Social entrepreneurs

On 7 oktober 2015, in sociaal, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Guardian of 20 July 2015:

In Amsterdam it’s bad. In San Francisco it’s even worse. Yesterday we made a walking tour with policymakers of the municipality of Amsterdam who want to promote local startup ecosystems. We crossed the eastern part of the inner city. How to attrackt new tech-jobs?, they asked. Amsterdam is as big as San Francisco: bit more than 800.000 inhabitants. Why attrackting tech-jobs when housing prices are steeply rising and neighbourhoods get filthy expensive? Do they want even more gentrification? It made me think of the problems in Tenderloin, San Francisco. More than 10.000 technology workers from Twitter, Spotify, Zendesk, Yammer and other companies have moved into the Tenderloin and the adjacant Mid-Market district. Rory Carroll wrote about this part of town in The Guardian last summer. “Tenderloin is filled with impoverished families, homeless people, drug addicts and the mentally ill. You don’t need an app to figure out who usually wins such contests.”

Tenderloin is host to an influx of tech companies. Social problems and tensions in this district could be solved if the technies would integrate. Will they? Some 78% of housing in this area is still affordable and 54% is rent-controlled. Office vacancy has dropped from 25 to 4%. The tech arrivals are co-existing with the Tenderloin people. At least so far. Tenderloin will not gentrify like Williamsburg in New York City, but it is certainly changing. “It remains to be seen what the outcome will be.” So why promoting startup ecosystems if they develop spontaneously, even invade poor city districts? Once a city starts burning, it easily gets overheated. Of course, as a city you have to be successful first. Amsterdam is doing well. The city should be careful now. It better protects its affordable housing stock and keeps its system of rent-control. And why not asking the techies to become a kind of social entrepreneurs?

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Go West

On 6 oktober 2015, in demografie, internationaal, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad 0f 21 August 2015:


The number of expats in Amstelveen , the southern suburb of Amsterdam, has doubled over the last ten years. You could read it in NRC Handelsblad last summer. The newspaper quoted a research report of CBS, the Central Statistical Bureau in the Netherland. In 2005 there were some 250 Indian families living in Amstelveen, in 2015 there were 2.500, ten times more. Most of them work for Indian IT-companies in Amsterdam – Tata, Infosys, Wipro. Even the Japanes Canon company in Amstelveen has lots of Indian IT-specialists working nowadays. They play cricket, eat Indian food, have their Hindu festivals. Still, most of the expats in the Netherlands come from Gemany and the UK. The Germans work in education and government, the British in producer services. Their total number is now 57.000; two thirds are men; many of them are high educated and earn quite lot of money. Their growing numbers are striking. Half will stay no longer than five years at most, they all work on the South Axis (Zuidas) in Amsterdam, the majority in IT. The Asian community is growing fastest.

Another striking outcome: 70 per cent of the expats in the Netherlands live and work in only twenty municipalities. Most of these municipalities are in and around Amsterdam, along the dune coast, near Leiden, and along the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, near Utrecht. This is the rich northern Randstad area. The newspaper quoted experts who told the journalist that there are 1,25 billion Indians, IT is one of the most popular studies in India, there is a lack of IT-specialists in the Netherlands, so the Dutch Silicon Valley needs them. Amstelveen knows it, and tries to attract them. Amsterdam itself has become too hot now, even for expats. Three per cent of the Amstelveen population now is of Indian birth. Unlike the migrants from Syria and Africa they do not have to live in asylumseeker centers somewhere in the woods,in the Dutch periphery. They can live where they want, so they all prefer concentrated, densily built urban areas in the western part of the country, in their own communities. Except Amsterdam.

