The Suicide Cycle Tour: Bogotá

Cycling in Bogotá is still somehow exotic and an adventure, but Michiel Dekker dared to explore the city on two wheels and has some interesting stories to tell. Continue reading

Filming Cities: I am Gurgaon

The rapidly growing Indian middle class demands the development of new cities. Gurgaon is a prime example. Jorn Koelemaij reviews this documentary from 2010. Continue reading

Coffee in the City

Jan Rath and Wietze Gelmers theorise on their research of coffee bars in Amsterdam: are they the convivial third places for urban nomads or something else? Continue reading

The PIN-Only Epidemic in Amsterdam

The increase of pin-only retail excludes people without access to financial and banking service from our society. Donya Ahmadi explains this pressing issue. Continue reading

Celebrating South China's Urban Villages

Adam Nowek (@adamnowek) interviews architect and urban design professor Stefan Al about his new book about South China's urban villages. Continue reading

The Suicide Cycle Tour: Bogotá

Posted on by Michiel Dekker in Crazy Shit, Urban Mobility | Leave a comment

The Suicide Cycle Tour is an exclusive series here on The Proto City that covers the trials and tribulations of the cyclist in cities that just aren’t friendly to them, including, BerlinBostonHong KongLondonManchesterMoscowNew YorkPortlandPretoria, SydneyTransnistria, and Vienna. This time Michiel Dekker takes us to Bogotá, Colombia.

Bogotá, the capital of a country with a not so favourable reputation. The legacy of years of violence is reflected in the impressions of Colombia by many people. The intensity of the conflict in the country has dropped over the last decade however, and chances that you will find yourself in open warfare in this city are not present anymore. Along with dropping crime rates, the city is slowly but steady crawling up the list of recommended travel destinations. And why not discover this highly contrasting metropolis, populated by almost nine million inhabitants, by bike?

A view on Bogotá, with clearly visible construction works.

A view on Bogotá, with clearly visible construction works.

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Filming Cities: I am Gurgaon

Posted on by Jorn Koelemaij in Urban Documentary | Leave a 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. This month we review ‘I am Gurgaon’, a Dutch documentary about a privately developed new town on the edge of New Delhi.

I am Gurgaon by VPRO Tegenlicht

‘I am Gurgaon’ by VPRO Tegenlicht

  I am Gurgaon

Marije Meerman (VPRO Tegenlicht)

The Netherlands, 2010


“Of course we understand that you can’t get heaven on earth, but when you’re playing with sentiments of people with money, we want to believe that there’s going to be heaven on earth.”


Gurgaon, a ‘new’ Indian city and ‘economic hub’ mainly developed in the 21st century, was ought to be an archetypical residential area to comfortably host the increasing Indian (upper) middle class. This documentary, which is an episode of the weekly Dutch ‘future-affairs’ programme ‘Tegenlicht’, portrays some of the (future) inhabitants of this artificial, privately developed city. In the early minutes of the film, it shows that some of the residents indeed consider their Gurgaon gated community as a heaven-like place. It is described as ‘progressive, moving and modern’, ‘the world that we see when we’re travelling’, and ‘a Singapore for India.’ When the documentary progresses, however, it becomes clear that Gurgaon may not quite be an enviable example of decent modern urban planning. Continue reading

Coffee in the City

Posted on by Jan Rath and Wietze Gelmers in Urban Sociology | Leave a comment

In Amsterdam today, specialty coffee bars are mushrooming. Does this mean that Amsterdammers have become coffee gluttons from one day to the next? Fact is that the spread of specialty coffee bars is not confined to Amsterdam, but a phenomenon that can be observed in almost every world city, be it Vancouver, Istanbul, or Kunming. It is obvious that structural factors apply such as, firstly, the transformation of the manufacturing economy to what Alan J. Scott would label the cognitive-creative economy; secondly, the concomitant concentration in urban centres of high-skilled and on life-style and connections oriented individuals; and thirdly, the proliferation of new forms of urbanism. But how does this work in practice? Here, we examine what is actually happening in these specialty coffee bars.

