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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Sleepwalkers

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.

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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Third Golden Age

On 5 juli 2015, in economie, regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Heard on 3 July 2015 at the Public Library in Amsterdam:

In 1864 a Christal Palace was erected on the Frederiksplein, Amsterdam. The great tall building of glass and steel contained a huge space for exhibitions, showing all kinds of innovations of the industrial capitalist era. The Jewish entrepreneur and medical doctor Samuel Sharphati initiated it, it was a copy of the Christal Palace in London (1851), the project was wholly crowd funded. After opening, it inspired many young entrepreneurs, amongst them Gerard Heineken, the founder of the Heineken beer company. However, the building burned down in 1929. The RAi on the Southaxis is its successor. Nevertheless, the Palace itself has always been considered a breathtaking building, the iconic start of the Second Golden Age of Amsterdam, which lasted until 1928 (Olympic Games). Many people hope it gets re-built. Therefore, on 12 April 2016 a new, temporary ‘Paleis voor Volksvlijt’ (Christal Palace) will be opening its doors in Amsterdam. A programme of twelve weeks of discussions and thinking about the economic future of the Amsterdam region is in preparation. A third Golden Age for Amsterdam might follow.

The Public Library on the Oosterdokskade, opposite the Marineterrein, will be turned into a true ‘Paleis voor Volksvlijt’. An inspiring exhibition on the future economy of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region on the ground floor will attract as many people as possible, thus creating an opportunity for schools, universities, companies and  civic authorities to exchange thoughts about the future regional economy. Even the exhibition itself, showing the future, will be co-created. On Wednesday 9 September 2015 there will be the second open forum in the Oba (Public Library) from 12.00 till 16.00 pm. for those who want to contribute. At 12.15 the alderman Eric van der Burg (VVD) will give his speech. In four rounds citizens can share their thoughts with twelve designers who eventually will build the exhibition that will assemble all insights, knowledge and inspiration. All citizens are welcome! Follow Volksvlijt2016 (Civic Economy) on Facebook and become member: http://on.fb.me/1H0Xlcf

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Next mobility

On 2 juli 2015, in infrastructuur, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Nieuwe mobiliteit’ (New Mobility) (2015) of Arie Bleijenberg:

 vliegtuig

Reveiling long term trends. Important news. They sent me a copy of ‘Nieuwe Mobiliteit na het autotijdperk’ (New Mobility After the Car Based Era), written by Arie Bleijenberg, TNO’s Business Director Infrastructure in Delft. They thought I would like it. Sure I do. It’s exactly what I think. The book is a kind of leaflet, easy to read. Here are the dominant trends: car use will stop growing, planes will take over, cities will grow bigger, so more biking, walking and mass transit. To boost the economy, down town areas should be connected with metro, far better public transport than there is serving them now. Of course public transport is more sustainable, but Bleijenberg thinks the economic benefits will be much bigger. So shorter distances, more density, all fitting a knowledge based economy. In order to be prepared, infrastructure budgets should be radically decentralized. From now on city-regions should decide on the spending of the public money, not the Dutch state any more.

Bleijenberg suggests the region close to the Amsterdam airport (Schiphol) should become the biggest urban hub. “More urbanisation of the Amsterdam region is needed in order to profit from the international hub function of Schiphol airport.” At least he thinks that would be the most sustainable, the most comfortable, the most promising solution. Travelling by air will become the new normal. Being connected to the airport, and at the same time walking in the middle of the crowds, is what we need. Intracity networks therefore should be reinforced. Because all this will become reality within thirty years, governments should change their policies now. In infrastructure planning it takes time – thirty years is nothing. That’s why budget spending on infrastructure should be radically decentralized. We need networks, but far different from the ones the Ministry of Infrastructure is still building now. So it’s urgent. 350 billion euros have been invested in infrastructure in the Netherlands; every year 6 billion euros is needed for maintenance. Bleijenberg’s booklet gives you food for thought. Not only planners. Hope the Dutch politicians will read it too. Especially those in The Hague.