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Strange, ironic

On 22 september 2015, in economie, wetenschap, by Zef Hemel

Heard in the Volkshotel, Amsterdam, on 17 September 2015:

Theme of the first Ruimtevolk College last week at the Volkshotel (People’s Hotel) in Amsterdam was ‘Foreign capital in the city’. Two professors of the University of Amsterdam, Ewald Engelen (financial geography) and me (urban planning), were asked to give a lecture on the subject. Engelen spoke first. His tone was agressive, angry, mad. It was, he told us, a lecture he had given in Antwerp last summer, his slides were just for him, for not getting lost in his anger. Between good and evil, for him there was a clear distinction; unlike a scientist he lacked any doubts. He accused the bankers, the entrepreneurs, the planners and the politicians for not stopping the madness of globalization. His tone was fiercely anti-urban: Amsterdam should stay small and successful cities are plundering the countryside. Now and then he raised his voice. His rhetoric and temper moved me. The hall was sold out, the air inside was hot and humid. You almost could feel the floor trembling. At a certain point I imagined there was Karl Marx standing in the middle of the Volkshotel (ironic name: People’s Hotel), an intellectual rousing the proletariat. Or was it Max Havelaar? I thought revolution might be coming.

I myself felt like Bakunin. My lecture was less clear. The title I had chosen was ‘Strange’, because the spatial trends I described are very obscure indeed. What we observe at this very moment is an extreme kind of spatial concentration of certain scalable phenomena: tourists, Airbnb, capital, expats, migrants, all global things, at the same time very localized. Some cities are growing fast, others are shrinking. It’s the process of globalization we’re in. Cities are being hit as if by thunder and lightning. What’s happening in London has nothing to do with the rest of the UK.  The same holds for Amsterdam (on the picture: number of Airbnb dwellings in the Netherlands 2014). That’s why the world is looking more and more unequal, spiky, everything seems to be totally out of control. Mayors like Boris Johnson and Michael Bloomberg are pleading for devolution. They are right. You have to solve problems at the local level. But my lecture was to no avail, the audience just didn’t want to know. And Ewald Engelen started stirring up the masses again. When at last I got the chance to speak I tried to explain what is the difference between Engelen and me: Engelen thinks globalization is a project you can stop, while I think globalization is a process you have to deal with. Marx and Bakunin. I’m afraid Marx will win, again.

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A wider world

On 14 september 2015, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Seen in the Stedelijk Museum on 13 September 2015:

Enjoyed seeing ‘ZERO: Let Us Explore the Stars’ very much. The exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum is just great. At the time, when the young avant-garde artists from Düsseldorf, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, dived with their Amsterdam friends  Henk Peeters, Jan Henderikse, Jan Schoonhoven and Armando into the future, they really thought it was a new beginning. Starting from scratch again. President J.F. Kennedy promised a new beginning, people flying to the moon, astronauts, plastic, television, plenty. The young artists had their Italian hero: Lucio Fontana, they invited Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, Piero Manzoni, Yayoi Kusama to join them and to collaborate. “Artists collaborated on artworks, performances, happenings, multiples, magazines, and other publications.” There were sparkling exhibitions at the Stedelijk in 1962 and 1965. I wish I was there. But unfortunately, I was only 5 years old then, 8 years at most. Too young, too shy, too innocent, and not living in Amsterdam by the way. Nevertheless, it was nostalgic to see all those artworks again.

They were really utopian and anarchistic, not admired by Willem Sandberg, the director of the Stedelijk, at all, who just gave them a chance: ‘OK, you can have it as long as you pay for everything.’ Their works were a kind of countdown to the future, but for the elderly, who survived the Second World War, they must have lacked seriousness, or were too radical. What did Otto Piene write in 1961? “A wider world. Yes, I wish for a better world. Should I dream of a worse world then? Yes, I wish a wider world. Or should I long for a tighter one?” Their performances were like Provo’s protests and provocations. What I liked the most? Their attempts to make interactive art, to involve the audience, to collaborate, to work outside the institutions, to let things happen, to be passionate, to be optimistic, to experiment, to be authentic, to reject compromise, to step into the future. Like planners should.

