Peak Trade

On 19 juni 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 28 April 2016:

Again two newspaper articles worth reading: one of Frank Boll (28 April), on capitalism triumphant, the other of Maarten Schinkel (4 May), on the future of global trade. Boll, founder of Ecofis, wrote in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on how capitalism liberated migrants from the countryside on a massive scale since the Chinese started their economic liberalisation policies at the end of the seventies of the twentieth century. Urbanization started, poverty rates dropped, two billion people entered the middle class, world income doubled. So why is everybody criticizing capitalism nowadays? It seems the tremendous success of capitalism is creating its own enemies. It did so, Boll emphasizes, in the past too, time and again. The point is, he thinks, most of the developing world is still lacking full capitalism: land rights for the poor in particular. Then he quotes Nobel prize laureate Robert Solow (1924), who did research in the fifties and later on the evolution of economic growth. Land, labour, and capital can explain only 20 percent of economic growth. Eighty percent is non-economic: human capital, technology, social institutions, urbanisation, advanced cities providing both civic institutions and technological infrastructure. Regimes patronizing their citizens always reduce growth. (More on Solow: ).

Schinkel, editor of NRC Handelsblad, tried to explain the massive protests against TTIP, the Trade Pact between the US and Europe being negotiated. Globalization reached its peak in 1914. With the Great War, times of global prosperity ended, nation-states took over, which resulted in more crisis, another war. Then it took more than sixty years of troublesome state-to-state negotiations to reach the old level of globalization again. And, yes, now we all feel uncertain again. Why? Too many shocks, technology is developing too fast, urbanizing China entering the world market being a major shock we still have to accommodate. Again we all seem to long for strong nation-states, people hoping their governments will protect them. Schinkel: “Maybe this era of ever expanding global trade is over and are we now experiencing a 1914-moment. Whether this lack of global solidarity is making the world safer, can be doubted.” Sure, the nation-state will be no help. It will make things worse. Only global networks of expanding and collaborating cities can save the world. So enterpreneurial citizens all over the world, unite!

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The wrong conclusion

On 13 juni 2016, in demografie, voedsel, water, by Zef Hemel

Read in De Volkskrant of 13 February 2016:

Two newspaper articles. The first one on water shortages in the world. Arjen Hoekstra, professor Watermanagement at Wageningen University, thinks at least 4 billion people in the world are suffering from water shortages during at least one month a year. That’s far more than expected. Almost half of them live in India and China, the rest in the West of the US, Mexico, Australia, North- and South-Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. When the need for fresh water is more than double the locally available amount, the water resources will deplete, ground water level will decrease, agriculture and industry will collapse.  The use of drinking water is only 4 percent of the total use of fresh water; but one person, Hoekstra charges, uses almost 4.000 litres of water on a daily base, mostly for animal products. All world conflicts are on water shortages nowadays, indirectly they are on hunger and agricultural mismanagement, not on oil, religion, inequality or scarcity of natural resources. Drought explains the bad condition of at least half the world, our gloomy global future.

The other article was an interview with Raj Patel, British development economist and author of ‘The Value of Nothing’. Patel is worried about how to feed 9 billion people on this planet in the future, especially now that the world is confronted with climate change. His Malthusian approach brings him to the conclusion that the only way to solve this problem is to build strong local communities as a countervailing power for the big corporations and the corrupt and failing governments. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. He thinks the pull to the megacities is wrong. Urban people will get poor and stay poor. Is he right? I don’t think so. Cities can store and will distribute fresh water, agriculture will be become more sustainable if cities feel responsible for their food supply, and poor migrants could become a new middle class. Cities are innovative, sustainable, healthy, social, tolerant, prosperous, dynamic. Poor citizens, women in particular, are more free – more free than in rural areas. To think they are better off on the countryside would be a big mistake. Mahatma Gandhi was wrong. So is Patel.

