Wat ons te doen staat

On 3 oktober 2015, in duurzaamheid, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord in de Eerste Kamer der Staten Generaal op 1 oktober 2015:

Vooruit dan. Nog eenmaal in het Nederlands. Omdat dit de toekomst van het Koninkrijk betreft. Over die toekomst organiseerden het Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en de Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (WRR) afgelopen week een uiterst boeiende dag in de Eerste Kamer aan het Binnenhof. Zes wetenschappers en journalisten gaven elk een kort college, waarna studenten reageerden. Ochtend en middag werden afgesloten door een paneldiscussie. Paul Scheffer was de dagvoorzitter. Minister Plasterk hield de openingsrede door te zeggen dat hij vrij snel na zijn openingsrede helaas verstek moest laten gaan en dat dit hem zeer speet, waarna hij zijn agenda van die dag oplepelde. Geen leuk vooruitzicht, gaf Scheffer toe. De bewindsman kon maar beter blijven, want een hele dag nadenken en praten over de toekomst van het Koninkrijk was echt zinvoller. Waarna de minister in de pauze ijlings verdween.

Waarover ging het die dag? Alles kwam voorbij. Dominant in alle bijdragen bleek de globalisering: het islamisme, het gevaar van de totalitaire staat, het democratische tekort, de problemen in de zorg, de verwarring, het internet, de technologie, de crises, de urbanisatie, de klimaatverandering, de bevolkingskrimp. Vrijwel alle sprekers waren somber gestemd. Het slotdebat ging over de vraag wat te doen als het kleine Koninkrijk (die dunbevolkte, allerminst duurzame stadstaat van 17 miljoen inwoners) in de mondiale dynamiek dreigt te verdwijnen. Aan tafel zaten Pim van der Feltz (directeur Google Nederland), Hella Hueck (RTL), Erik Stam (UU) en ondergetekende. De scherpste vragen kwamen van Andreas Kinneging (ULeiden) en Henk te Velde (ULeiden). Alle vier panelleden waren min of meer eensluidend in hun repliek. In het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden moet veel lichter worden gestuurd, met minder regels en grotere vrijheden op lokaal niveau, alle instituties moeten soepeler meebewegen, uiterste wendbaarheid is vereist (Stam gebruikte de metafoor van de tango). En we moeten elkaar beter vasthouden, goed naar elkaar luisteren en elkaar opzoeken door inspirerende toekomstverhalen te vertellen, want verhalen kunnen ademen, zijn open, kunnen ons motiveren, brengen ons tot samenwerking. En bouw nou eindelijk eens een echt grote stad, voegde ik eraan toe. Niet dat de zaal was gerustgesteld. Allerminst. De heer Plasterk heeft het allemaal gemist.

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Insanely cool

On 17 september 2015, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in de Volkskrant of 30 May 2015:

On 20 May 2015 Louise Fresco published her weekly column in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. That day it was on the future of Europe. Fresco is an expert in food production and president of the board of Wageningen University. Her column was a letter to the next generation, those who just finished their highschool and started studying. In a nutshell this is what she wrote: you will enter a Europe that is losing ground. Jobs will be difficult to find because Asian robotics and outsourced work will take over. You will be part of the internet of things, you will have nothing to hide. You will not write any longer, so grammar is of no use to you anymore. National governments will be the weakest level of administration, so you will no longer vote. Your parents will be worried, but that holds for every generation. The only thing that matters in your life is a goal. What is your dream?

Ten days later I read a portrait of Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime-Minister, in de Volkskrant. Journalist Ariejan Korteweg characterized him as bionic, as an ‘invariable optimistic man-machine’. Everything about him is unknown, he wrote, nothing essential we know about his life or thoughts, except that he drives an old Saab and eats cheese in Zermatt. In every crisis he seems to behave cheerful. It reminded me of Mrs. Fresco’s column. Does the Prime-Minister have a vision on the future of this great country? Again, we simply don’t know. Or do we? Korteweg: some time ago Mr. Rutte compared the Netherlands with a piece of marble. The form, he said, is already there, you only have to free it by cutting the stone. “I think about Michelangelo, the man who drew the perfect proportioned David.” How will this David, hidden in marble, look? Mr. Rutte: “Just an insanely cool country.” He certainly is not in a position to be Michelangelo. Then who is? We, the people of course. And Fresco’s next generation. But mostly global forces, the space of flows.

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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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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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The soft side

On 25 juni 2015, in innovatie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Regional Knowledge Economy’ (2009) of Otto Raspe:

 Hightech-onderzoek bij Philips.

The discussion on agglomeration economies, innovation clusters and regional economic growth is a difficult one. Why? Well, because it all has become very political. So what does science tell us? In ‘The knowledge economy and urban economic growth’ (2009), Otto Raspe – a regional economist working for the National Planning Bureau for the Built Environment in The Hague – tried to relate R&D, innovation and knowlegde workers to regional economic growth in the Netherlands. His paper was published in European Planning Studies. “This paper does not open the entire black box of agglomeration economies – but contributes to the discussion by determining different kinds of localized knowledge densities within economic growth clusters.” Governments and institutions, Raspe points, always focuss on R&D as sources of growth, because this input factor can be stimulated by subsidies. But there are more spatial knowledge indicators: knowledge workers (ICT-sensitivity, educational level, creative economy, communicative skills) and innovation (technological and non-technological). R&D in the Netherlands differs from the rest: south and east are in front of R&D-employment specialization.

But in terms of innovation and knowlegde workers, the highly  urbanized Northern part of the Randstad area – Amsterdam and Utrecht – is leading. ‘The rural regions and the regions in the national periphery of the Netherlands are lagging behind in intensity of this employment.” Most spatially concentrated are the knowlegde workers. Also in terms of innovation, “municipalities in the Randstad region, larger cities and central areas of urban agglomerations still come to the fore as the foci of innovative activities.” Then he concludes: “High R&D-levels are not a sufficient growth condition for economic growth in urban clusters – the knowlegde workers and innovation dimensions are significantly better linked to localized economic growth in the Netherlands.” The ‘soft’ side seems to be far more important than the ‘hard’ technological side. But governments always stress R&D. They love technology. Better focus on industrial and distribution activities (which they already do) and on localized clusters of producer services in big cities (which they do not). Although not opening the black box of agglomeration economies fully, Raspe did a great job. Now let’s wait for new government policies.

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No growth

On 24 juni 2015, in economie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in FD of 1 March 2015:

Why does nobody wants to know about shrinking cities in The Netherlands? Because Dutch municipalities still own 75% percent of all the land available for building homes, office space and business parks. They paid far too much for it: 13 billion euros. They all should reduce their land prices with at least fifty percent, Het Financieele Dagblad calculated. This they will not do, the newspaper wrote on 1 March 2015, because then they will go bankrupt. With buying all that land in the nineties and beginning of 2000 they hoped to make big profits. No way. Worse even, they lack the money now and there will be no growth at all. Their debt is big, so their losses will be big too. Only 20 percent they amortized. The provinces of Flevoland (Almere), Overijssel and Zeeland cannot sell their land without making heavy losses. Instead of amortizing, they boast they will grow bigger. Even cities like Rotterdam and Delft are in big trouble. Two thirds of the land they will keep, hoping to sell it in de future. 

So this makes the discussion on the spatial future of the Netherlands at this moment rather awkward. The Ministries of Finance and of Interior Affairs know it. I’m afraid the Dutch government will have to clean up the mess and hold the twelve provinces responsible for this fiasco. But they wait. Why? Because they are responsible too. No policies in VINEX for shrinking cities. There was a political ban on red and green contours in the Fifth Report on Spatial Planning. Worse even, they skipped the Fifth Report. It’s VINEX and its successors that made local government dream, and made them hope for more and speculate on growth. Friso de Zeeuw, director at Bouwfonds, first introduced the concept of the ‘rompertje’ on Dutch television in December 2008. This infant bodysuit projected on the map of the Netherlands illustrated the area around Greater Amsterdam and Utrecht that continues to grow; all the rest would shrink. Even this ‘rompertje’ is shrinking. Its nucleus is Amsterdam plus its rich, hilly landscapes on both sides: Utrechtse Heuvelrug in the east and the coastal dunes in the west, the urban region where alle the knowledge workers live. So blame the person who tells them they will gonna shrink. And hate the biggest city that will gonna win.

