culture’, leading to the formation of new public institutions. That’s what urban and regional planning is about: a civic culture. But all those institutions are weak now. People very much disagree on the future. So Revell wonders if “bureaucratic organizations (can be) the proper instruments for determining and carrying out the public interest in a democratic society.”  The answer is no of course. And interdependence is ever more a problem. That’s why we have to rethink planning.

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Extreme concentration

On 4 november 2015, in innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ (2013) of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley:

Yesterday there was a round table discussion in The Hague on the future of the so-called Randstad. Does the Randstad function as one polycentric network of cities? The discussion was mainly on innovation and agglomeration economies, I suppose. Most people in this country think you don’t need big cities in order to be innovative. Better connect the existing small cities, they say, a policy the Dutch call ‘borrowed size’. The province of Brabant even claims to be the most innovative region of Europe. Its biggest city is Eindhoven, with less than 220.000 inhabitants. “You just need a campus,” they seem to think. How wrong they are. People better read ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. Chapter 6 is on ‘The rise of innovation districts’. Their message: “Our open, innovative economy increasingly craves proximity and extols integration, which allow knowledge to be transferred easily between, within, and across clusters, firms, workers, and supporting institutions, thereby enabling the creation of new ideas that fuel even greater economic activity and growth.” What kind of proximity do they mean? “The vanguard of these megatrends is largely found not at the city or metropolitan scale writ large but in smaller enclaves, what are increasingly being called innovation districs.” It’s all about extreme geographical concentration, not campusses, but innovative city districts.

So the new hunger for knowledge and open innovation has huge spatial implications. The proximity effect can even be staggering. “Stuart Rosenthal and William Strange find that the intellectual spillovers that drive innovation and employment drop off dramatically as firms and people move more than a mile apart.” Institutions of knowledge such as universities, medical centers and innovation institutes tend to be disproportionately located in big cities. Isolated labs and suburban research parks are outdated. Midtown locaties, with anchor institutions in the middle, come to the fore. Katz and Bradley: “In many respects, the rise of innovation districs embodies the very essence of cities: an aggregation of talented, driven people, assembled in close quarters, who exchange ideas and knowledge in what the urban historian Sir Peter Hall calls a dynamic process of innovation, imitation and improvement.” Boston – three times the size of Eindhoven, with Harvard, MIT, Boston College etc. – is a great example in the book. The Kendall Square area is thriving, even the South Boston Waterfront area has become a true innovation ecosystem. What is needed: complexity, density, diversity of people and cultures, the messy intersection of activities, the layering of the old and the new, an integration of uses and acitivities. All that is lacking in the Randstad, everything is dispersed, no open innovation.

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Out of control

On 3 november 2015, in duurzaamheid, participatie, planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in Boston City Hall on 22 October 2015:

Image The Boston Harbor Association

Leaving Penn Station early in the morning, I took de Amtrack train from New York City to Boston, Massachusetts. There I would meet some people at City Hall, to discuss the planning of the city-region. Boston – a city of some 640.000 inhabitants – is preparing its first new comprehensive plan for its city-wide future after fifty years. Citizens are invited to ‘Imagine Boston 2030′, when the city will celebrate its 400-th anniversary. In May this year Mayor Marty Walsh launched a two year public engagement process, saying it would be a more dynamic process of civic engagement than has been done with planning efforts in the past. So that’s why I took the train to Boston and meet the planners, Gerald Autler, director of Boston Redevelopment Authority, in the first place. To discuss with him and his staff some new approaches of open planning.

How’s Boston doing? Quite well in economic terms, I would say, surely for an east coast city. It’s a thriving, innovative city in the Bos-Wash megaregion, just north of New York. However, climate change is a real threat, because its position on the Atlantic coast makes the urban area extremely vulnerable. Especially the redeveloped southern waterfront with the new convention center near South Station is in danger, as is all the land that has been developed on the waterfront in the 19nth and 20th century. In the Boston Globe I read: "Over the past century, temperatures in northeastern states have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and if heat-trapping gases increase at current rates, warming could spike as much as ten degrees by the 2080s, prolonging bouts of extreme heat, taxing electrical systems, and disrupting ecosystems." What is to be done? There is a Boston Climate Action Plan, sure, but is it adequate? Could ‘Imagine Boston 2030′ bring solutions? A radical open approach might give birth to miracles, but no one knows the outcome from the outset. Open planning means: being out of control. Will the leaders accept uncertainty? I hope they will not only take action, but listen to the people first.