The Outpost in New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of the few establishments patronised by caucasian locals in a predominantly African-American neighbourhood, suggesting that gentrification is on the way (Photo: Jan Rath)

The Outpost in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of the few establishments patronised by caucasian locals in a predominantly African-American neighbourhood, suggesting that gentrification is on the way (Photo: Jan Rath)

Older readers may still recall the typical Amsterdam ‘brown cafes’, licensed premises featuring dark wood due to years of smoking patrons. These cafes cherished a warm and cozy atmosphere by offering a drink, a snack, a friendly conversation, and a game of cards or billiards. Coffee was available any time of the day. Indeed, a pot of lukewarm and often stale coffee was patiently waiting on a warming plate. Next to brown cafes, there were ‘coffee shops’ (koffiehuizen) — not to be confused with establishments for the sale of cannabis for personal consumption. Most of the time, these were non-licensed, casual eating and drinking places with Formica tables and chequered serviettes. Koffiehuizen served coffee, tea or milk, and also light lunches such as cheese rolls, omelets, and croquets. Here too, patrons enjoyed their coffee in white china cups while sitting at a table. To be sure, at both types of premises the range of coffee products was limited to either black coffee or coffee with milk.

How different are things on the urban coffee front today? Percolator coffee is no longer existent unless in very, very hip specialty bars where slow coffee is on the menu. Now, a cup of coffee is typically freshly brewed either by a high-end shiny, chrome espresso maker, preferably of Italian design, or a less fancy and less expensive coffee machine, but always on individual order. The introduction of these newfangled machines has been accompanied by real quality improvements, or at least the pretension thereof. These improvements responded to and paved the way for a further fragmentation of consumer preferences. Where once a simple black or white coffee was a dominant feature of cafes in most cities, the production and consumption of a whole array of caffeinated beverages have been following a pattern that is commonplace in the entire post-Fordist world. Continue reading

The PIN-Only Epidemic in Amsterdam

Posted on by Donya Ahmadi in Urban Sociology | 1 Comment

Planning for Social Exclusion: The PIN-Only Epidemic in Amsterdam

We live in an era of fast-paced and precarious change whereby exclusion – as an outcome of processes of social embodiment grounded in an unequal global capitalist order – is a rising concern in numerous cities. Earlier accounts of social exclusion focused more on socio-economic factors (in particular employment status) in answering the question of what causes certain groups in an urban society to become disconnected from the normal round of living and working within that society. A unidimensional approach as such equates social exclusion with unemployment. Social inclusion in that case is realized by one’s integration into the labour market or becoming productive within the Capitalist framework.


“PIN-only policies are ruling out the ones who do not have access to financial and banking services”

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Celebrating South China’s Urban Villages

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

Urban informality is hardly a new reality for the world’s cities. The term itself has a young theoretical life, being championed by urbanist Ananya Roy as a lens with which to think about how cities are planned and made without the need to approach an urban planning department. Informal settlements exist in a huge variety of forms, from the gradual occupation of the Torre David skyscraper in Caracas to the built-overnight towers of outer Istanbul, and offer ad hoc solutions for housing, retail, and community space alongside questionable building quality.

Architectural details in the urban village often have multiple functions that would otherwise be discouraged elsewhere in the formal city (Photo: psychosteria on Flickr)

Architectural details in the urban village often have multiple functions that would otherwise be discouraged elsewhere in the formal city (Photo: psychosteria on Flickr)

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Amsterdam Souvenir: Demand for Authenticity

Posted on by Rosanne Nieuwesteeg in Labour & Urban Economics | Leave a comment

The growing consumer demand for locally produced products in cities has led to new forms of urban consumption and production processes. Products that are locally grown, processed or produced are often defined as ‘authentic’ by consumers and producers. For instance, growing environmental awareness and concerns about health effects and quality of products, has led to an increasing demand for organically and locally produced food by consumers and producers. If we look at the city of Amsterdam, consumption of organic and ‘authentic’ food is getting increasingly popular. Organic products are offered by supermarkets as the Marqt and the Ekoplaza, who consider themselves as authentic food stores by selling ethical, organic and local food as an alternative to the traditional supermarket. The origin of where the product is produced plays an important role in the growing demand for these products; the place shows the uniqueness of the product. Souvenirs are products which are definitively linked to a certain place; they function as messengers which give meaning to a place. These objects are usually purchased during travel by tourists and may remind the consumer of past experiences and places visited.

