This week, we are pleased to welcome two new authors, Dominique Peck and Viktoria Scheifers, who are both Urban Design (M.Sc.) students at HafenCity University Hamburg. They have been working on the project “Hotel Wilhelmsburg” at Urban Design´s 1:1 laboratory and interdisciplinary education-research project Neighborhood’s University (UdN). Today’s article is the first of a series on this project.
We are standing in front of the stadium of FC St. Pauli, the district’s cult soccer club. They just lost another game. Together with us are about 1.400 people waiting for an announcement. Most of them are dressed in black or brown hoodies with skulls printed on them, FC St. Pauli’s mark; some enjoy a beer in the sun, some hand out flyers, and others watch what’s going on from a safe distance with their backs to an exterior wall. Finally, a voice roars out of speakers mounted to a truck with a banner. The upcoming 10 minutes of speeches mark the start of Protestkulturwoche (protest culture week) in St. Pauli.
Amsterdam is in great shape! Everywhere I attend lectures and seminars of urban professionals this statement is made, before more detailed issues are discussed. And quite frankly, those professionals are not mistaken. After an extensive era of urban renewal and suburban flight, in the late 1980s the city and region recommenced developing economically in line with ideas of Florida and Glaeser: the service economy took shape with Schiphol Airport and no longer the harbour as its engine, with students, entrepreneurs and office workers and no longer industrial workers as its fuel. After hitting rock-bottom the population started growing again after 1985:
Amsterdam population development 1960-2012. Source: O+S Amsterdam
And Amsterdam has increasingly become a city of the highly educated workforce:
Education levels of Amsterdam, the region and the country 1970 – 2009. Source: O+S Amsterdam
Economically Amsterdam started to catch up with the country as a whole, and the city and region are in fact outperforming the country in the recent crisis-ridden years:
Economic growth of Amsterdam, the region and the country 1980-2012. Source: O+S Amsterdam
However, there is a flip side to this story, a nuance in need of clarification. Continue reading
Hong Kong is a city of vertical neighbourhoods, scraping the clouds with their pencil-thin towers. One such neighbourhood, Yau Ma Tei (油麻地), is located on the Kowloon side of the city, and is a distinctly more local, more Chinese part of town. Yau Ma Tei is a collage of 1960s-era high-rise, wholesale retail spaces, and street vendors hawking local delicacies and imitation goods. Amidst the density, however, there is one section of buildings with ceilings much closer to the ground than its immediate surroundings.
Vang Vieng. With 30.000 inhabitants the 8th largest city of Laos, situated in a stunningly beautiful valley, directly at the Nam Song River, surrounded by a picturesque karst hill landscape. Perhaps relatively unknown by the average urbanist, though since a couple of years very famous among young, hedonistic backpacking tourists. After some years of rapid expansion in a somewhat anarchistic way, the ruling socialist party of Laos recently pulled on the handbrake deciding to shoot down its main attraction. In this article, I will describe the sudden rise, as well as the current uncertain future of Vang Vieng: Southeast Asia’s contested party capital.
Downtown junction in Vang Vieng (Photo: Jorn Koelemaij)
The extreme pace of China’s urban development has garnered considerable attention: manufactured cities for areas with staggering growth rates are created at a massive scale, dotting the Chinese map. Amidst the chaos, though, there are instances of cohesive urban planning that forecast the dilemmas and address them with solutions that foster sustainability, creativity, and liveability.
OCT-Loft: A meeting point for art, design, and retail (Photo: Adam Nowek)
One case is in Shenzhen, an extreme case. Once merely an insignificant fishing town next to Great Britain’s remaining Asian outpost at Hong Kong, Shenzhen now dwarfs Hong Kong in terms of population, and, increasingly, in terms of global economic progress. Shenzhen has undergone remarkable development since the 1980s: the establishment of special economic zones and the subsequent mass migration that followed have ensured Shenzhen’s bombastic emergence on the world stage. Continue reading
What to do on the coldest Saturday, 24th of March in the history of Holland? You join the ‘Old Amsterdam Food’ tour – Well at least that’s what we did with no regrets, and only half-frozen toes. This week the Tour welcomed a special guest, Carolyn Steel (a London-based architect, food enthusiast and author of ‘The Hungry City: How Food Shapes our Lives’ (2008) as part of the Food Film Festival 2013.
