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.

Tagged with:
 

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.

Tagged with:
 

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!

Tagged with:
 

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.

Tagged with:
 

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!

Tagged with:
 

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.    

Tagged with:
 

Elephant Cities

On 20 maart 2016, in Geen categorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Cities and the Wealth of Nations’ (1984) of Jane Jacobs:

At the Pakhuis de Zwijger meeting of last Friday, Nikki Brand and Jaap-Evert Abrahamse criticized my ‘plan’ for doubling the size of Amsterdam. Sure, I have to admit, I did not respond to their anxiety Amsterdam will turn into an ‘elephant city’ by letting it grow from one million inhabitants into two million within thirty years from now. By calling the enlarged Amsterdam an elephant city, they referred to Jane Jacobs, who wrote in ‘Cities and the Wealth of Nations’ that elephant cities are the result of faulty feedback systems. Her theory was that some cities would profit more from the national currency and get the right feedback, while other cities don’t. Paris, London, Sydney and Toronto are all one brain-stem breathing centers: so-called elephant cities. “Whichever city in a nation happens to be contributing most heavily to the international export trade is apt to be the city whose needs are best served by the national currency.” As far as small countries are concerned, she wrote, this was not really a problem – think of Finland (Helsinki), Sweden (Stockholm), Norway (Oslo) or Denmark (Copenhagen) –, but in big nations most cities will become inert and provincial because they get less feedback. How lucky we are, the Low Countries with our Ring City!

Amsterdam becoming an elephant city? Since the introduction of the euro in 2000 there is no Dutch currency any more, so Amsterdam cannot be or become an elephant city that is profiting exceedingly from the currency system. Two: a city of 2 million in a small country of 17 million people should not be disquieting. Three: it’s only normal that there is one city the biggest in the national city-ranking, and according to the rank-size rule the biggest has double the size of the second biggest city. In every country in the world this Zipf’s Law holds. Only in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is just a tiny bit bigger than Rotterdam, which is abnormal. Four: In the future the Dutch pattern will resemble more the Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish pattern, which is one of the city-state. Nothing wrong with that. And five: Jane Jacobs wrote she had just presented a hypothesis, so her theorising might be false. But she was right in pointing at the fact that elephant city-region patterns create miserable resentments and exacerbate bitterness or hatreds. The doubling of Amsterdam will not go unnoticed. By the way, what’s wrong with elephants? Wanna know more about Zipf’s Law? Read ‘A Tale of Many Cities’ of Edward Glaeser: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/a-tale-of-many-cities/?_r=0

 

Local Autonomy

On 17 maart 2016, in infrastructuur, ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 12 March 2016:

This week I had to defend myself at the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment at the session on the future of the Dutch system of physical investment programming (MIRT). They asked three collegues to give their view on the new programming, which we did. I said I doubted whether the officially proposed refined approach would be sustainable and referred to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 in the United Kingdom, which devolves housing, transport planning and policing powers to directly-elected mayors. Compared to that, the new Dutch system looks almost Asian-style: seemingly harmonious, authoritarian still, aiming total consensus. Glassy eyes. Devolution? Cities? In the Netherlands? I told them that some cities are becoming more and more important, even in our country, and that the inequality between cities is growing faster than you might think. In such a stringent situation the Dutch system will break one day or fail. That was, to put it mildly, a rather controversial proposition of a suspicious guy from Amsterdam. Is the capital city getting arrogant again?

Next day the London based The Economist published an article on ‘The Great Divergence’. America’s most successful cities are leaving the rest behind. In 2001 the richest 50 cities and their surroundings produced 27% more per head than America as a whole. Today’s richest cities make 34% more. The population of the first is increasing fast, much faster than other cities: 9,2% against 3,1%. The same holds for companies: some are very successful, while others are losing ground. And successful cities attract successful companies. So the fortunes of cities become more polarized. The Economist quoted Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, who in 2013 stated that ambitious and talented workers “would want to work in a relatively small number of cities and regions. These vibrant clusters would then benefit from increasing returns to scale, cementing their advantages.” That is exactly what is happening now. More local autonomy will be unavoidable.

