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.

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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.

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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.

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On 5 maart 2016, in cultuur, geschiedenis, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘De wereld van gisteren’ (1944) of Stefan Zweig:

His ‘Die Welt von Gestern’ was published in 1944, the book was translated in Dutch bij Willem van Toorn in 1990, I read it only last week. A great book it is! On 22 Februari 1942 the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and his wife committed suicide in Brazil. His autobiography was published two years after his death. It is a personal history of twentieth century Europe, with great portraits of its famous writers, artists, musicians, composers and scientists, above all its great cities: Vienna, Paris, Berlin, London, Salzburg, Moscow, but also New York. Paris was Zweigs favourite, but Vienna was where the writer came from. Zweig was obsessed by the creative moments of great people, like Beethoven, Strauss, Rilke, Einstein, Schubert, Rolland, Freud, he collected their manuscripts, sometimes even their tables and chairs. But I must say, his descriptions of cities where all the geniuses he admired spent their lives, are among the best. All his life he travelled like a gypsy, a poor migrant, ignoring borders, living in great cities he loved the most. Vienna functioned as his pied-a-terre. And yes, politicians he detested, no matter which party they represented.

Vienna, Zweig writes, is the city of music. But Paris is the true city of inspiration. Everybody felt at home in Paris, whether you were Chinese, Scandinavian, Spaniard or Greek, Brazilian or Canadian. Feeling no constraint, one could think, laugh, make noise as much as you liked, everybody lived his or her own life, alone or together, luxurious or like a bohemian, everything could be said, the city was full of opportunities. You should have known Berlin in order to fully appreciate Paris, Zweig observes. The blood of revolution, he adds, was still in the streets, no one felt less than the others, there was no separation between the well-to-do and the working class people. Nothing felt arduous or rigid. `Ah, how weightless your life felt, how good life was for you, especially if you were young.` It was the Paris of 1904. And the young Zweig had rented a room near the Palais-Royal, a romantic study in the innermost magic circle of the busiest city of the world. Freedom is what a genius needs, good food, and a huge and diverse crowd!

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The prestige of a system

On 25 februari 2016, in water, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Capital. The Eruption of Delhi’ (2015) of Rana Dasgupta:

What is happening in Haryana, India, at this very moment, is quite alarming. You should read the last chapter of Dasgupta’s great book on Delhi. I’ll explain. The farmers in this Indian state are revolting, the riots of the Jat community are political and very dangerous indeed. Cause: extreme drought, thirst, hunger, like in Syria, where the farmers also were forced to leave the countryside and moved to Dasmascus and Aleppo. And you know what came out of that! So their actions are against the capital city, Delhi, their mighty neighbour. And maybe you know that Delhi is growing very fast. It has more than 20 million inhabitants and soon it will be the biggest city in the world. Due to the protests, at least 10 million people in Delhi suffer because the farmers in Haryana are sabotaging the canal that transports the water to the metropolis.  They want jobs and opportunities for studying at public universities, in short, they claim their rights. They are desperate. In the end they might migrate to the megacity. Dasgupta gives valuable background information.

Dasgupta writes about Anumpam Mishra who is one of the citizens of Delhi who transcends the general self-involvement and sees the planetary extension in the adjacent and particular. His walk with him through the city leads both men to the river. Anumpam tells him how the continuous and sophisticated water system of Delhi, built on a rich underground supply, evolved through the ages and how everything changed when the British came. The old philosophy was: if you take, you must put back. They stored the water and every monsoon they gave back. But the colonial power broke this 1.000 years of water knowledge. The British were only interested in the river. They even started damming the Yamuna river and ran pipelines into the city. They made people dependent on the system they introduced. Worse even, Delhi people no longer had to think about their water. Anumpam: “It is the prestige of a system that directs you to conserve it and honour it; if that prestige disappears people cease to care.” Of the seventeen rivers and 800 water bodies, hardly any are left. According to Anumpam it is a complete disaster. Add to that the boycott of the Haryani farmers and you understand the seriousness of what is happening. Delhi should revitalize its old system and prepare itself for new waves of poor migrants.

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Let’s suburbanize!

On 23 februari 2016, in demografie, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Guardian of 9 February 2016:

While the Dutch newspapers reported that people are leaving the Dutch cities again (‘Meer mensen verlaten de grote steden’, in NRC Handelblad), thus suggesting the revival of suburbanization, the city center of Amsterdam is coping with the biggest crowds on its streets in history. Crowd management is badly needed, the city center is flooding, the city thinks it can no longer accommodate all those visitors. It proofs that Dutch demography as a discipline is outdated. Demographers simply work with statistics of households and inhabitants, they do not reflect critically on what they find, and the new data are only on domestic migration, it ignores internationalisation. At the same moment the British newspaper The Guardian published a far more intelligent article on dynamic urban demographics in the UK. In ‘Is Britain full?’, Andy Beckett writes that the British population is growing unusually fast. In 2030 it will house more people than France, in 2047 more than the whole of Germany. In the near future Great Britain will be the most populous country in Europa, its economy is booming. It is a trend nobody had expected. And yes, London is the epicenter of this exciting trend. The cities’ infrastructure is almost collapsing. Lack of resilient planning?

People do sense the crowdedness in and around London nowadays, The Guardian observed. “Doom-mongers warn that schools, hospitals, roads and housing are overstretched.” They don’t like it at all. The Guardian: “Our expanding population is almost always talked about in negative terms.” But imagine, the newspaper adds, all the problems you would have to deal with if the population was shrinking! London was a shrinking city in the sixties and seventies. For those who lived there it was a horrible time. People wanted to leave. So people should be happy instead! Population growth makes austerity less painful. But most people don’t want the disturbance of large numbers of people coming. The newspaper quotes experts explaining that population is not well discussed in Britain. They think it is because England is an old and constrained country. “We’ve forgotten what depopulation feels like.” For the Netherlands the situation is a bit different. Most of the people in this small provincial country hate thrilling, high-density 24-hour cities. They do not want to be disturbed. They think that those leaving the cities hate the crowdedness or prefer suburbanision. They do not. They simply cannot enter the cities. Too small.

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The Amsterdam Dream

On 17 februari 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘’Landscapes of Power’ (1991) of Sharon Zukin:

Walt Disney, the urbanist, is one of my heroes. His EPCOT, dating from 1982, was a very optimistic, brave enterprise, a utopian landscape of imagination that inspired many ordinary people. EPCOT is the abbreviation of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney wanted to build it in Orlando, Florida. He wrote: “It will be a city that caters to the people as a service function. It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educactional opportunities. In EPCOT there will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. No slum areas because we will not let them develop. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees. Everyone must be employed.” Doesn’t that sound great? It was the American dream. Sharon Zukin describes it as a conservative utopia. She thinks Disney’s ability to abstract the desires of the powerless and project them as a landscape for mass visual consumption was new and very influential. With EPCOT, she writes, Disney stimulated a whole regional complex of service-sector activities around tourism and real estate development.

So why do I admire Disney? Because of his braveness in the first place, and his utopian vision. But also his effectiveness in boosting an economy. Our People’s Industry Palace (PIP) that will open mid April this year in Amsterdam, is, in a way, a different EPCOT, a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It is a very optimistic enterprise on the future of the city that will abstract the dreams of children and project them as a landscape for mass visual production, (not mass consumption). It is utopian, but progressive this time, and everything will be out of control. It is a European dream. In the Palace the young will share their personal dreams on the future, and all their dreams might come true. Why? Because the people will empower themselves. They will no longer be consumers like my generation, but producers of their own future. Their future will be more prosperous, sustainable, far better than the one we created by consuming ourselves to death. They will succeed because they will cooperate, not compete. PIP will be their platform. It will generate a new kind of economy. Mr. Disney, you inspired me.

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Start-up City

On 14 februari 2016, in economie, innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Gelezen in Het Parool van 2 januari 2016:

Alweer een voorbeeld van extreme ruimtelijke concentratie. Het gaat hier om tech start-ups. Dat zijn jonge, kleine bedrijfjes die nieuwe internetdiensten verkopen. Ze zorgen voor de digitalisering van de oude economie, zeg maar de toekomst van ons allemaal. Retail, mode, design, financiële dienstverlening, recruiting, reisbureaus, onderwijs, alle soorten van dienstverlening zullen binnen nu en tien jaar compleet worden gedigitaliseerd. Zonder deze bedrijfjes bestaat onze economie straks niet meer. Vaak werken ze vanuit co-working spaces: bedrijfsverzamelgebouwen met internetaansluiting waar gemeenschappen van start-ups elkaar inspireren door kennis te delen en samen te werken. In totaal waren er begin dit jaar 1764 start-ups in Nederland gevestigd; bijna de helft werkt vanuit Amsterdam (798). Van die helft zit meer dan de helft binnen de grachtengordel (354), het overgrote deel binnen de ring A10 (602). Ter vergelijking: Rotterdam telt niet meer dan 77 start-ups, Eindhoven slechts 105. Dat betekent een extreme samenballing van start-ups in een heel klein gebied binnen Nederland. En is het niet wonderlijk dat dit kleine gebiedje samenvalt met uitgerekend de historische binnenstad van Amsterdam? Hetzelfde geldt voor Groot-Brittannië. De tech start-up scene is daar geconcentreerd in Londen, en binnen London in het historische centrum bij Old Street.

