Spaces Left Over after Secularization

Dutch cities are redeveloping empty church buildings. What are these spaces used for and what initiated this trend? Continue reading

My Neighbour, the Späti

The Späti is a Berlin style convenience store that shapes both the cityscape and the everyday practices of the Berliner, who internalised its ubiquity and value. The cultural importance of it would probably become more evident if it disappeared. Continue reading

The Suicide Cycle Tour: Belgrade

In yet another episode of our suicide cycling tour, Jorn Koelemaij shares his experiences from Belgrade, in which he spent a day being a lonely cyclist. Continue reading

Expats in Global Cities: Reshaping the Local

Leon van Keulen (@leonvkeulen) investigates to what extent expats in Amsterdam and Hong Kong are connected to the city they currently live in. Continue reading

City Rankings and Their Irrelevance

Grant Diamond offers a critical take of the relevance of city ranking lists, such as that of the Economist Intelligence Unit. Continue reading

Spaces Left Over after Secularization

Posted on by Afra Foli in Human Geography, Urban Planning & Design | Leave a comment

The reuse of churches in the Netherlands

Although the vast amount of Belgian beers makes Olivier (a beer café in Utrecht) immensely popular, the place will probably leave you with a sore throat at the end of the night from shouting across the table to your drinking buddies. The acoustics in Olivier are a remnant of its former purpose as a Catholic church and the high ceilings echo sound in a way that must be great for choir practice but doesn’t work that well for group conversations. Charmingly enough, the organ and some religious texts are still on display inside Olivier. Just like you can still see stained glass in Amsterdam’s Paradiso (church turned pop temple) and Arnhem’s Skatehal (church turned skaters’ paradise). Adaptive reuse of churches in cities across the Netherlands is not rare anymore, Paradiso was opened in 1968 and since then various empty(ing) churches followed suit. And it’s not a purely Dutch phenomenon; cities across Western-Europe are developing their churches to suit today’s needs. What initiated this trend and what does it say about our European cities today?

Cafe Olivier in Utrecht. Source: Flickr user Kotomi

Cafe Olivier in Utrecht. Source: Flickr user Kotomi

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My Neighbour, the Späti

Posted on by Daniela Brose in Urban Planning & Design | 6 Comments

Around a week after I moved from Berlin to Amsterdam, I was out at night taking a walk when a sudden craving for chocolate overtook me. Looking around, the only thing open to me was the beautiful cityscape, its typical small canal houses, and the reflections of light on the water. As I strategically scanned the area, it slowly began to dawn on me: maybe they do not have them in Amsterdam. It was hard for me to imagine, and even more so difficult to accept, how life in Amsterdam could be possible without one: a Späti.

What is a Späti?

In its simplest incarnation, a Späti is a convenience store. Open 24 hours, day and night, Spätis are an intrinsic element of Berlin’s cityscape. Pretty much exclusive to Berlin, except maybe Hypezig, there are over a thousand of them and the one commonality that they share is their uniqueness. With a product range that includes the obvious, such as beer, wine (but in Berlin you drink beer), cigarettes, snack foods, soft drinks, and general convenience goods – you are just as likely to stumble over items ranging from volumes of poetry, Chinese pottery, or an almost complete collection of a hardware store.

The typical shop front of a Späti: univiting but still so familiar © Daniel Gregor

The typical shop front of a Späti: uninviting but still so familiar © Daniel Gregor

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The Suicide Cycle Tour: Belgrade

Posted on by Jorn Koelemaij in Crazy Shit, Urban Mobility | 5 Comments

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, Berlin, BogotáBostonHong KongLondon, Madrid, ManchesterMoscowNew YorkPortlandPretoriaSydneyTransnistria, and Vienna. This week, we ride our bikes in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.

Belgrade and cycling: two things that do not go very comfortably together. Especially in the old city one will hardly see anyone daring to climb its hilly and car-dominated roads on a bike. Are there any realistic perspectives for Belgrade to improve its bike-friendliness in the near future? Or is the unfortunate combination of unfavourable geographical and climatological factors making the emergence of a widely-accepted cycling culture rather unrealistic?

Belgrade city centre

Belgrade city centre – one of the scarce flat parts

During our stay in Belgrade last November, we decided not to join any of the guided bike tours that are offered but to rent bicycles ourselves to extensively explore the various parts of this South East European metropolis. Continue reading

Expats in Global Cities: Reshaping the Local

Posted on by Leon van Keulen in Urban Sociology | Leave a comment

Highly-skilled migrants – expats – entail an ever larger part of the urban society. In the current global economy, cities, regions, and nations are in an active search of the highly skilled. This process is particularly articulated in urban areas, as these are the geographic nodes where global talent, as well as multinational companies gravitate towards. Talent migration forms a key factor for urban area to keep up with international economic competition.

As a result, national governments are significantly easing migration policies for highly-skilled migrants by reducing restrictions to enter the country and by facilitating their integration via publicly-funded expat centres. Germany is now considered to be one of the most welcoming countries for the highly-skilled to migrate to. Highly-skilled migrants are for the most part politically – but primarily economically – highly appreciated and has therefore also been referred to as the ‘invisible, accepted form of migration’; as opposed to the less accepted form of migration of low-skilled migrants. The latter has been accused of not integrating, whereas the former seems to be totally neglected with regards to issues revolving around identification and integration. Part of this is due to the fact that lower skilled migrants are discussed in terms of socio-cultural aspects, whereas the latter (expats) are discussed in socioeconomic terms.

Expats in Socio-Cultural Terms

To a certain extent, highly-skilled migrants are indeed different from their lower skilled counterparts. Continue reading

City Rankings and Their Irrelevance

Posted on by Grant Diamond in Urban Planning & Design | Leave a comment

A recent satire released on syruptrap.ca entitled “Vancouver ranked the most city in the world,” exemplifies the usefulness and wealth of information one can learn from a think tank’s city rankings, that being nearly nothing.

The article’s headline is all too common for Vancouverites as they browse their newsfeeds or read the paper. The city is consistently ranked among the most liveable on various surveys produced by think tanks from around the world. It is a predictable and repetitive story. The media will speak praise about Vancouver’s climate and access to nature while images of Yaletown’s skyscrapers juxtaposed against the North Shore mountains dazzle on the screen. The headlines about our fair city give us warm and fuzzies for a minute or two and then we go about our daily lives.

While it is nice to hear that people in an office somewhere thinks our city is great, these surveys are problematic in that they are used by the media to justify and propagate false narratives about cities while ignoring real social issues, or they are plain wrong due to methodological errors.

Stanley Park is the largest urban park in North America and contributes to Vancouver’s rankings on livability indices (Photo: Grant Diamond)

Stanley Park is the largest urban park in North America and contributes to Vancouver’s rankings on livability indices (Photo: Grant Diamond)

While cities once competed at a regional scale, globalisation has seen competition for investment and capital turn international. Cities compete to be the most creative, sustainable, livable, and so on, and market themselves to project this image. By being the most something, a city can attract investment as it is viewed as a desirable place. Liveable cities are viewed as the prime place to grow a cognitive-cultural economy and attract the creative class and one way this is marketed is through city indices. Continue reading

Brand Old Skopje

Posted on by Tena Prelec in Human Geography, Urban Planning & Design | Leave a comment

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This article has kindly been offered by the LSEE Blog (run by LSEE Research on South Eastern Europe) to The Proto City   as part of a blog exchange. In turn, our editor Jorn Koelemaij and regular author Barend Wind wrote a piece on the Belgrade Waterfront project. You can read our contribution to LSEE here.

In recent years, Skopje underwent a process of city rebranding, reinventing itself along a past that, arguably, never was. The project was presented as a way of dignifying the city’s landscape and attracting tourists – but it mostly attracted international media’s scepticism and ridicule, and also exacerbated the long-running name dispute with Greece. The sums of money involved in the project have raised questions of financial integrity that have been all but answered.

Skopje city centre’s construction projects. The new buildings on the waterfront are now covering up the architecture from the socialist past, as to erase it from the eye of the observer. Map by Jakub Krupa – LSEE Research on South Eastern Europe

Skopje city centre’s construction projects. The new buildings on the waterfront are now covering up the architecture from the socialist past, as to erase it from the eye of the observer. Map by Jakub Krupa – LSEE Research on South Eastern Europe

We are speaking about a very expensive four-year long endeavour: the estimates range from just above €200m (government estimate) to over €500m and even €1bn, from an initial figure of only €80m. The original plan was thus less ambitious than the execution turned out to be. As the megalomaniac statues and buildings casting a link to an idealised past were not opposed by mass protests and, on the contrary, the electorate seemed to fundamentally like them by reconfirming the ruling right-wing VMRO-DPMNE to power in the 2013 and 2014 elections, the government raised the stakes and went for an even bigger intervention in the city’s urban makeup. Several buildings are still under construction. ‘Skopje 2014’ (the name indicating the year of completion) might well, in fact, be running into 2015.

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Filming Cities: Cities on Speed – Bogotà Change

Posted on by Jolien Groot 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 ‘Cities on Speed – Bogotà Change’, a Danish documentary focusing on the political mechanisms behind Bogotà’s rapid change.

Cities on Speed – Bogotà Change
By Andreas Mol Dalsgaard
Denmark 2009

Meet the Mayors

This story begins back in 1993, when philosopher – mathematician Antanas Mockus resigned as president of the University of Bogotà for mooning protesting students. Yes, you have read that correctly: he showed his butthole to an angry mob. FARC-rebels and anarchists would daily confront the rector who was known for his unorthodox methods of conflict resolution. Because of his behaviour, Mr. Mockus became a popular public figure in Bogotà. He became a symbol of honesty for many Bogotians, who were fed up with a culture of corruption. Within months Mockus became so popular that he was elected in 1995 as the first independent mayor of the city.

