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.

On the road

On 18 juni 2015, in infrastructuur, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in B.Amsterdam, Amsterdam Slotervaart, on 4 June 2015:

The evaluation of the Highspeed train public tender by the Dutch politicians has ended last week. What a disaster. Big mistakes were made. Market failures. Technical failures. The Dutch state failed. Still missing those fast trains in The Netherlands. More lucky we are on the road. Jelle Vastert, of electric-car manufacturer Tesla, gave a great lecture on the EU Super Charger Programme at the Catch-Up session of the Amsterdam Economic Board on 4 June 2015. Theme: start-up ecosystems. How to develop them successfully. The audience were mostly young people, hackers, students, friends, some fourhundred of them. The corporates were a minority this time. So the discussions were a kind of battle between the corporates and the hackers: beat them! Destroy them! The only alternative seems to be: buy them!, as in the case of Marvia, a start-up that was bought by PostNL. Moderator was Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten of TheNextWeb. Vastert gave a great show on how his company is developing a network of electric charging stations all over Europe. It was about how advanced the European Union really is.

So where to go with your electric car this summer? Vastert asserted that it would be possible for the first time to drive with your Tesla car from Rome to the North Cape. At an interval of a three-hours drive you would find another charging station. A stop of only twenty minutes is needed to drive to the next station, although for a full charge it takes at least 75 minutes (Super charger works twenty times faster than a regular charger). The use is for free. A year ago there were only 14 Supercharger stations spread across Norway, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands. August 2014 there were already 50 stations opened. Every day, Tesla claims, they open one somewhere in Europe. Now you will find them also in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Denmark, and Sweden. The Supercharger stations have been planned strategically: between the biggest cities. Why? Because the use of electric cars started in metropolises, not on the countryside. And how lucky Europe is! So many cities. Compare it with Asia, where Tesla is also developing a Supercharger network. Just a coastal road. So what about those highspeed trains?

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Winner takes all

On 17 juni 2015, in bestuur, economie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 12 June 2016:

In the UK, just like in many other countries, regional inequality is growing fast. London is the big winner, cities in the North are the big losers. As Richard Florida already forecasted years ago, the world is getting pretty spiky. The principle is simple: ‘success breeds success’. The winner takes all. This feels uncomfortable, to say the least. But in ‘Time for a civic surge’ The Economist writes about “the best opportunities for Engeland’s regional cities for a renaissance in decades” – opportunities they must not waste.  The Economist: “Britain is absurdly top-heavy: whereas half a dozen German cities have economies three-quarters the size of Berlin’s, no English city’s economy is even a quarter the size of London’s.” But can you do anything about it? How to stop London being successful? This is what governments always do: embracing distributive justice by relegating public money from successful cities to struggling cities in the hope markets will follow. Also London-based The Economist thinks the other cities in the UK should grab their chance now. George Osborne, the chancellor in the Cameron administration, has offered to cede billions of pounds of public spending to clusters of cities that agree to join together and be run by an elected mayor. So do it! I’m afraid more countries will follow his model.

Will it work? Surely not. Jane Jacobs was clear about it. In ‘Cities and the Wealth of Nations’ (1985) she dismantled all existing economic theory and argued that a nation is an inadequate unit of analysis for understanding economic life. Differences between cities – some rich and some poor – in one country simply cannot be balanced by redistribution. The point is, countries and also economists, she stressed, do not understand how cities work. Only local production can create wealth, wealth cannot be bought or acquired by loans or grants. The Economist also hesitates, but the magazine only points at some practical objections. It thinks the conditions under which the British government will redistribute taxpayers money will be too troublesome for many cities. They will not collaborate. The editors also point out the danger of incompetence and corruption. They’re right. Nevertheless, “This deal offers a chance to claw back power, make savings and reshape English governance.” I don’t think so. It will only harm the British economy. Trouble is on the road again.

Wall of Money

On 16 juni 2015, in economie, vastgoed, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 9 and 12 June 2015:

Alarming news. Vacant real estate in the Netherlands since 2010 more than dubbeled. The total amount of square meters empty office space is now 9 million, of m2 empty retail space it’s 2,7 million. And it gets worse, even after the crisis. Why? Because a ‘wall of money’ is flooding the real estate market since the financial crisis ended. That was the alarming news in NRC Handelsblad of 12 June 2015. Edwin Buitelaar, researcher at the Planning Bureau for the Built Environment in The Hague, gave a serious warning. However, no one seems to listen. While planning restrictions get less and less tight (spatial planning in general seems to be hampering economic growth), money flows in. The coming years the real estate market will grow on a massive scale, because there will be no profitable alternative to invest in. So vacant buildings will become the standard soon. Buitelaar thinks especially new shopping malls will have a devastating effect. Whole shopping streets could become ghost areas. Capitalism could destroy our heritage and our communities.

However, economists think the building industry is key for the recovery of the national economy. Especially the housing market is crucial in their eyes. Maarten Schinkel wrote on this new dogma on the front page of NRC Handelsblad of 9th of June. In ‘Optimism about the Dutch economy thanks to the housing market’ he explains why. Over the last twenty years the Dutch economy and the housing market have become heavely intertwined. In fact, VINEX (National Policy on Spatial Planning) has become a part of the Dutch national monetary policy. It means that the value of all the housing stock should be rising permanently, otherwise the economy will not grow. Still many dwellings are ‘under water’, (which means: the actual value is lower than when they were bought). And we all know that it takes a long time before dwellings will be abandoned. At this moment many Dutch households already stick to their place, because they cannot sell their real estate. With this ‘wall of money’ coming in it will even get worse. It may cure the economy, but it will destroy the Dutch landscape. Capitalism without planning is a horrible scenario. (photo: RAAAF, Vacant NL)

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