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East Asia’s rapid urban growth

On 8 juni 2016, in bestuur, duurzaamheid, by Zef Hemel

Read in East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape (2016) of the World Bank:


Should be front page news: with its 42 million inhabitants, Pearl River Delta is the largest city in the world, larger even than Tokyo. Urbanisation in East Asia in general is growing very fast. According to the World Bank the total urban population of the region increased from 579 million in 2000 to 778 million in 2010, an average annual growth rate of 3.0 percent. Much of this growth was driven by China, which has the largest urban population in the region (and the world), 477 million urban inhabitants in 2010, more than the urban population of the rest of the region combined. And more urbanisation is expected to come. The good news is: density in these Asian megacities is high, and it is increasing in general. Urban areas in East Asian cities are now 1,5 as dense as the average for the world’s urban areas, twice as dense as European cities, and even 50 times denser than (sub)urban areas in the USA. So these cities are far more sustainable than European and American cities.  “The pace, scale, and form of East Asia’s urbanization will have long-lasting effects on the region’s social, economic, and environmental future. As urbanization rapidly transforms the face of East Asia and the lives of its citizens, urban policy makers and planners have an important role to play in ensuring that urban expansion, and the economic growth it brings, is efficient, sustainable, and inclusive.” Sure.

The World Bank thinks metropolitan governance is key. Of course, the bank is right. But the chapter on governance in the report is rather one sided. The bank thinks consolidation is needed, with special bodies to provide specific services in these metropolitan areas. “Overcoming issues related to metropolitan fragmentation requires considering tradeoffs between localized and centralized administrative authority. Cities must adopt flexible approaches that adapt to urban growth and evolve to meet the changing needs of citizens.” Sounds great, but when it comes to giving examples the bank tends to prefer centralized authority, more than adaptation and flexibility. No examples of  bottom-up approaches, new forms of collaboration, open and inclusive planning, localized authority, building a civil society. Instead, annexation, and dissolving lower tiers of government is what the bank is promoting. We know these arrangements are no real help. We can do far better. This, I told my students last week. They were excited.

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Country in a Clusterclimax

On 5 juni 2016, in economie, innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in De Volkskrant of 28 May 2016:

Strange map in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant last week. Almost hilarious if not depressing. The map showed all the latest campusses in the Netherlands with their special brands: technopolis, bio science, healthcare, IT, geomatics, green chemistry, water, sensortechnology, energy, services, food, horti science, space, knowledge. The whole country has turned into a wide range of valleys. But the queer thing is that cities on the map are lacking. In ‘Every village a silicon valley’, journalist Remco Andersen confirms that specialists think this spatial and functional fragmentation is absurd and wrong. “The Netherlands are in a clusterclimax,” Miranda Ebbekink of Nijmegen University remarked. She thinks it is a race to the bottom. But the Dutch government, all the twelve provinces and the EU seem to encourage this fragmentation by subsidizing many new local initiatives. Every province wants to establish its own campuses, some even think two or three are needed. My guess is they all are trying to upgrade their vacant business parks. To no avail.

The map reveals how this country disregards agglomeration economies and how it doggedly misinterprets Michael Porter’s theory of clustering. The scale and complexity at which innovation happens is nearly totally neglected. Urbanization patterns play no role, local authorities think post-industrial innovation is a matter of putting some experts together in an office block in the outskirts of a provincial town, add an incubator and a restaurant and miracles will happen. They missed all notions of new forms of centrality. Porter: “The more that one thinks in terms of microeconomics, innovation, clusters, and integrating economic and social policy, the more the city-region emerges as an important unit.” (Porter, 2001)  The map in the newspaper shows no city-regions. In its Territorial Review of the Netherlands in 2014 the OECD pointed at the urgency to create a National Urban Policy Framework which is currently lacking in the Netherlands. Such a policy should improve economies of agglomeration and reduce fragmentation. That was two years ago. Since then, nothing has happened.