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Urban university walk

On 2 november 2015, in onderwijs, wetenschap, by Zef Hemel

Seen and heard on 20 October 2015 at Morningside Heights, NYC:

The weather, that day, was excellent. His walk started at the old campus site. Then he took us eastward, to the rim of the heights, showing us West Harlem deep down below. Wonderful view! John Reddick is from Yale, where he studied history of architecture, with Vincent Scully. With his loud voice Mr. Reddick guided us around, told us some great stories on the history of Columbia University and its neigbourhood. The site, in northwest Manhattan, was an empty plateau in 1890. In the beginning the city wanted it to become the site of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, but Chicago won the competition. So the future of the place had to be reconsidered. Columbia University, which moved up from 50th Street and Madison Avenue to 116th Street and Broadway, now forms the centerpiece of Morningside Heights, but the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Barnard College and Riverside Church were its competitors. At the end of the nineteenth century Columbia was ‘a sleepy little place’, but Seth Low – who would become Mayor of New York City – had a great vision when he took over as the university’s president in 1889. Low didn’t want the Gothic of the traditional Ivy League campus. He wanted Columbia to become a great urban university, in and of the city.

So McKim, Mead & White, Columbia’s architects, adopted an urban Renaissance model for the campus. It was a conscious decision to be different from places like Princeton and Yale. This you can also read in Andrew Dolkart’s ”Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development” (Columbia University Press, 1998). Only when the subway was built in 1904, the place became a residential neighborhood. Since then, most of the appartment building have been purchased by Columbia, which needed ever more extension space. So that’s where our sunny walk ended: strolling along Riverside Drive in northern direction, crossing a tall bridge. Deep down below us we had a stunning view on Manhattanville, where Columbia University is building its brand new second campus on a 17 acre-site, costing 6.8 billion US dollars. Welcome to the masterclass New York City, moderated by the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam, on the future of the city and its universities.

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Powering forward

On 30 oktober 2015, in economie, innovatie, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ (2013) of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley:

The US economy is broken. How to repair it? Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley wrote a book about ‘how cities and metros are fixing our broken politics and fragile economy’. It is similar to Benjamin Barber’s ‘If Mayors Ruled the World’, only more in detail. Katz and Bradley are working for the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, a nonprofit public policy organization, one of Washington oldest thinktanks, maybe even one of the most influential thinktanks in the world. Their message: the US government can’t solve the huge economic and competitive challenges its cities are facing, so networks of metropolitan leaders are stepping up "and powering the nation forward." They give examples of New York, Denver, Northeast Ohio and Houston. Katz and Bradley think power is shifting again in their country. No longer the federal state is the central agency in moving the country forward. The American revolution, they write, was an urban revolution, so the new economic revolution will be urban again.

The example of New York is exactly the one the Masterclass NYC of the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam is studying in depth right now: innovation and the next economy. It is the case of ‘the applied science initiative’ of mayor Bloomberg in 2011-2013. The initiative was based on the idea that innovation is closely intertwined with new developments in science and technology, but that New York was weak in engineering. There were too few engineers and similar technical professionals based in New York City. Technology strength often clusters around universities, so universities are basic to the infastructure needed. Katz and Bradley: "There is, of course, a deep irony in the fact that technology, which was supposed to cut ties between people and places and allow people everywhere to work from almost anywhere, turns out to flourish in fairly compact geographic concentrations." A host of studies have shown that clusters spur entrepreneurship and boost start-up initiatives. "Universities do not usually by themselves create clusters, but they can be powerful factors in maintaining and energizing them." So that’s why New York launched an international competition in which the prize was a new school of engineering on Rooseveldt island. Cornell University and Technion in Tel Aviv were the winners in 2013. The building of the new campus has already started. We visited the site two weeks ago. It will open in 2017. "This process will be a model going forward for any kind of technology-oriented development."  Also in Europe. In the biggest European cities and metros, I mean.

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On 29 oktober 2015, in internationaal, by Zef Hemel

Read in de Volkskrant of 24 October 2015:

Willem-Alexander, king of the Netherlands, was visiting China just this week. His busy programme was published in one of the Dutch newspaper: Beijing first, then far west to Yanan, back to Chongmin Dongtan and Shanghai, ending up in Hangzhou, south of Greater Shanghai. So half nature, half urban. Last Monday – his first day in China – Mr. Willem-Alexander gave a lecture at the public school of the Communist Party in Beijing. Theme: transparancy. De Volkskrant: “A bit exciting will be his speech at the educational institute of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. For an audience of high level civil servants and CEO’s from big Chinese companies, the king will talk about transparency, a theme that in China comes close to corruption.” However, on Tuesday, the day after, I couldn’t find anything  in the newspapers on how well the king’s speech was received. Only an article on panda bears being given by president Xi as a present to the Dutch government after so many years of diplomacy, was published in NRC Handelsblad. Panda bears!