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Making a mess

On 23 juni 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in Het Parool of 20 June 2015:

Felix Rottenberg is a former political leader of the Dutch Social-Democratic Party (PvdA), also an anchorman on Dutch television. In his weekly column in the Amsterdam based newspaper Het Parool he reacted on my proposal to double the size of the Amsterdam agglomeration by building in higher densities. It reminded him, he wrote, of Joop den Uyl, a powerful alderman in Amsterdam in the beginning of the sixties, who wanted to transform Amsterdam into an efficient American city. While most of my collegues ridiculed me after publication, Rottenberg tried to understand. “Hemel learned all the books on urbanism by heart. He doesn’t speak nonsense, he thinks eclectically and analyses the development of megapoles, de biggest urban regions – key players in the global economy.” So Rottenberg took me seriously. But he has doubts. High rise, he states, is not livable, suggesting nobody in Amsterdam will gonna live in those apartment buildings. To illustrate his point he referred to the ‘Wolkenkrabber’ (Skyscraper) in Amsterdam, built in 1933. At first nobody wanted to live in those apartments on the top floor. Too windy. Too dangerous.

Striking how Rottenberg plays the old man, looking back on history. “Urban planning in Amsterdam has always been decided on by great designers.” Then he mentions Berlage and Van Eesteren. “His successor as the head of the department for public works, Mrs. Jacoba Mulder, who had to stop Den Uyl in his ambition to add more high rise in the Bijlmer, admitted that one had lost view on the human scale over there.” So that’s his point. Rottenberg is fearing a professional error of judgement of urban designers. “Does Hemel hear the echo of her (Mulder’s) meaningful words?” Yes, I remember Jacoba Mulder and I know what happened to the Bijlmer. I’m though not an urban designer. My concept of ‘open planning’ is based on a ‘wisdom of crowds’. Hemel fears Dutch government and provinces. This government and those provinces might keep on promoting new infrastructure, distribute ever more low density housing, office parks and shopping malls along the highways, making a terrible mess of this once beautiful country. Young people will leave if the babyboomers continue their destructive spatial-economic policy. By the way, what’s wrong with living in a comfortable flat in a city of two million inhabitants? People even love Kleiburg, de Bijlmermeer! Fifteen million can stay where they are, growing old in VINEX. No problem.

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Mini-Manhattan

On 22 juni 2015, in sport, stadsvernieuwing, stedenbouw, by Zef Hemel

Read on Building.co.uk of 2 December 2014:

Old Oak Common NovaLoca blog

Last week a television team from London visited Amsterdam. They were doing research on land development in the Bijlmer district, Amsterdam Southeast. I met them in the Ajax Arena stadium. Why? London is planning a huge brownfield development in Old Oak, which is a poor neighborhood in the west part of the city. The capital city of the UK is booming, crossrail is being built, HS2 (the highspeed train to Manchester) might be coming, a new railway station and a crossrail interchange – the biggest of the country – are planned in Old Oak (opening in 2026), so the site looks very promising for developers. The mayor, Mr. Boris Johnson, said the area might even become a ‘mini-Manhattan’. Football club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) said it wants to build a 40.000 seat stadium in Old Oak Common, plus 24.000 new homes, a proposal which is supported by a vast majority of the local citizens. But a few months later, in December 2014, one of the landowners, Cargiant, announced it would draw up rival plans. It started a collaboration with a developer, London & Regional Properties, and declared it would fight any plans by the football club. It wants to gain a compulsory order (CPO) for the land.

Is a new stadium desirable for this area?, the London team asked. How important was the Arena for a neighborhood like Amsterdam Southeast? The team wanted to learn from the Ajax Arena case. I told them that for the Bijlmer area the opening of the Arena in 1996 was a sheer blessing. And a surprise. In twenty years time it became a true icon in this poor Modernist neighborhood, that had a bad reputation. It attracted companies that otherwise would never have come, retail entered the area, entertainment flourished. Hotels are opening its doors, tourists are coming, the neighborhood is becoming more and more attractive, there is a positive vibe. The refurbishing of the existing interchange of railway and underground was also a great help. Public investments are always needed. But most important were the social benefits: citizens feel proud of the stadium, they do not want to leave the neighborhood, land value is rising, no gentrification has been evoked, nobody gets pushed out. How come? It is because the city owns the land. It does the planning. The development goes step by step, we’re involving all the stakeholders. All parties aim for health, wellbeing and sustainability. No masterplanning. Open planning.