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Philadelphia Blues

On 3 juni 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad on 24 May 2016:

Pia de Jong is a Dutch columnist living in Princeton, New Jersey. Her weekly writings in NRC Handelsblad are on events happening in her personal and family life. Every Tuesday I read them. Last week she wrote about her recent visit to Philadelphia. I loved this one. Her subject was the SS United States. The old steamship, dating from 1952, is lying in the harbor of Philadelphia. Its owner, the SS United States Conservancy, wants to renovate it, hoping it will navigate and cross the oceans again. But its interior is full of PCB’s and asbestos, and its decorations and furniture are all gone. It will cost a fortune to bring the ship back in its old condition. And Philadelphia is a poor city in the Eastern Rust Belt region. So this huge boat lies there rusting already for more than two decades now. The US Conservancy announced in October 2015 that the ship would be sold to a scrapyard if there was no buyer. Will it be saved? De Jong ends her column by comparing the condition of the ship with the condition of the USA, and the owner of the SS United States with Donald Trump. Can they make America great again?

In I read an article about a deal concerning the steamship that has been announced in February 2016. It was news nobody expected. The Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises then signed an option agreement with the SS United States Conservancy that it would turn the old vessel into a luxury cruise ship. In 2018 passengers will be able to board the old Grand Lady again, designed by the famous naval architect William Francis Gibbs. The project’s cost is estimated at more than 700 million dollars, and a 600-person crew will run the vessel. In five months we shall know if the deal will result in further negotiations. It reminded me of another ship, lying the Rotterdam harbor, the SS Rotterdam. A local housing corporation had decided to renovate it. The renovation costed 230 million euro, so it ended as a scandal. And what about poor Philadelphia? According to Brookings Institution, Philadelphia economic growth is among the worst. In 2013 it ranked 250th for economic growth of the world’s 300 biggest metropolitan economies. Rotterdam ranked 292nd. That was after the crisis. Both cities didn’t recover. They better not invest in ships.

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Pact of Amsterdam as window dressing

On 31 mei 2016, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Heard in the People’s Industry Palace in Amsterdam on 30 May 2016:

The EU is in a crisis. And it’s a big one. Something went wrong. Remember, for many years Europe has been a sex object in the world. These times are gone. What happened? Mr. Jan Zielonka, professor of European Policy and Society, gave a dark and gloomy lecture yesterday evening on the future of the EU in the temporary People’s Industry Palace in Amsterdam. The lecture was organized by the Amsterdam Economic Board in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam. That same day the EU had presented its Urban Agenda in the Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam. So what happened? First there was the financial crisis, then the euro crisis, Greece not being able to pay its debts (and it will not either), next the internet revolution, it ended up with the refugee crisis; the whole Mediterranean is now turning into one big cemetery. So there is a crisis of cohesion in the EU, a crisis of trust, and, most important, a crisis of imagination. We don’t know how to fix the crisis. Mr. Junker is a ‘Spitzenkandidat’, a man we should have been happy with, his appointment the greatest triumph of democracy. How sad. We’re not even supposed to criticize.The only real new thing the EU came up with was the national referendum. So now the people in the Netherlands, in the UK, in Hungary can vote on matters of great complexity, with implications for the whole of the EU. How democratic is that? There is no plan-B. “Are we going to wait for Mrs. Le Pen and Mr. Wilders?”

The problem are the nationstates. Some have turned into protectorates, others look like semi-failed states, Germany behaves like an empire. They have become dysfunctional without noticing it. They’re working in a hierarchical way. And so is the whole of the EU, which is a creation of the member-states, with Berlin at the top. “We got more rules, but no governance. In this situation an Urban Agenda doesn’t help. The cities of Europe do not wait for the EU. Life goes on.” Mr. Zielonka pointed at the fact that we’re living in an economy and a society that have become more global and more networked, with powerful multinationals and megacities. Sure, we trust our leaders, but they don’t deliver. No, the situation doesn’t look very well. Mr. Zielonka believed that if you cannot push forward, you will have to step back. Brussels should disperse power. We need more horizontal structures. But this the nationstates will not do. So what happens if institutions become dysfunctional? There will be more ad hoc arrangements, people finding pragmatic solutions; this is probably the only way. What about the EU then? The EU should abolish the monopoly of the states on integration and stop working like an old propaganda machine; instead of territorial integration it should allow functional integration. And it should decentralize governance to a lower level. Back to the nationstates is no option. And just like the Lisbon Agenda, the Urban Agenda – this Pact of Amsterdam – is no more than window dressing.