In his ‘Ghost Cities of China’ (2015), Wade Shepard describes how the former mayor of Shanghai, Mr. Chen Liangyu, was the visionary and driving force behind Shanghai’s ‘One City, Nine Towns’ suburban renewal project. Now he is in jail, being accused of corruption. “With him locked up, his development projects have been virtually forgotten, his successors having moved on to new projects of their own.” This story, the writer adds gloomily, can be replicated all across China. Corruption evidently everywhere. President Xi wants to end it. But what happened to the nine towns around Shanghai after the mayor was being imprisoned? Shepard revisited the place. All around the periphery of Shanghai “there sits a massive network of new towns suspended perilously between conception and completion.” Hope the king has not seen panda bears only, but unlucky new towns too.

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Size, density, proximity

On 28 oktober 2015, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in Brooklyn, NYC, on 19 October 2015:

His name: Eddie Summers. Mr. Summers is the executive director of Brooklyn Education Innovation Network, NYC (BE.IN). He showed us around in Brooklyn. His walk was more than twenty kilometers long, the weather was beautiful, although a bit cold. We crossed downtown Brooklyn, headed for DUMBO, visited a co-working space at the seventh floor, enjoyed the view, met some young people, walked on to Brooklyn Navy Yard, ended up at the campus of the Pratt Institute. All in all it took us two hours to make the tour. The excursion was part of the masterclass NYC, an initiative of the city of Amsterdam, on cities and its universities. Why Brooklyn? With more than 60,000 college students hailing from 11 higher education institutions, Downtown Brooklyn is truly New York City’s College Town. Mr. Summers’ task is to foster cooperation among member institutions to broaden and enrich academic programs, encourage fiscal economies through shared services, facilitate interactions with industry, and expand and encourage student programming and community service activities. His work reminded me of the Amsterdam Economic Board, whose task is to foster collaboration between higher education, industry and public authorities in the Amsterdam region. Mr. Summers did it all on his own.

Eddie Summers told us about his organizing a lot of Meet-up’s: of bringing some thirty people together around a certain theme or subject, starting at four PM, ending at six, doing business. It really worked. He gave some great examples of local colleges starting to collaborate, industry helping colleges, public authorities making use of the knowledge of colleges, with the result of new startup’s as a spin-off. The startup ecosystem of Brooklyn, he explained, is a highly interwoven complex of colleges, institutions and buildings with a lot of startups in a relatively small area of old buildings, not too far from Manhattan. The ecosystem works because it is a dense tissue of highly interrelated activities, it has critical mass, with a high-tech component, it works, he added, through close proximity. You can experience it by walking around. That’s why we walked, walked, walked around untill late afternoon that Monday in October.

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Growth or decline

On 27 oktober 2015, in demografie, economie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in City Hall, New York, on Monday 19 October 2015:

Last Monday, on the first day of the masterclass NYC in New York, we visited New York City Hall. The masterclass, initiated by the city of Amsterdam, studies the interaction between cities and their universities. Master: Zef Hemel, holder of the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam. Edith Hsu-Chen, vice-executive director of the City Planning Department, borough of Manhattan, and Edwin Marshall, senior planner, gave useful introductions to the theme from the perspective of the city. The expansion plans of all the universities in New York City on the island of Manhattan, Mrs. Hsu-Chen stressed, are most remarkable, and the city is facilitating all of those plans. The universities are important, a major growth sector and an economy in itself. A decentralized, more evenly distributed pattern is not aimed for. In fact, the city understands that all the universities have their roots in Manhattan, and wish to stay there. That means constant rezoning, because in the costly, densily built environment of Manhattan huge volumes of extra floor space are needed. It can only be served by high rise. But of course there is a tension between new campus developments and daily life in residential neighbourhoods. Take New York University (NYU) on Washington Square, or Columbia University in West-Harlem. They all serve as study material in the masterclass.

On Tuesday we visited Toni Griffin, director of the Max Bond Center on Design of the Just City at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York. The center is based in Harlem, close to the campus of Columbia. Mrs. Griffin told us about her research on ‘legacy cities’ in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast of the United States. Some 48 cities are shrinking because they lose population and/or are economically depressed. Most of them are former industrial cities. Often they lack higher education or have to close down their colleges because of a lack of students. It’s a pattern of young adults leaving their hometown cities for college and not returning after graduation, or encountering obstacles to obtaining the educations needed to be competitive for local jobs. In America’s northeast, Boston and New York are the remaining growth poles, Carnegy Mellon University in Pittsburgh is also doing well, so higher education seems to be crucial in these struggling former industrial urban economies, who are all competing with the dynamic Westcoast and urban South economies. Size and density matter (all the fragmented land of Detroit fits easily in Manhattan), but also quality of the local colleges is critical to their economic future – whether it will be urban growth or decline. Even New York cannot ignore its universities. On the contrary, the city has to stimulate the quality of its higher education system by investing in it on a structural base.

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