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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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Polynuclear nonsense

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

Read in ‘The World Cities’ (1966) by Peter Hall:

 

Dutch planners love polynuclear patterns of urbanisation. They think these patterns are the most sustainable. Polynuclearity, they say, is the best you can get. The Dutch became world champions in developing polynuclearity and are still proud of it. It became part of the Dutch planning paradigm. It has to do with planning history. The Golden Age of Modernist planning were the sixties, when the young Peter Hall praised the socalled Randstad concept in The Netherlands. In his ‘The World Cities’ (1966) the Randstad is one of the seven ‘World Cities’, next to London, Paris, New York, Ruhr Area, Moscow, and Tokyo. Mind you! The little country next to the big Germany was praised by a young teacher from Birkbeck College London, who described it as a planning paradise. It made Peter Hall world famous, at least in The Netherlands. Problems of a world city in general, Hall declared, were its sheer size, its fast growth and complexity. Big cities would become too crowded. The biggest problem by far was the city-centre. So Hall advocated solutions he adopted from his hero-pioneer Ebenezer Howard. These were all utopian ideas – nineteenth-century schemes which were very anti-urban, something of a fusion of city and countryside. It was all nonsense of course, but Hall became the evangelist of decentralization: build new towns! Add green belts! Develop new centres! Dismantle the exisiting city! The Dutch promised to do all this. They were full of good intentions.

Polynuclearity fitted remarkably well in the existing Dutch geography of small cities, lacking real urban centres. So ironically the only thing Dutch planners had to do was avoid the coming of a big city. Which they did with fervour. Postwar planning in The Netherlands became vehemently anti-urban from the start. Polynuclearity is not wrong of course. If only you develop it within an existing agglomeration. The Dutch polynuclear pattern is different. It isn’t sustainable. The ecological footprint of The Netherlands is one of the worst in the world. Congestion though isn’t evil either, on the contrary, it is admirable, something really to aim for. And megacities are, in fact, the best and the most sustainable you can get. If only you keep them livable. For that, you don’t need huge amounts of countryside, but parks, not highways, but public transport, not many centres, but one big city-centre with many subcentres. Peter Hall thought the megaregion was not social. Again he was wrong. He just hated heterogeneity, diversity, chaos, density, and he was afraid of complexity. So are the Dutch. And the problem is: they all agree.

Wall of Money

On 16 juni 2015, in economie, vastgoed, wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 9 and 12 June 2015:

Alarming news. Vacant real estate in the Netherlands since 2010 more than dubbeled. The total amount of square meters empty office space is now 9 million, of m2 empty retail space it’s 2,7 million. And it gets worse, even after the crisis. Why? Because a ‘wall of money’ is flooding the real estate market since the financial crisis ended. That was the alarming news in NRC Handelsblad of 12 June 2015. Edwin Buitelaar, researcher at the Planning Bureau for the Built Environment in The Hague, gave a serious warning. However, no one seems to listen. While planning restrictions get less and less tight (spatial planning in general seems to be hampering economic growth), money flows in. The coming years the real estate market will grow on a massive scale, because there will be no profitable alternative to invest in. So vacant buildings will become the standard soon. Buitelaar thinks especially new shopping malls will have a devastating effect. Whole shopping streets could become ghost areas. Capitalism could destroy our heritage and our communities.

However, economists think the building industry is key for the recovery of the national economy. Especially the housing market is crucial in their eyes. Maarten Schinkel wrote on this new dogma on the front page of NRC Handelsblad of 9th of June. In ‘Optimism about the Dutch economy thanks to the housing market’ he explains why. Over the last twenty years the Dutch economy and the housing market have become heavely intertwined. In fact, VINEX (National Policy on Spatial Planning) has become a part of the Dutch national monetary policy. It means that the value of all the housing stock should be rising permanently, otherwise the economy will not grow. Still many dwellings are ‘under water’, (which means: the actual value is lower than when they were bought). And we all know that it takes a long time before dwellings will be abandoned. At this moment many Dutch households already stick to their place, because they cannot sell their real estate. With this ‘wall of money’ coming in it will even get worse. It may cure the economy, but it will destroy the Dutch landscape. Capitalism without planning is a horrible scenario. (photo: RAAAF, Vacant NL)

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