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Cities Becoming a Luxury Good

On 25 mei 2016, in stedelijkheid, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read on of 24 May 2016:

In ‘Urban Living Becomes a Luxury Good’ of 24 May, Justin Fox of Bloomberg described how after the financial crisis Americans are flooding the city centres of the biggest cities. The suburbs are still there, but something fundamental has changed. Increase in employment in downtown areas of US metropolitan areas is as big as jobs growth in the urban periphery, but on the housing market downtown is the real winner. True, the share of Americans living in suburbs has continued to grow, but at the same time the real estate prices in the city centres have flipped. Both phenomena are linked to each other. The farther from downtown, housing prices steeply drop. Rich Americans now chose to live in downtown areas, which means a fundamental shift in living preferences. Fox: “The shift toward urban living was also most pronounced among whites, the highly educated and the 34 to 49 cohort.” Which means, Fox adds, that urban living is becoming a luxury good, a thing many Americans can no longer afford.

Fox’ conclusion is the cities must put up a lot more buildings in or near the city centres. Let me add that the same holds for European cities like Amsterdam. It reminded me of the contribution of MVRDV for the ‘Grand Paris’ competition of the French president Sarkozy in 2009 (picture). In ‘Paris Plus Petit’, the Dutch architects advocated more ambition, more optimism, more density, more efficiency, more ecology and more compactness. “Greater Paris needs a strong combination of responsibility and ambition to continue its development, to ensure its consistency and to develop a cohesion that can build a base for a collective enterprise to solve its problems, to enlarge its presence and attractiveness, to create an even more remarkable, exemplary city.” In Paris, after the competition the city chose for densifying the periphery by extending the regional metro-system, not for densification per se. In Amsterdam we should though.

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De omelet is gebakken

On 24 mei 2016, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord in de OBA op 23 mei 2016:

Volgens hoogleraar Frank Vandenbroucke (foto: Rob Stevens) is een sterk sociaal beleid op Europees niveau pure noodzaak. Zo’n sociaal beleid kan niet vanuit Brussel bewerkstelligd worden en zeker niet met een Big Bang worden ingevoerd, maar zal op alle niveaus, van steden, regio’s, natiestaten en EU, stap voor stap moeten worden ontwikkeld. Hoe dat precies moet gebeuren is inderdaad een groot democratisch probleem. Toch is het urgent. De ongelijkheid tussen en binnen de lidstaten groeit namelijk snel. Noord en Zuid drijven de laatste tien jaar sterk uit elkaar; de herverdelende kracht van de natiestaten neemt af; de EMU heeft dit alles nog verergerd. In de komende jaren, aldus de nieuwe universiteitshoogleraar aan de UvA, moeten belangrijke stappen in de richting van een breed sociaal pact worden gezet. Tijdens de vierde Amsterdamlezing van dit jaar in het tijdelijke Paleis voor Volksvlijt te Amsterdam riep Vandenbroucke, zelf oud-minister van België en tegenwoordig binnen de UvA bezig met onderzoek naar en debat over de maatschappelijke betekenis van de Europese Unie, met klem op tot actie.

In zijn heldere betoog vergeleek Vandenbroucke de economie van de VS met die van de EU. De eerste blijkt veel beter in staat om schokken in de economie te dempen dan de tweede. In Amerika schiet de federale staat individuele staten direct te hulp als zij door externaliteiten in de problemen komen. Weliswaar zijn de vangnetten in de VS minder riant dan in veel EU-lidstaten, maar de herverzekering door Washington is wel solider en ook onomstreden. Dergelijke solidariteit
mist Vandenbroucke in Europa. Hij sprak zelfs van een ‘Unie van wantrouwen’. Solidariteit alleen binnen de lidstaten noemde hij ‘parochiaal’. Herverzekering van nationale verzekeringen op EU-niveau vond hij niet alleen logisch, maar ook noodzakelijk, dus die zou nu ook hier moeten worden georganiseerd, zij het dan wel op Europese wijze. Was dit, vroeg het publiek hem, wel realistisch gezien de staat waarin Europa op dit moment verkeert? Was hij niet te idealistisch? Of was hij juist een typische Euro-technocraat die koste wat het kost Europa wil doorontwikkelen? Vandenbroucke begreep de zorg maar stelde met klem dat er geen weg terug is. Met de Muntunie heeft Europa een omelet gebakken. Daarvan, voegde hij eraan toe, kan men geen eieren meer maken.