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Remote worker

On 11 september 2015, in infrastructuur, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 20 May 2015:

I was asked to give a lecture on open planning for a team of politicians from Bavaria, Germany. They were visiting Amsterdam, hoping to learn more about local policies on biking. After my speech on globalization, information technology and planning (!), the team would make a bike tour through the inner city of Amsterdam. The weather was excellent. We were waiting for a laptop. When I told the president I had come to the hotel on my bike, he almost could not believe me. Could I prove it? I showed him my iPhone and opened the app. Wow! Human had registered all my bike trips: a total of more than one and a half hour already, just that morning. He said he never had heard of the app. Is it popular? I told him using the app is fun. It is stimulating. Human is only two years old but popular already: almost 2.000 citizens are tracking their activities in Amsterdam. I took the real time city map, showing a spatial pattern of all those acitivities. Human, I added proudly, is an Amsterdam invention. But later, having reread an interview with the director of Human, I’m not so sure anymore.

Paul Veugen (30) and his team developed Human. Human was awarded a Webby in New York last year. The Webby is the Oscar for the Internet. Human measures your activities. Veugen is from Tilburg. After having finished his study he moved to Amsterdam, “because here is the ecosystem of people doing the same things.” His dream was to develop an app that would be used by millions of people. Human is an Amsterdam based company, but the company has no office here: the developer of the mobile application lives in Sweden, the app-builder works in Canada, one of te marketeers is based in London. The team, some six young people, moved to San Francisco in 2013. There, at the kitchen table in an appartment near the Golden Gate bridge, they invented Human. Since then Veugen travels between Amsterdam and Silicon Valley. He calls himself a ‘remote worker’, a worker who has no steady workplace. So is Human really an Amsterdam app? Manuel Castells should tell.

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A new city

On 9 september 2015, in infrastructuur, innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 22 july 2015:

Globalization. What does it mean? It means a growth of 15 per cent of internet traffic on the Ams-IX internet node last year. Ams-IX, based in Amsterdam, is the biggest internet node in the world. It’s not a node exactly, because it consists of a network of eleven centres in the Amsterdam region. Its headquarters are on the Frederiksplein in Amsterdam, where some 40 people find their job. Not that many jobs, that’s true. But Deloitte thinks more than 20.000 jobs in the Amsterdam region depend more or less on the node. Datacenters, IT-companies, you name it. Worldwide there are some 500 nodes, amongst them London, Frankfurt and Paris. Ams-IX is the only nonprofit organisation. And the biggest. Some 700 companies are clients of Ams-IX: KPN, British Telecom, Microsoft, Gasunie, Netflix, RTL, Vodafone, XS4all. More and more digital content travels through Amsterdam. The city is the third national mainport now, in the coming decades maybe the most profitable one, or at least more important already for the internet than Schiphol airport is for international flights. Amsterdam is becoming a true tech-hub, not just a smart city.

Ams-IX started in 1994, as SURFnet, a university network. Twenty years of growth has resulted in the initiative to build an international network of new nodes: New York, Chicago, Kenia, Hongkong, Curaçao, Seattle, Los Angeles. This means there are bits and pieces of digital Amsterdam developing in a global network of cities – a kind of 21ste century VOC. What does it mean in a local context, here in Amsterdam? A fast growth of new datacenters in the region, of course. What else? It attrackts lots of new companies to Amsterdam. Lots of engineers are needed. The director of Ams-IX, Mr. Witteman, told Financieele Dagblad (17 April 2015): “In The Hague they feel threatened by things that grow fast. They do not know how to handle us.” It’s not the Rotterdam harbour, nor Schiphol airport. This is different. Ams-IX is a nonprofit platform, not an institution. You cannot see it. It has nothing to do with the rest of the Netherlands. It’s a brand new world. It means real globalization. A new city will grow in its vicinity. Nobody knows. FD: “It occurs quietly, unobserved.”

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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:

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

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Delicious liquorice

On 28 augustus 2015, in infrastructuur, internationaal, by Zef Hemel

Read on CityMetric on 1 July 2015:

There is a fierce debate going on in Great Britain about the future of its London airports. BAA wants to expand the capacity of Heathrow, west of London. The mayor of London, Mr. Johnson, is favoring the building of a new hub on an artificial island in the Thames estuary in the east: a four-runway airport, called ‘Boris Island’. This Thames hub was added to the list of possibilities by the national Airports Commission in 2014. Tom Forth published an analysis on the website of CityMetric, defending another option: Amsterdam airport. Forth gave “six very big reasons to think that Heathrow isn’t the UK’s hub airport at all.” It’s a great read, illustrated with convincing maps. What are his reasons? 1. You can’t get a train to Heathrow from any UK city other than London. 2. you can fly from Heathrow to only seven other UK cities, 3. Manchester is better connected, “but there’s an airport that easily beats them both.” Which one? Amsterdam airport, good for 24 connections to British airports. “They speak great English, the liquorice is delicious, the airport is efficient, and you can buy tulip bulbs and cheese while you wait for a connection.”

4. Mr. Forth even found data on international flight connections. In a huge majority of cases, the best option was a flight via Schiphol. 5. True, the cheapest flights for citizens of the UK is Heathrow, but Manchester, he found, is only a bit more expensive and, surprising, half of the flights from Manchester go via Schiphol, 6. and Norwich, he added, gives the fastest connection to the world, but that is thanks to the fact that it is the closest airport to Amsterdam. Forth, who is from Leeds, used all these arguments and data to make clear that subsidizing Heathrow is unfair, his aim was not to come up with the proposal to accept Amsterdam airport as a major hub, also for British passengers. And yes, Heathrow is a London hub, not a national hub. And Schiphol is an international hub, not an Amsterdam hub. By the way, the alternative of Schiphol would have helped the Airports Commission. But: again a national debate, not an urban one.

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On 25 augustus 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in Forum (VNO NCW magazine) of 20 August 2015:

Bingo! Three in two days: first ‘Alle kaarten op Amsterdam?’ (‘Amsterdam only?’) in Forum, magazine of Dutch employers union VNO NCW, second, on saturday, the Vonk-special of de Volkskrant on ‘De verhipte stad’ (‘The kinky city’) and three: ‘Rotterdam is hot’ in the Amsterdam based newspaper Het Parool. Which city wins? (Which city do you hate?) You get the feeling a national battle between cities is going on, between Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the first place. Forum journalist Paul Scheer comes from Rotterdam, so his interview with me was very much biased. Headline: ‘Alleen Amsterdam kan meekomen’ (‘Only Amsterdam has a chance’). Stupid of course and, yes, something to feel sorry about. De Volkskrant made fun of it: ‘Dure huizen, rijke mensen, koffietentjes en yoga. Veel yoga’ (‘Expensive houses, rich people, coffee shops and yoga. Much yoga’). Message: Amsterdam works like a magnet (picture: Jasper Rietman). According to the national newspaper there are two categories of people nowadays: those who are living in Amsterdam, those who are not yet living there.

De Volkskrant presented five statistics that illustrate there is something going on in Amsterdam: fast growth of the Amsterdam population, local workforce is becoming international, lots of immigrants from western countries, housing prices steeply rising, housing market becoming a buyers market. These are all facts you cannot deny. The difference between Amsterdam and the rest is growing bigger. Amsterdam should double its size. In Het Parool though the Rotterdam marketing machine behaved in an agressive way: ‘Amsterdam thinks it is happening there, but that will change. When I see Amsterdam news, it is often negative’. How sad. This national battle between the Dutch lilliputter cities is pitiful and lacks the global dimension. By the way, Rohan Silva warned Mr. Cameron that London could follow New York and lose its creative class. “In New York, people are decamping to LA and I think we’ve really got to be careful in London that people don’t pick another city and choose to go there. Because the moment a city starts to lose its artists, things can fall apart and the city might lose its edge." (Dezeen 23 May 2015). But Rotterdam is not LA and Amsterdam is not New York. It made me think of Christopher Clark’s ‘The Sleepwalkers’, in which this Australian historian described the confrontational attitude of European nations and empires on the eve of the Great War: cities behaving irresponsible, like nation-states.

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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.