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Soft Bijlmer

On 12 juni 2015, in openbare ruimte, participatie, sociaal, by Zef Hemel

Heard in Amsterdam Southeast on 8 June 2015:

The fourth guest lecture in the urban planning studio on Paasheuvelweg, organized by the University of Amsterdam, was given by Augusto de Campos Neto. Augusto coordinates safety issues in the Southeast district of Amsterdam. His Bijlmermeer area, with a dominant Afro-Caribean population, has a bad reputation and is known as a criminal zone, because of its drugs traficking, its many day light robberies and street murders in the past. Nowadays the climate has changed, radically, though. There are no hotspots in the neighborhood anymore. The youth is using almost no drugs any longer. Nowadays you can move safely in any direction. De Campos Neto, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, stressed the importance of subjective safety feelings among the population, more than focussing on the police statistics, which do not really tell the truth. He insisted that influencing the personal safety feelings is preferable, more than getting more favorable statistics.

De Campos Neto advocated a more soft approach of fostering public participation, of listening to citizens and of supporting local initiatives, also of promoting positive news in the media. He didn’t think a ‘broken windows theory’ is key, even though cleaning public space on a continuous base might be very helpful. He stressed repetition and, more so, open communication. For sure, all the methods he promoted were communicative in a way. Nowadays, he stressed, the Bijlmermeer is one of the safest neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Can you imagine? Only some of the Bijlmer youth – which consists of a third of the population – still does some pickpocketing in shops or steals smart phones at festival grounds. Sometimes guns are used. De Campos Neto: "They are not criminals like those in Amsterdam South who do the murdering on purpose. They do it emotionally, in a rather stupid way." The students loved his speech. A soft approach like his may lead to better urban planning.

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Happy tunnel

On 11 juni 2015, in infrastructuur, by Zef Hemel

Seen in Amsterdam Bijlmermeer on 5 June 2015:

Ondertekening contract

This August the builders will start their amazing construction works. The Gaasperdammerweg – a six lane freeway cutting throug the Bijlmermeer – will be enlarged and tunneled. Roy Berents, an urban planner of the city of Amsterdam, gave a lecture on the engineering of this project in our studio in Amstel III. With its three kilometer underpass, he told the students, the road will be the biggest of its kind in the Netherlands. The Dutch state still thinks it is needed because of forecasts of growing car use in the zone between suburban Almere new town and Amsterdam airport. But this was in 2004. Now it all is questionable. And the real need for the tunnel in this urban zone was because of the opposition of rich people living in Het Gooi, east of Amsterdam. They didn’t want a new highway in their backyard, even if it was in a tunnel.  So then the State decided to extend the existing road right in the midst of the poorest neighborhood of Amsterdam. With a tunnel, though. Everyone thought the poor would profit.

In the end it means less noise and better air quality. So is everybody happy? We spoke with people in Holendrecht, a poor neighborhood in the Bijlmer area. Their answer: why the hell this project? Holendrecht is already surrounded by big projects, it never stops. The works will be finished in 2022, so another seven years of uncertainty for those living in the area. And what will the planners do with the 18 hectares on top of the tunnel deck? Nobody knows. Building on it is not allowed. The road is part of an External Security Regulations Zone: dangerous traffic by trucks and rail (LPG, chemicals, NH3) already cuts through the built environment. It might become an urban park, although there is no money for landscaping and there are already two huge parks in its vicinity: Gaasperplaspark and Nelson Mandelapark. Landscape architects keep on designing though. A team of students has to find out how to involve as many stakeholders as possible. We need collective intelligence. In the meantime, the rich in het Gooi keep on enjoying their unspoiled gardens.

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