A Kabaza Kind of Life

Nora Lindström (@urbanopolista) explores the informal world of kabazas, bike transport for locals in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe. Continue reading

Europe’s Largest Chinatown in Belarus?

China and Belarus are about to build a massive industrial park on the outskirts of Minsk. In this article, Jorn Koelemaij questions its potential. Continue reading

Porto: UNESCO Heritage or Ruin

Ruins in a UNESCO city centre. One would expect these in ancient cities. Stephan Valenta explores Porto and finds out also modern UNESCO sites can hold ruins. Continue reading

Bitcoin Inventor to Fund Amsterdam Cruise Terminal

In a Proto City exclusive, Fune Tsuka uncovers Amsterdam's controversial plans to build a second cruise ship terminal at NDSM-werf. Continue reading

Filming Cities: Ekümenopolis (2011)

In this month's Filming Cities, Jorn Koelemaij reviews the documentary Ekumenopolis', which shows how Istanbul has reached its limits. Continue reading

A Kabaza Kind of Life

Posted on by Nora Lindstrom in Urban Mobility | Leave a comment

Lilongwe, Malawi is a pain to get around. Public transport is lacking, so unless you have your own wheels, your options are walking or turning to the informal sector. Within the latter, kabazas are one of the options.

Waiting at the Kabaza Station (Photo: Nora Lindström)

Waiting at the Kabaza Station (Photo: Nora Lindström)

Kabazas are bicycle taxis that operate in most areas of the city, serving a mixed clientele. They are operated by young men who rent the bicycles on a semi-permanent basis, paying either daily or weekly fees to the owner of the bicycle. The bikes are rented because at around $100 a pop, as new bikes are generally unaffordable to operators themselves. Kabazas transport customers on a cushioned seat at the back of the bike for a small fee depending on the distance travelled and the gradient of the route (going uphill is more expensive). They are territorial; many have organised into associations both for their own and their customers’ benefit and safety. Continue reading

Europe’s Largest Chinatown in Belarus?

Posted on by Jorn Koelemaij in Urban Planning & Design | Leave a comment

The remarkable development of the China-Belarus Industrial Park

About a year ago, there was a noteworthy news item in the global media. It was announced that China would invest $5 billion into the development of an entire city in the forests near the Belarusian capital Minsk. The plan included enough housing to accommodate more than 155,000 people, which means that it will enter the top 10 of largest cities in Belarus. The ‘city’, will be designed as an industrial park, after Chinese example, while it is being branded as ‘the modern city on the Eurasian continent.’


The Presidents Xi Jingping and Alexander Lukashenko during a meeting – picture by Xinhua

According to the original plan, the first stage of the project will be ready in 2020. The second stage will need another 10 years to be completed. In order to attract foreign investors, the park will have some significant tax incentives that are ought to make it attractive for high-tech and export-oriented (foreign) businesses to jump in. This way, Chinese exporters are within the geographic reach of the European Union while having access to a cheap but educated (Belarusian) labour force, in case they will not be bringing their own. At the same time, Belarusian president Lukashenko stated that it will be a ‘technological leap’ for his country. Although it seems that the initial phase of the development has not occurred without a hitch, it was announced recently that the construction is supposed to start this month. It thus looks like Belarus will get another remarkable city, next to its capital Minsk which does not quite seem to fit into any of the common post-socialist urban trajectories.

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Porto: UNESCO Heritage or Ruin

Posted on by Stephan Valenta in Urban Planning & Design | Leave a comment

Porto and its shrinking city centre

On The ProtoCity we have written on the shrinking periphery of the Netherlands and its shrinking city Den Helder. But shrinking is not restricted to small cities and peripheral regions near international country borders. Shrinkage is also present in the interurban structures of large metropolitan areas, where municipalities compete for business and inhabitants of the upper economical classes. Let me take you to Porto, one of the cities in which hosted the European Championship of Football in 2004, home of the port wine and FC Porto (and also Boavista, currently relegated to the 3rd division due to corruption scandals).

Ruin on the Avenida dos Aliados

Bad maintenance on the Avenida dos Aliados (Photo: Stephan Valenta)

Porto, the second largest city of Portugal, is inhabited by 1.4 million people in its urban area. The city features several historical bridges which connect the two sides of the Douro river valley, dividing Porto. On the one side lies the old city centre, declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1996, on side lie the wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia. The old city centre has a rich architectural collection of buildings from the 18th and 19th century, the golden times for the city. English traders set-up trading posts to export Port wines to mainly the English market. The city of Porto profited from this, as the Baroque architecture from that age bears witness. Port wine export flourished and trade with its colonies in Africa and Southern America reached its high points in that period.