Tagged with:
 

Winners and losers

On 12 maart 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘De verdeelde triomf’’ (2016) of Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving:

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in The Hague published its yearly spatial report last week. This year’s theme is urban inequality and justice: when economic inequality between cities and between cities and regions is growing, is it good or bad? The title of the report refers to Edward Glaeser’s ‘Triumph of the City’ (2011), but its content is largely inspired by Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs (2012). The American neoliberal triumph of cities in the Netherlands is much milder, but an unequal one too. The winners are Amsterdam and Utrecht, but the report does not highlight this too much. In a subtle way the autors even seem to critize the triumph (it is unfair) or should I say, their approach is a Calvinist one in the sense that they think it is almost sinful to celebrate the economic success of some big cities, and that we should always keep in mind that there are other cities that lack this potential and stay poor. We live in an egalitarian country. So their conclusion is: it’s up to politics to decide whether it’s troublesome or not. And don’t forget, in policy terms it is best to focus on people, their capabilities, not on geography.

An intermezzo in the report is on four major inner-city projects in the Netherlands: Zuidas and Wibautstraat in Amsterdam, and Kop van Zuid and Weena in Rotterdam. It is worthwile to study this chapter closely because it is meaningful. In the Fourth Report on Spatial Planning (1994), Zuidas ànd Kop van Zuid were to become two new, ambitious Central Business Districts in the two biggest cities of the country, like Canary Wharf in London and La Défense in Paris. The government didn’t dare to chose, so it promised to support both cities in their efforts to develop a costly CBD (so do it half). The conclusion after twenty years is that Zuidas is booming, but that Rotterdam’s Kop van Zuid is primarily a public-oriented development: almost 50 percent of all the jobs there are government-related, while in Amsterdam this is only 4 percent. Meanwhile, Weena and Wibautstraat had to reinvent themselves. In terms of new jobs Wibautstraat is extremely successful, with a great mix, while Weena is in a danger zone. The amount of vacant floor space there is alarming: 25 percent (on Wibautstraat only 5 percent). What does the government agency conclude? You really should read the full report.

Tagged with:
 

Capital of the Internet

On 9 maart 2016, in economie, energie, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in FD Morgen of 5 March 2016:

Its special last weekend on innovation, leadership and technology ‘Morgen’ was on ‘Cooling down’. Het Financieele Dagblad published a beautiful map on page 6 and 7 of its special which showed all the datacenters in the Netherlands as gleaming stars. According to the journalist, Bob de Lange, thirty percent of all the new datacenters of Europe of 2015 were built in the Low Countries, most of them you can find in and around Amsterdam: some 180 ‘data-hotels’, with a total floor space of 240.000 m2. Really? After London and Frankfurt, Amsterdam is number three now. So yes, that would be amazing and a real big success! But the fast growth of these datacenters is becoming an issue these days. The problem is one of sustainability, because these buildings consume a lot of electricity. More than half of their costs are for cooling. Some 10 percent of all the electricity consumption is for the internet, 50 percent more fuel than for air transport. And its share is growing fast, because ever more datacenters are needed. The newspaper introduces a new concept: ‘software footprint’. How to make software smart and sustainable, that’s the question. Why, then, such a tempting cartography?

There are at least 40 datacenters is Amsterdam, consuming 11 percent of all the electricity consumption of the 22.000 Amsterdam-based companies. In an agreement the centers promised to cut their energy use by 68 million kWh the coming years, that is 15 percent. This local policy, three years ago introduced, was not undisputed at all. Why would Amsterdam go green on its own? Why undermining its strong market position? But now I read in FD: “Amsterdam follows a more strict policy on CO2-emissions that stimulates all parties to intensify the search for new concepts, that could be interesting for other countries. This strengthens the export position of Dutch builders of datacenters.” So the policy was clever and now it’s profitable too. One drawback: the newspaper qualifies the whole of the Netherlands as ‘the capital of the internet’. A country is not a capital. Besides, the map shows different.

Tagged with: