On tour

On 19 augustus 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Seen in the Netherlands in August 2015:

Because the Dutch Minister of Interior Affairs, Mr. Plasterk, wants us to consider the Netherlands “as one big city of 17 million people”, I decided to make a two-weeks tour in my own city, after having spent a full week in London. What a strange city Holland is! I visited Rotterdam, Middelburg, Domburg, Tilburg, Den Bosch, Valkenburg, de Hoge Veluwe and Maastricht – say, the south part of the Dutch megacity. I walked, biked, drove a car.True, the province of Noord-Brabant looks like one big industrial estate: agro food, horticulture, pigs, poultry, construction firms, logistic halls, infrastructure, chemical plants. Also Limburg seemed to me one big entrepreneurial zone. Only the valley of the Geul has been saved. All provincial roads were filled with cars, the highways loaded with trucks. Tourists find their own zones: the inner cities of Middelburg, Den Bosch and Maastricht were crowded with shoppers and regional sight-seeers. People looked rich, prosperous, many were fat, with their white skins far from being members of a multicultural society. Now and then I saw some asylumseekers in the woods, who felt lost. Wherever I went the sky was filled with airplanes, the noise: there was always an airport nearby (Schiphol, Luik, Düsseldorf, Eindhoven). Remarkable trend: tourists renting scooters in hilly Limburg. And yes, public space is great everywhere, in every village the lampposts and benches are brand new, facades have been painted in fresh, bright colours. All thanks to VINEX (Dutch national spatial policy 1994-2015).

But what a strange city it is! If this is a city, it is the least densily built city in the world. It’s also a noisy city, full of cars, scooters and planes, unhealthy, stinking (after gas and manure), rich. But not sustainable at all, to say the least. The most astounding fact is the high vacancy rate of the real estate, all recently built. Even in the successfull inner cities of Den Bosch, Middelburg, Tilburg and Maastricht shops were left vacant, high rise was standing empty, there was simply too much office space. I could not guess why this building boom has found completion in this mass of houses, malls, stables, boxes, office parks, bricks and mortar, all spread out over the countryside. Does the apparent prosperity of the Dutch have anything to do with it? Was our booming economy based on building a maximum of dwellings, offices, shops, all to be furnished with junk we would consume? My tour ended in the national park of De Hoge Veluwe. An oasis. What a relieve!

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Going for gold

On 18 augustus 2015, in Geen categorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 25 July 2015:

Spent a week in London this summer with the whole family. On arriving at Gatwick airport I started reading the local newspapers. The title of an article in The Economist on the legacy of the London Olympic Games 2012 stroke me: ‘’Going for bronze’. Really just bronze? What did the UK taxpayer pay for the London Games, which were, as I remember, extremely successful? According to the London based newspaper it costed 14,5 billion dollar – more than double the original bid (9 billion pounds public money plus 250 million pounds for renovating the stadium and 141 million pounds for building the Olympic village). Three years later The Economist concludes that the Games did not boost sport in the UK. On the contrary, budget cuts have even diminished sport activities. The other aim of the Olympics – transforming London – has been reached though. Almost 3000 flats have been built in the eastern part of London; another 7.000 will be built in the coming years; the media center will reopen as a tech-startup hub and museums and universities will move to the site. And yes, the unemployment rate in this poor part of town was as high as 13%, but has fallen to 9% now.

Why then only bronze? The Economist: “With London’s extraordinary growth, the area would have been developed eventually in a piecemeal way, Olympics or not.” The newspaper thinks the games only sped the development up. As a planner I doubt whether this is true. The extraordinary growth of London is partly also due to the positive vibe and radiance of the Olympic project. Besides, we’re discussing the poorest parts of London: Newham and Tower Hamlets, chosen on purpose by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone. Sure, the Jubilee line and London City airport were already in place, but all these schemes fitted in the Greater London Plan of mayor Livingstone, of which the Games were, in fact, its centerpiece, its jewel in the crown. The most important legacy of the Olympic Games 2012 has been omitted in the article though. Public transport in London was in a very bad shape. The quality of mass transit has improved all over London very much since the bid for the Olympic Games was won. Modern busses, modern trains. Every two minutes a metro, every four minutes a bus, the oyster card works. The quality is far better than public transport in Amsterdam. And it is still improving because even Mr. Johnson keeps on investing in Transport for London. Without the games this would never have happened.


Importance of a ping-pong table

On 17 augustus 2015, in boeken, by Zef Hemel

Read this summer in London and on the beach:


At the beginning of every summer, more or less round the month of July, correspondents and critics of newspapers and popular magazines always give personal lists of their favorite books. ‘These are the books I advise you to read.’ I love those lists. So that’s why I give you my personal list of favourites now, even though it is late August, at the end of my holiday. This is what I read during this summer time, books – novels and non-fiction – which I found really worthwile reading:

1. London, the biography (2000), by Peter Ackroyd;

2. Freedom (2010), by Jonathan Franzen;

3. The Sleepwalkers (2012), by Christopher Clark;

4. Soumission (2014), by Michel Houellebecq;

5. NW (2012), by Zadie Smith.

The first book is about London, the city perceived by Ackroyd as body. Great. The second describes Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, but it also gives a great portrait of the dullness of Washington DC. Not to be missed. The third is about Belgrade, Serbia, on the eve of WWI. Horrible history. The fourth concerns Paris. Awesome. And NW, by the British novelist Zadie Smith, describes Willesden, North-West London. Willesden I visited mid July, when I went to London. I walked through the sleepy street where Leah lived. Leah, “a state-school wild card, with no Latin, no Greek, no Maths, no foreign language (…)”, living amongst Nigerians, Sikhs, lots of immigrant people in the neighborhood near Willesden Junction. “In Willesden people go barefoot, the streets turn European, there is a mania for eating outside.” I even visited Number 37 Ridley Avenue, Finchley Road, Willesden lane. So this is London too. The non-touristic, non-billionair immigrant city. Enjoy the language: “Elsewhere in London, offices are open/floor-to-ceiling glass/sites of synergy/gleaming. There persists a belief in the importance of a ping-pong table. Here there is no. Here offices are boxy cramped Victorian damp.” (…) “Face east and dream of Regent’s Park, of St. John’s Wood. The Arabs, the Israelis, the Russians, the Americans: here united by the furnished penthouse, the private clinic.” Yes, a boring place, but a true emancipation milieu. Read this great novel if you want to understand how citites like London and Paris function these days.

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Heb jij ideeën of dromen over de stad van de toekomst? Wonen we anders dan nu en hoe ziet de nieuwe economie eruit? Hoe blijven we gezond in de metropoolregio Amsterdam? Wordt de stad nog groener? Hoe verplaatsen we ons in de toekomst en hoe zal ICT de stad veranderen? Kortom: wat vind jij waardevol?

Kom op 9 september a.s. naar het 2e open atelier Volksvlijt2016 en denk en doe mee!

Volksvlijt 2016

Volksvlijt 2016 is een open platform waaraan iedereen kan bijdragen. In drie ateliers bouwen we samen met ontwerpers, kennisinstellingen, bedrijven, bewoners en studenten aan een nieuw toekomstperspectief op de metropoolregio Amsterdam. Alle ideeën en dromen komen samen in één enorme maquette die vanaf 12 april 2016 twaalf weken lang te bewonderen zal zijn in de Openbare Bibliotheek van Amsterdam. Naast deze tentoonstelling is er een interactief programma over de toekomst van de stad waarbij iedereen welkom is.

Meedoen op 9 september 2015

De stad van de toekomst is opgebouwd uit twaalf thema’s, zoals voedsel, logistiek, media, industrie, gezondheid, toerisme, ecologie, ICT en zelfvoorzienende buurten. In het atelier op 9 september kun je meedenken over de toekomst van deze thema’s samen met vernieuwende ontwerpers, die de ingebrachte ideeën verbinden

Hoe meer mensen meedoen, des te slimmer en aantrekkelijker de stad van de toekomst wordt. Dus, heb je ideeën over de stad of kennis van één van de thema’s? Ben je een betrokken stadmaker, visionair of creatief denker en wil je samen met anderen bouwen aan de stad van de toekomst?

Doe dan mee! De stad van de toekomst maken we samen.

Zef Hemel

Wibautleerstoel, Universiteit van Amsterdam | Amsterdam Economic Board 

Wat:                2e open atelier Volksvlijt

Wanneer:         Woensdag 9 september 2015, van 12.00 tot 18.00 u.

Waar:              Openbare Bibliotheek van Amsterdam (Oosterdok)

Bijdrage:          kennis, ideeën & toekomstdromen

>> Aanmelding (verplicht): via de volgende site: https://tamtam.viadesk.com/do/eventreadpublic?id=14706-6576656e74


Word lid van onze community op Facebook ‘Volksvlijt2016’ om op de hoogte te blijven van Volksvlijt.

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Keeping Amsterdam small

On 16 juli 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 2 July 2015:

On Friday we would meet. Thursday he published his strong opinion in the local newspaper Het Parool: ‘Maak van Mokum geen megastad’ (‘Do not turn Amsterdam into a megacity’). Friso de Zeeuw, professor at Delft Technical University, always prompts his readers to use more common sense. His approach is mostly temperate, stolid. He loves to warn for eggheads, and yes, he’s very conservative. So my proposal to double Amsterdam made him furious.  “It is a very bad idea’. In his article he calls a city of only two million inhabitants a ‘megacity’. Worse even, he thinks Amsterdam just should not grow (sic!), “our relatively small scale urban structure has huge advantages.” Then he praises the Dutch landscape of water, cows and villages, which he thinks is favorable in terms of climate change. To proof that urban density is not a precondition to mass transit, he mentions the buslanes north of Amsterdam (Mr. De Zeeuw lives in the village of Monnikendam). The system functions all very well, he states. He also warns for social inequality: ‘Our small-scale  urban structure prevents social segregation, so from a social point of view this is a great thing’. Lastly he thinks a new governance structure will be needed if Amsterdam doubles. That will only cause trouble, he knows, so keep Amsterdam small.

It is not easy to reflect on things if somebody tries to ridicule your argumentation, exaggerates your thoughts, simply does not want to change anything at all. I only wish Mr. De Zeeuw would study the Dutch ecological footprint, which is one of the worst in the world, and would consider a more sustainable way of living. And maybe – no less important – he would enter the discussion on the agglomeration economies, where it all started. He simply missed it. Those agglomeration economies are considerably higher in dense urban structures than in networks of small-sized cities and villages, at least that is what I’m trying to proof. But what irritates me most, is Prof. De Zeeuw accusing me of a lack of scientific argumentation. Mentioning the Territorial Review 2014 of OESO in his view is not enough. Did he read it? Mr. de Zeeuw, who is also director New Markets at developer BPD (Bouwfonds), gives no scientific argumentation himself. He only scatters strong opinions. I need a break now. Let’s fly to London.

Heard in Amsterdam on 19 June 2015:

Nederland Nu Als Ontwerp, OMA 1986

It was thirty years ago we first met. That Friday in June 2015 five of us were meeting again after so many years: Kees Rijnboutt, Moshe Zwarts, Taeke de Jong, Joseline Snepvangers, and me. Older, sadder and wiser. We all had worked together on ‘The Netherlands in 2050’, a unique exhibition on the spatial future of the Netherland in the Beurs van Berlage Amsterdam, 1987. The foundation was called ‘NNAO’ – ‘Nederland Nu Als Ontwerp’ –, it started its short life in 1984. We were asked to discuss the role of the initiator, Dirk Frieling, who died in April 2011, 73 years old. All, except one, were peers of Dirk, fellow students in architecture in Delft. They were in their seventies now. I was of a younger generation, asked by Dirk Frieling in 1984 to become a project manager, which I agreed on and which I never regretted afterwards. Kees and Moshe were at the board, Taeke was a researcher, Joseline did the finance, I produced the books, did the writing and organized the meetings. What we discussed? The role of Dirk Frieling, how he operated, how he moved on, what were his aims with the foundation, and what came out of it.

Most of the elderly thought the exhibition had not had much impact. Nothing much came out of it, they said. Kees Rijnboutt mentioned the collaboration of the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen, resulting in ‘De Waalsprong’ as the most concrete result. Really? I was surprised. According to me the huge exhibition and the twelve meetings at castle Moermond near Renesse had worked like platformization, a series of events where a diverse crowd of people met, discussed, designed and researched the longterm future of the Dutch Kingdom. Not only experts, but also citizens became deeply involved. The Fourth Report on Spatial Planning in the Netherlands (VINEX) can only be perceived as a result of the thinking in ‘Nederland 2050’. The attendees stressed the importance of designing, which NNAO advocated. Of course they were right. But personally I think Frieling had developed something more fundamental: NNAO was an inspiring platform for thinking of the many about their own future. The only thing we forgot was to aggregate the feedback. If that was done, we would have generated some kind of collective intelligence. Then the Netherlands would have looked different now.