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Bitcoin Inventor to Fund Amsterdam Cruise Terminal

Posted on by Fune Tsuka in Labour & Urban Economics | 2 Comments

Disclaimer: this article was meant as an April Fool’s Day article.

Leaked classified memos from the City of Amsterdam suggest that the controversial plans to construct a cruise ship terminal at NDSM-werf, which had been stalled for years, will finally go ahead thanks to funding from Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.

Tourism Investments in Times of Crisis

Over the past decades, the numbers of tourist visitors in well-preserved historical European cities kept on rising rapidly. This has often led to heavy debates among different stakeholders: opposite to liberal political parties and entrepreneurs, who stress tourism is a great opportunity to boost the local urban economy in many ways, there are always concerned citizens that see their former residential neighbourhood slowly but surely transforming into something that rather looks like a theme park. Also, parties on the left side of the political spectrum often state that public money should not be spent on city marketing campaigns, but rather on solving societal issues that are often occurring on the less touristic modernist outskirts of the city.

A large cruise ship arrives in Amsterdam at the river IJ (photo: Nik Morris)

A Cruise Ship Arrives in Amsterdam’s IJ (Photo: Nik Morris)

Amsterdam definitely is a city where this debate takes place today: according to this Dutch report, many people are worried about the increased crowds in town. The number of cruise passengers that visited Amsterdam increased from 175.000 in 2001 to 592.000 in 2012. In the meantime, the municipality is the biggest sponsor of Amsterdam Marketing, while it has thus considered for a number of years to construct a second cruise terminal. Since the social liberal party D66 recently won the elections and took over the leading position of the Labour Party for the first time since 1946, it can be expected that investments in order to attract even more tourists will increase.

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Filming Cities: Ekümenopolis (2011)

Posted on by Jorn Koelemaij in Urban Documentary | 1 Comment

Filming Cities is a monthly series on The Proto City, in which one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. After having reviewed Coast Modern and Conversations in Milton Keynes, this episode will discuss the documentary Ekümenopolis: City Without Limits.


Ekümenopolis: City without Limits
Directed by İmre Azem
Produced by Gaye Günay

This critical documentary offers us a holistic view of contemporary Istanbul, Europe’s fastest growing megacity, which, due to massive rural-urban migration, grew from 3.5 million inhabitants in 1980 towards more than 15 million (!) today. The film starts with an animation which lasts for about 8 minutes; here, the viewer gets an overview of the recent development of the city, while the key topic, forced relocation, is being highlighted already as well.

The tone and approach Imre Azem took is immediately getting quite obvious; neoliberalism, as a result of globalisation and a legacy of the 1980s, has had a strong influence on the emergence of Istanbul as a ‘global city’, and has heavily contributed to the widened gap between rich and poor. One of the institutions that is being heavily criticised throughout the entire 90 minutes is the Housing Development Administration ‘TOKI’, which is being reflected as a science fiction-like evil mechanic spider that is demolishing large parts of the city while replacing it with high rise modernist estates. The main message of the film is in line with neo-Marxist urban scholars as Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, and Susan Fainstein. Even though concepts as social justice, equity, and ‘the right to the city’ may not be literally mentioned much, the topics that are highlighted closely touch upon those on-going debates in urban sociology.

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The Suicide Cycle Tour: Sydney

Posted on by Matt Smith in Urban Mobility | Leave a comment

Sydney looks like a cyclists dream, but the city has a long way to go to become bike–friendly (Photo: Matt Smith)

Sydney looks like a cyclists dream, but the city has a long way to go to become bike–friendly (Photo: Matt Smith)

Recently, I’ve joined Sydney’s growing band of casual urban cyclists, as I am sick of waiting ages for local buses on weekends, especially on Sundays. I reside above a dodgy shop in a former industrial area that has a well-connected train station up the road (the station has a lift to take your bike down to the platform on, for instance). But when the weekend comes around and you want to visit a nearby inner-city area, hopping on your bike could be thought of as the easiest option. It’s essentially free, clean, and you avoid horrendous parking nightmares that you can often encounter in some parts of the city.