One would expect a growing interest in local production and consumption of souvenirs as well. A growing interest in souvenirs that are perceived as original and authentic by consumers and producers, instead of the mass produced tulips, clogs and windmills which make no explicit claim to authenticity. Let’s see if this is the case in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, by first looking into some background literature while drawing the picture by two examples of authentic consumerism.

Authentic souvenir - Hema-wise

Authentic Souvenir: Hema sausage

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Leipzig: Back to Growth, but Not for Everyone

Posted on by Marco Bontje in Human Geography | Leave a comment

Not so long ago, Leipzig was one of the best known and most frequently studied cases of urban shrinkage in Europe. Its population had been declining for almost seven decades, a process that had already started before World War II. In 1933, Leipzig had 713,000 inhabitants; in 1998, there were only 437,000 left. This population decline mainly had economic and political reasons. After World War II, Leipzig became part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), anything but democratic despite of its name. The GDR had a socialist one-party regime and a state-led economy. The GDR regime determined that the Leipzig region was to specialize in heavy industries, mainly chemical industries and machine production, and lignite mining (brown coal). Before World War II Leipzig already had some of those industries, but combined this with service industries like finance, legal services and media. Most of these service industries were lost to West-German cities like Frankfurt and Munich (the commercial services) or to East Berlin, the GDR capital where all state-led services were concentrated. Leipzig became a decaying, polluted and unattractive city; many people decided to leave it if they had the chance.


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Filming Cities: Pedal

Posted on by Stephan Valenta in Urban Documentary | Leave a 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. This month we review “Pedal”, a documentary on earlier years of the bike messenger culture in New York.

Peter Sutherland
USA, 2001

“If you is fast, then you would go to the Tour de France, to earn some good money.”

While the bike messenger subculture has nowadays largely been taken into the main stream in cities of the West, their origins lie in New York City, where in the 1990s a small group of brave bike fanatics quickly took over the delivery market, as the bike proved to be the fastest in this permanently congested city. Continue reading

Territoriality and Tensions in Glasgow’s ‘Schemes’

Posted on by Jorn Koelemaij in Human Geography | Leave a comment

Most of the younger ones are just interested in fighting […] It’s quite pathetic I think. It’s just an area, apart from that we’re just the same, so why fighting over an area? Said Neil* (19), one of the ‘Possilpark’ respondents from my research in which I qualitatively investigated the relation between territoriality and social exclusion among youngsters in disadvantaged areas. A couple of months after the occurrence of our interview, Neil got randomly attacked by a number of young boys when he was walking down a street in an adjacent (rivalry) area on his own. Luckily, his stab wounds recovered reasonably fast so he was soon allowed to leave the hospital.

Saracen Street December 2012, Possilpark

Saracen Street December 2012, Possilpark

Glasgow has been suffering from the image of being a violent city for many decades: sectarianism, gang formation and knife crime are issues the city has seriously had to deal with for over a 100 years. And although this latter issue seems to be improving to some extent, the city still has the highest rates of homicides and violent crime within the entire United Kingdom. In this article I will position the issue of territoriality within the current academic debate on ‘neighbourhood effects’ and social exclusion, while reporting the most interesting findings from my case study in Possilpark. Continue reading

The Revival of Craft Beer in Urban Areas

Posted on by Skadi Renooy in Labour & Urban Economics | 2 Comments

The availability of locally produced craft beers next to the mainstream lagers in shops and bars nowadays seems to be self-evident. However, the opening up of the market for a variety of locally produced craft beers is a fairly new phenomenon in the Netherlands, where the beer market is dominated by eight large companies (i.e. Heineken as many of us probably know). Over the last few years a remarkable rise in the production and consumption of independent craft-made beers can nonetheless be witnessed. Dutch overall beer consumption is decreasing, but local brewed craft beer is getting more popular. According to the association of microbrewers the number of independent microbreweries has doubled over the last three years, from 104 listed independent microbreweries in 2011, to 220 in 2014.

Brouwerij 't IJ, popular micro-brewery in Amsterdam (picture by Bastian)

Brouwerij ‘t IJ, popular microbrewery in Amsterdam (picture by Bastian)

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