The tour began at De Waag, Nieuwmarkt, where the gate once served as a passage between the countryside and the old city of Amsterdam. A symbolic location to start the tour and to realize how much the City has expanded since its Golden Age in the 17 Century.
We then proceeded to Oude Kerk where we learned about how the Netherlands became Europe’s first industrial grain traders in the 17th century by exporting grain from Gdansk, also known as Danzig, the bread basket of Europe. We discovered that each canal had a commercial purpose to allow for easy access to commodities including vegetables, fish (especially herring), and grains – there was even one canal designated for the sole purpose of stocking Amsterdam’s thirst of beer! Next time you are enjoying a cold beer think about this: today’s beer culture in Amsterdam, and more generally in Western Europe can be attributed to the former issues concerning potable water – we clearly went down the beer route, whereas Asia took the tea route in order to purify their water supply.
This article was meant as an April Fool’s Day article. Read more at the bottom of this article.
This article is about bicycling in the true global bicycle capital: Amsterdam. But I will not write about success stories, I will write about a negative process which will only harm the most environmental friendly mobility. Amsterdam rocks a 34% bicycle modal share, an enormous share compared to EU averages, especially considering the size of the city (ca. 800.000 inhabitants). The vast amounts of bicycle infrastructure together with a mindset of the traffic road user and car restricting policies make the bicycle truly the fastest modality in Amsterdam.
The modal split of some large cities. Source: Pucher & Buehler, 2012
The city is an example of a successful bicycle city and its policies are copied around the world. There even is a Dutch Bicycle Embassy (Idea inspired by Denmark). But things are changing, in a way that the city will not deserve to carry the title of bicycle capital. These changes are a reaction to the so called lawlessness of bicycling in the city (see video, in which it is praised). These unwritten rules are known for the citizens, but unknown for the outsider. Every Amsterdam citizen knows that traffic lights are not meant for them, that ringing a bell to warn his or her approach to a group of tourists is useless as they will only start to run panicky in circles, that they always have right of way, on pedestrian crossings and versus cars or any other moving vehicle including other bicycles. Every wall or pole is a potential parking space, even that little space between two bicycles in a rack can be used, especially at the Central Station three layer parking deck. People have no idea rules actually exist, as they do not have any drivers license (I also don’t, so why should I care about rules) and cycling home completely drunk from a party, not remembering anything of the way home, including the trip to the shoarma fastfood joint, is completely normal and the weekend’s stories of losing the way in Amsterdam-West and Osdorp are shared on the Mondays either at work or in class.
This is a tale of geography. It is a tale about space and how important that is for our understanding of the social reality around us. In academic terms, you would say: spatial causality. What that means? Good question. It means how the physical space around us affects everyday life. Most of the time, researchers look for explanations within either the historical background (historical causality) or the current social circumstances (sociological causality). Although highly relevant, not that many use a real spatial perspective to shed light on certain urban issues. And that’s a shame. At least, that is what great urban thinker Edward Soja argues in his book Seeking Spatial Justice (2010). And I am perfectly fine with following his bright thinking.
This article will show you why place (and geography for that matter) is so important to understand the world around us. It will succeed in that by using a case of modest rurality within the urbanity of Amsterdam: the case of the Nieuwendammerdijk. This article comes out of my own (ethnographic) research done in 2010.
This week, we are pleased to welcome a new author, Marco Bontje. Dr. Bontje is an Assistant Professor in Urban Geography in the Department of Geography, Planning, and International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Having returned recently from Hong Kong, Dr. Bontje brings us his thoughts and experiences of Hong Kong’s urban nature. Enjoy!
Living and working in Hong Kong for a while is an experience I can definitely recommend to anyone in the field of urban studies. It is an impressive metropolis in many respects: bustling with activities 24-7, incredible densities of people and built environment across most of its territory, and still a city with a very high quality of life. For those that can afford it, that is, because living space is a very scarce resource that comes at a high price. Fortunately, high living costs are partly compensated by the affordability of food, drinks, and transport. Coming from small-city Europe, thinking that a city like Amsterdam is dense and highly urbanised, come to Hong Kong and think again. On return in Amsterdam, I suddenly experienced it as strangely quiet, spacious and even a bit empty…
Just about when the metropolis seems to become a bit too overwhelming, when you have had it with the masses of people in subways, subway stations and shopping malls, and when you are longing for fresher air, there is this great escape that for many Hong Kongers is an important part of what makes their city liveable: the country parks right next door. Continue reading