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Rich Sydney

On 14 juli 2015, in internationaal, vastgoed, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 16 May 2015:

The six-bedroom Point Piper home sold just shy of its original asking price of $40 millio

Both correspondents of NRC Handelsblad in the Far East, Oscar Garschagen (China) and Melle Garschagen (Australia), wrote two articles on the real estate market in Sydney, Australia. Last year, Chinese investors spent 12 billion Australian dollars on real estate in the ‘country of land and rocks’, mostly in Sydney. Four years ago it was only 2 billion. One of the investors is the Chinese billionaire Xu Jiayin, who owns a fortune of 7 billion dollars. He bought a 39 million dollar-house on the bay. The Australian Minister of Finance, Joe Hockey, now forces him to sell it. Why? Because he thinks it is against the national interest. The real reason is political of course. Sydney is becoming too expensive for many people. Citizens can no longer afford a house in this successful city of 5 million inhabitants. One fifth of all property transactions is Chinese now. People are afraid the Chinese are boosting the prices. The average price of a dwelling in Sydney is now 1 million dollars. So a new law forces  foreign investors who want to buy a house worth less than 1 million dollars to pay a tax, which doubles if the price exceeds 1 million. For buying agricultural land worth more than 15 million dollars a special permit is needed.

Oscar Garschagen explains that the value of the yuan is rising, while the value of the Australian dollar is weakening. Big Chinese real estate firms like Wanda and Vanke were the first to enter the Australian market. Now the others follow. For the Chinese the US is still the most popular real estate market. (The yield of real estate in Europe, all Chinese think, is far lower). But it also has to do with government control. Many transactions are illegal, because Chinese families prefer to do business with secret banks that operate in networks on a global scale.  These illegal banks seem to work with a capital of 3.000 to 5.000 billion dollars. In Australia they can operate relatively easily. And all Chinese know that real estate prices may drop, but not the price of land. Because in Communist China the state owns all the land, Chinese have to buy it abroad.  Almost every Chinese dreams of getting rich and live the rest of his life in Australia. In Sydney. Sydney is in trouble. It is getting rich.

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Metro mayors

On 13 juli 2015, in economie, ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 6 June 2015:

George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer in the UK Cameron administration, called the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Sheffield urban region a new ‘Northern Powerhouse’. At least he wants it to become a new engine. The Economist agrees very much on that. Great Britain, it states, is one of the most centralised and economically unbalanced countries in Europe. It thinks part of the problem is “that local government is so toothless.” Really? “Over-centralisation is a strange problem for Britain to have. In the 19th century northern towns were like city-states, run by Victorian worthies who set up civic institutions and superb infrastructure. It was only with the coming of the welfare state in the 1940s that London took control.” After the austerity programmes of the central government, all city councils now want control of their own budgets. Osborne will give it to them if they collaborate and choose one mayor for themselves first, he promised. He calls it ‘metro mayors’. Will they do it? And will devolution help?

The article shows a diagram of four European countries with their biggest cities: Great Britian, Germany, Italy, Spain. The capital’s GDP in each cases is 100. It compares Britain to Germany and the other countries. Düsseldorf then makes more than 175, Milan 170, Barcelona 75. Manchester though makes only 7, Birmingham 6, Glasgow 5. Surprising? No, London is far bigger than Berlin, far more successful too because Berlin is not doing too well. Rome is dull compared to Milan. Take the Netherlands: Dutch government in The Hague is dominating, the political system is very centralised, but Amsterdam is growing faster though. What’s wrong with the British? Do they really think the success of London is due to centralised government policies? After 1940 British government created a green belt around London and built new towns in order to appease the monster. To no avail. Of course, de-centralisation is needed, (we all need city-states now), but centralisation is not the cause of London’s astounding success. Success just reinforces success. It’s globalisation that’s doing its work. Because of globalisation this uneven growth gets reinforced. This feels unjust. Devolution will only make it more explicit.