Enrique Peñalosa & Antanas Mockus

Enrique Peñalosa & Antanas Mockus (Source: dfi.dk)

The documentary Cities on Speed: Bogotà Change from filmmaker Andreas Mol Dalsgaard (The Human scale) gives you an introductory course into the political mechanisms behind Bogotà’s rapid metamorphosis. Bogotà’s political arena certainly hasn’t been boring in the past decades. This documentary from 2009 tells an intriguing tale of the two mayors responsible for the metamorphosis of the former ‘worst city in the world': the pragmatist Peñalosa and the philosopher Mockus. Which approach does a city need in order to develop in a sustainable way?

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Finding Whose Right? A Paris Love (Lock) Story

Posted on by Nicole de Groot in Urban Sociology | 2 Comments

The case of Paris’ love locks on bridges, and as a result the bridges’ partial collapse, bring into sharp focus to the less-than-sharp Right to the City theory, most famously presented by Henri Lefebvre (1968). Whose right it actually is continues to be argued. Is it the Parisian inhabitants who get to decide, or do tourists also have a right to the city?

Pont des Arts, December 2012 Photo: Author

Pont des Arts, December 2012 Photo: Author

A tale as old as time

Placing a lock on a bridge and throwing the key in the river is a romantic ritual that visitors eagerly partake in when they go to Paris. Love locks began to appear on Paris’ bridges in 2008, but it is difficult to trace the ritual’s exact origin. Some attribute it to Federico Moccia’s 2006 teen novel, I Want You, while others point to a much older Serbian tale of two lovers’ misfortune during World War I. In spite of its ubiquity and contrary to popular belief, the symbolic act of love is not at all a French tradition, nor is this particular epidemic of ‘public space appropriation’ by tourists limited to Paris. Today, “love locks” are found in cities like New York, Rome, Venice, Seoul, Budapest, and Amsterdam, to name a few.

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Neukölln: State-supported gentrification in denial

Posted on by Cody Hochstenbach in Human Geography | Leave a comment

This contribution is based on the paper ‘Stakeholder Representations of Marginal Gentrification in Amsterdam and Berlin: A Marginal Process?’ published in Housing Studies. Follow this link for the full academic article.

Neukölln, Berlin

A widely felt dissatisfaction with and anger about gentrification exists among Berlin’s residents. Furious debates about the touristification of residential neighbourhoods and massive protests against rent increases are just some of the ways by which this is expressed. Outside the Anglo-American context, there are few cities where gentrification is as contested as it is in Berlin. Conversely, gentrification arguably forms a key component of Berlin’s urban growth strategies inspired by the so-called promises of the creative city and city marketing strategies aiming to promote the city’s image as hip, creative, and ‘poor but sexy’.

During my stay in Berlin in 2012 I studied whether and how local policymakers and relevant policy documents deal with these heated debates about gentrification and criticisms about their role in promoting it. From the international scholarly literature we learn that public policies pursuing gentrification are often, in the words of the late Neil Smith, ‘sugarcoated’ with the more positive sounding vocabulary of social mixing, revitalisation, regeneration or urban renaissance. This would allow stakeholders to avoid the negative association of the term gentrification with displacement and class struggles – allowing gentrification policies to be installed ‘by stealth’. Is such a strategy possible, however, in a context where the term gentrification fills the newspapers and criticisms are often voiced and heard?

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Amsterdam’s Afterthought: Touring the A10

Posted on by Adam Nowek in Urban Mobility | 2 Comments

Many cities are defined in part by their urban road networks: Los Angeles had its freeways famously categorised as bourgeois or gangster by Ice Cube, while Vancouver’s outright rejection of an urban freeway has made it unique amongst North American cities. But Amsterdam is one city where the freeway is primarily an afterthought for most.

I recently participated in a workshop organised by Failed Architecture called Amsterdam’s Ring Road. The workshop joined together the creative vigour of students in the System D Academy programme at the Sandberg Institute and a variety of urban planners, architects, and researchers. The primary aim was to tackle the fundamental questions of the city’s ring road as architecture but also as infrastructure: how does it breathe life into a city that, by most metrics, has largely rejected the privately-owned car?

141014.024 (Photo: Adam Nowek)

141014.024 (Photo: Adam Nowek)

141014.023 (Photo: Adam Nowek)

141014.023 (Photo: Adam Nowek)

141014.022 (Photo: Adam Nowek)

141014.022 (Photo: Adam Nowek)

Car ownership and freeway development came relatively late to the Netherlands, with the resulting effect that Dutch highways are technologically superior to many of their peers. Continue reading

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