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Back-to-the-city movement

On 19 mei 2016, in wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The New York Nobody Knows’ (2013) of William Helmreich:

On 12 May 2016 Richard Florida wrote an article in Citylab on a new report of the NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy on gentrification in the Big Apple. The researchers divided 55 New York City neighborhoods into three categories: gentrifying, non-gentrifying, and higher-income. Gentrification is happening in 15 neighborhoods (27 percent), 7 are non-gentrifying, and 33 neighborhoods are higher-income already since 1990. The gentrifying neighborhoods were all in Upper Manhattan and in Brooklyn (Williamsburg/Greenpoint). Rent increase in Brooklyn is “a whopping 78 percent”, in West-Harlem and the Lower Eastside more than 50 percent, in Morningside Heights 30 percent. Florida: “Gentrification in New York City is the outcome of a series of economic and demographic trends that have transformed the city more broadly – notably, the surge in more educated, affluent, younger, and single people headed back to the city.” Average households income are rising. Young, educated people all seem to concentrate. The population of New York City as a total is rising again too, also in the non-gentrifying and higher-income neighborhoods. So, do gentrifiers displace the poor? No. In reality poor ànd rich, they all have to deal with steeply rising rent burdens.

The article, sent to me by Lars Boering, managing director of World Press Photo, reminded me of the chapter on gentrification in a great book written by William Helmreich. In ‘The New York Nobody Knows’ (2013), this professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of CUNY, explored the city by walking 6000 miles through its streets, thus reaching out for every corner and alley. His conclusion is: “When all is said and done, gentrification is a complex issue. It has swept through many parts of the city and has been helped along by many interests. It is changing the face of New York and will shape its future for decades. By observing it on the ground, it becomes possible to see these complexities from different angles, many of the positive, some not necessarily so.” In the Netherlands people think gentrification is dubious. Dutch opinionmakers better be envious, walk 6000 miles in New York City, or read ‘’The New York Nobody Knows’. There’s reason to be far more positive.

Metropolitan governance issues

On 16 mei 2016, in bestuur, participatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in of 29 April 2016:

This week, some ninety students Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam will finalize their course on Cities in Transition by passing their exams. Six weeks long they have studied urban transitions in Moscow, Istanbul, Seoul, Toronto, and Amsterdam, all related to globalisation ànd regionalisation. They read papers of Allen Scott, Saskia Sassen, Peter Hall, Engin Isin, Michael Porter, Thomas Courchene, Ian Buruma, and John Friedmann. They discovered that many cities outperform countries. Last week lecture and workshops were on governance issues. How can the global city-regions of the future be governed and how will metropolitan planning look like if city-regions will be connected in global urban networks? We discussed this issue in the temporary People’s Industry Palace (Volksvlijt 2056) in the Public Library of Amsterdam. Wonder if they also read Kemal Dervis and Bruce Katz. In their article on the website of the Brookings Institution, the two – Dervis the vice-president and director of Global Economy and Development, Katz the cross-disciplinary Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution –, claim that governing cities will be the central challenge facing nearly all countries over the next century.

Dervis and Katz think a fundamentally stronger understanding of how governance relationships are structured and function is necessary. “This is critical at a time when inequality among cities – even within the same country – is growing at a rate just as worrying as inequality within a particular urban economy.” Brookings Institution will start a research on how urban and metropolitan governance nowadays works in a comparative context. “We will try to learn from those that have been most successfull and understand the underlying reasons for success as well as the remaining challenges.” My students know this, they have prepared themselves. End of the week they can reflect on how the key powers and responsibilities are distributed in different nations and cities among different levels of government and how difficult it is for city governments to deal with fiscal constraints and debt burdens. Their comparative research on governance issues in five global cities ended in Volksvlijt 2056, Amsterdam. The exhibition annex program illustrates how thousands of citizens can get involved in these governing issues and help generate a kind of collective intelligence on a regional scale, only in twelve weeks time.

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