But, as I’ve started to cycle around the city, there have been a couple of things on my mind. How can I avoid getting hit by a taxi? What are the routes that I won’t just be uphill (no, I’m not that lazy, but Sydney in some parts is exceptionally hilly and not a flat bikers paradise like The Netherlands)? Can I take my bike on the city’s public transport network? And are there bike-friendly train stations? Continue reading

Nassau Primed to Become the Next Macau

Posted on by Adam Nowek in Urban Planning & Design | Leave a comment

One of the world’s largest and most costly construction sites is not a colossal piece of transportation infrastructure, a swath of industrial warehouses, or endless suburban sprawl. And it isn’t located in China, the United Arab Emirates, or the United states, the countries that one would typically expect to be realising such a colossal project.

It’s a resort in The Bahamas.

Baha Mar Under Construction (Photo: Kovah Duncombe)

Baha Mar Under Construction (Photo: Kovah Duncombe)

Baha Mar is a resort mega-project worth $3.5 billion USD, made up of four hotels outfitted with what is slated to be the largest casino in the whole of the Caribbean. The project is not only aimed at attracting tourist crowds, either; Baha Mar will house hundreds of private residences designed for the high-end residential market, meaning that the Bahamian capital is seeking to sway even more luxury-seeking foreigners away from colder lands with strict tax regulations to a narrow island city where one is never far from the beach nor a foreign finance bank. Continue reading

Competition of the Cabbies

Posted on by Jolien Groot in Urban Mobility | Leave a comment

Taxis, Authorities, and Innovative Start-Ups in Paris and Amsterdam

It is not easy to be a taxi driver these days. In Paris, cabbies have been striking in the past month, jamming the traffic on the city’s ring road and blocking the access to airports. In Amsterdam, cab drivers were so angry that they decided to block part of the inner city and create a traffic jam in front of the mayor’s house last November. Even in Goa, a popular tourist destination in India, a taxi strike became quite violent in the past month.

Taxi's in Amsterdam

Taxis in Amsterdam

What are all these cabbies so angry about? Even though the exact problems and the policies regarding taxi licenses in these cities vary, it seems that strict regulations and unfair competition are always the main issues at hand. The main stakeholders involved in the taxicab industries are the governments that regulate the industry and its fares, taxi associations, the drivers and the customers. Municipal authorities are constantly trying to adapt their policies to make the taxi traffic regulated, safer and prosperous. Faced with poor service supply, several cities have deregulated their taxi industry and gradually brought back some elements of regulation later on. Continue reading

The Responsible Capital: Amsterdam’s Hinterland

Posted on by Marco Bontje in Labour & Urban Economics | Leave a comment

When Eberhard van der Laan became mayor of Amsterdam in 2010, one of his missions was to make Amsterdam a ‘verantwoordelijke hoofdstad’ (literally, a responsible capital). In his acceptance speech, van der Laan suggested that Amsterdam, as the capital city of the Netherlands, should not only have good collaborative relationships with its own city-region, but also with the country as a whole. He felt especially responsible for shrinking municipalities, which are much less fortunate than the attractive and wealthy city-region of Amsterdam. Van der Laan expressed the willingness and ambition to show solidarity with the fastest shrinking parts of the Netherlands and to offer them help to solve their problems.

Amsterdam, responsible capital?

Amsterdam:The Responsible Capital?

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Filming Cities: Conversations in Milton Keynes

Posted on by Lukas Franta in Urban Documentary | Leave a comment

Filming Cities is a new feature here at The Proto City. Each month, one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. After looking at modernism on the West Coast (see last months ‘Coast Modern‘), Lukas Franta reviews Ingo Baltes’ documentary ‘Conversations in Milton Keynes’ (2011). 

Conversations in Milton Keynes

by Ingo Baltes

Belgium, 2011

Milton Keynes: 'We try to catch people with our landscape'

Milton Keynes: ‘We try to catch people with our landscape’

Milton Keynes is a city in Great Britain, approx. 72km north of London on the way to Birmingham. It is a city quite well known, though not for its beautiful city center or its turbulent history. Milton Keynes is known as being the biggest planned city (‘new town’) in the country, designed in the 1960s and subsequently built according to the ideals of modernism: functional separation of living, working and shopping, with a strong focus on the car as the main means of transportation. Vast green spaces with a network of paths are connecting the neighborhoods with the shopping mall, which is as well the ‘heart’ of the city, and the only lively public space.

Baltes’ documentary starts with a very personal story on why he made a movie about this city: he ended up in Milton Keynes by accident, got lost on the way from the bus stop to the ‘center’ on the search for a hotel in the middle of the night. And failed. Continue reading

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