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Not an airport

On 9 juli 2015, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Heard on IJburg, Amsterdam, on 8 July 2015:

Mrs. Ruf comes from Singen, Germany, which means she’s born close to the Swiss border. She studied in Vienna, not in Berlin. Until recently she was the director of the Kunsthalle in Zürich, now she’s the new director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. And she bikes. Beatrix Ruf (1960) told us she bikes every day, without a helmet, from her new home in Amsterdam South to the Museumplein. She has looked for a house on IJburg, the latest extension of the city, but decided to buy one as close to the museum as possible. So now she can bike. She thinks the centre of Amsterdam is very crowded, more than the centres of Vienna, Zürich or Berlin. Lots of tourists, sure, but it also has to do with public space and the way all those people behave. The most dangerous, though, is not the anarchistic behaviour of the Amsterdam citizens, making their own rules, but the tracks of the tram. Not easy to avoid them with your bike.

It was a great introduction of Beatrix Ruf, speaking to the international audience of participants of summer school Thinking City. With a twinkling in her eyes she talked about modern art, the museum, the Museumplein, the way people use the square, the field (?), the plans she has with putting sculptures on it, the building itself, the first thing she did: making the entrance public by removing the portals. ‘It’s not an airport’. She seemed to have no particular interest in architecture, but planning and urban design fascinate her. She could not name an iconic building in Amsterdam, a particular building she likes very much. Looking from the top of the Hilton Hotel on the urban plan of Berlage, the view exites her though. She compared Zürich with Amsterdam. Both cities are rather small, but they are at the centre of an extended urban field, which make you feel you are living in an urban environment somehow. Also the openness to the world, the international, cosmopolitan atmosphere is what strikes her in both cities. What is unique in the Stedelijk case, she told us, is the way the citizens of Amsterdam feel like they’re owning the museum. It is THEIR museum. Everything that happens in the Stedelijk is controversial, worth a battle. She likes that very, very much. Great observation.

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Flooding your city

On 8 juli 2015, in water, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Household vulnerability to climate change’ (2011) of F. Linnekamp et. al.:

 Suriname Mangrove

What about Paramaribo, Surinam? Will the capital city of the former Dutch colony adapt to climate change in time? Searching for an answer, I found a paper, written by F. Linnekamp, A. Koedam en Isa Baud, University of Amsterdam, on household vulnerability to climate change in Georgetown and Paramaribo, published in Habitat International 2011. Especially the urban poor seem to be vulnerable. “Results show a lack of city-wide organization and participative measures for the households concerned, with possible detrimental effects on lower-income households.” Paramaribo, the capital city of Surinam, has a population of 240.000 people (2012). The low-lying city is situated on the banks of the Surinam River, at a distance of only 10 kilometers from the ocean. Mangrove is protecting the coastal zone, but over the last decades much has been cut. The case study concerned four neighborhoods in the Northern section, Geyersvlijt, Blauwgrond, Mon Plaisir and Morgenstond, the first two built in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the latter in the beginning of the 21st century.

Almost all respondents (90%) declared that floods occur in their neighborhoods during the rainy season (April-August). More than half experienced an increase over the last five years. The majority of households experiencing many floods live in low-income areas. The faltering drainage system in Paramaribo seems to be part of the problem. But also a change in the weather condition has been noticed, a change the inhabitants relate to climate change. “Many households (89%) also mention that, although it is not yet clearly visible now, sea-level rise will increasingly contribute to these risks.” The researchers found that households usually take individual action to prevent their yards and houses from being flooded. However, they do not contact local government. “The majority do not expect local government to be able to reduce flood problems in the future, although the general expectation exists that governments should take responsibility for city-wide protective measures.” But in a Thomson Reuters news item of 2013, I read that dumping garbage is also a problem. Sieuwnath Naipal, a hydrologist of the University of Surinam, thinks there is not just one problem, but a combination of many. Infrastructure and residential developments have moved to coastal areas, and newer canals have smaller gradients and are dumping ground for plastic bottles and other refuse, slowing the flow of water. WWF Guianas thinks protection of the mangrove forest is key. If it vanishes, ‘Surinam will be flooding its own city’ (Obsession Magazine 22 May 2013).

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