In Het Parool stond begin dit jaar een groot artikel over het lokale ecosysteem dat start-ups nodig hebben. Opvallend is hun kwetsbaarheid gedurende de eerste duizend dagen, de extreme afhankelijkheid van anderen, en ook de hoge snelheid van verandering. De kenmerken van de omgeving die de bedrijfjes zoeken zijn steeds dezelfde: een inspirerende plek, de afwezigheid van een formele bedrijfscultuur, de mogelijkheid tot kruisbestuiving, gelegenheid voor rondshoppen, een bewegelijke arbeidsmarkt, een sterke community, kortom: grootstedelijkheid, dus een hele grote metropool. Oscar Kneppers van Rockstart, een Amsterdamse accelerator, is heel duidelijk: hij wil niet buiten Amsterdam, niet buiten de ring, zelfs niet buiten de singelgracht. Er is maar één klein gebied in Nederland dat aan alle voorwaarden voldoet, maar vooral aan de eis dat iedereen er zit: de Amsterdamse binnenstad. Het Ministerie van Economische Zaken te Den Haag noemt haar stimuleringsprogramma ‘Start-up Delta’. Kennelijk begrijpt ze de nieuwe economie niet goed. Betere naam zou zijn: Start-up City. Amsterdam verdubbelen dus!

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Een campus voor de UvA

On 11 februari 2016, in onderwijs, stedenbouw, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord van Max van den Berg op 30 november 2015:

We spraken over campusvorming in de stad. De Universiteit van Amsterdam, zei Max van den Berg, is een maatschappelijke universiteit, met smaakmakers in de alfawetenschappen. Toen in 1967 professor Enschede een nieuwe campus wilde bouwen in het geplande Almere paste dat in het toenmalige denken over een binnenstad vol kantoren en banken en een universiteit ver buiten de stad, maar daarin maakte Enschede een geweldige vergissing. Als gemeentelijk planoloog begreep Van den Berg ook toen al dat een universiteit in de binnenstad thuishoort. Hoogleraren en studenten zijn onderdeel van het grootstedelijke institutionele complex dat hecht is verankerd in historische binnensteden. Utrecht beging de grote fout door in de weilanden een Uithof te bouwen, in plaats van een campus bij het Centraal Station. Twente, Eindhoven en Rotterdam maakten diezelfde fout. Dat moest Amsterdam beslist niet doen. Gelukkig rees er verzet in de alfa-faculteiten. Rector-magnificus Belinfante kreeg het zwaar te verduren. Het Maagdenhuis werd in 1969 bezet. Maar beta wilde wèl naar buiten. Daarom kocht de UvA grond op het Roeterseiland. Verplaatsing van het ziekenhuis uit de binnenstad bleef  nog lang omstreden.

Bij Publieke Werken van de gemeente hadden ze een campus in de oostelijke binnenstad getekend, vlak naast het IJtunneltracé.  Maar in alle consternatie besloot het college van bestuur van de UvA dit niet te doen. In plaats daarvan kocht ze overal in de Amsterdamse binnenstad lukraak panden op, waar ze vervolgens collegezalen in propte. Het Maupoleum van Caransa, ooit bedoeld voor textielgroothandels die uit de Anthoniebreestraat moesten vertrekken, was de allergrootste. Van den Berg vond het allemaal maar niets. Voor een campus viel veel te zeggen, maar de universiteit ging er niet op in. Pas veel later besloot ze alsnog een viertal campussen te ontwikkelen, waarvan een in de binnenstad, voor de alfa-faculteit. Als het aan Van den Berg had gelegen waren alle faculteiten dicht bij de IJtunnel gebouwd geweest, al zeker veertig jaar eerder. Vooruitzien grenst aan tragisch. Van den Berg, die van 1963 tot 1986 planoloog was bij de gemeente Amsterdam, overleed op 3 februari 2016. Zijn memoires zullen later dit jaar bij uitgeverij Thoth verschijnen.

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