Many urban and regional development theories focus on the growth of urban regions. But what about regions that shrink? In recent years, an increasing number of urban planners have concerned themselves with how cities shrink and what should be done about that. Shrinking cities are a relevant research topic: a German project called Shrinking Cities found that over 450 cities (with of over 100,000 inhabitants) worldwide lost at least a tenth of their population over the past six decades.
This blog entry focuses on a case of urban shrinkage in the Netherlands: Den Helder. Never heard of it? That is possible, since it is only a small city in a small country. As a native Den Helderian, let me shortly introduce the city to you. Den Helder is a small city (population of 56.739) in the uttermost northern part of the province North Holland in the Netherlands, surrounded by the sea.
Den Helder: surrounded by the sea. Photography by Luke Borghuis
Havana, the capital of Cuba, has been founded in the 16th century as a trading place with a small fortress. With 2 million inhabitants it is the biggest city in the Caribbean. The layout of Havana is typical for Spanish colonial cities: a grid structure with central squares for specific activities. A wide range of architectural styles is characterizing the historical center, showing the long and rich history of the city. Over the last two decades, tourism became an important economic sector in Cuba and thus an important source of wealth in this country facing economic sanctions by most Western states. With more than 2,7 million visitors, tourism reached a new high in 2011. While most of the tourists come to visit one of the all-inclusive hotels at the seaside, Havana itself attracts a significant number of visitors.
Renovated center of Havana, by Lukas Franta
There are a lot of accounts on how reconstruction in order to be more attractive to tourists is impacting urban settings, but how are people in a socialist economy affected by efforts to reconstruct the city center, in a society where inequalities are impossible by definition? This post will look at the effects of urban restoration in Havana, Cuba.
In the Revolution of 1959, profound changes in the economic system in Cuba were massively affecting tourism industry. Havana, once being something like the Las Vegas of the Caribbean, was a popular destination among wealthy Americans, as gambling was allowed in Cuba contrary to the U.S. Of course some shady figures were attracted to visit Cuba as well, to whitewash their money. Members of diverse mafia clans were frequent visitors. Their illegally acquired money was used to buy real estate or build casinos and hotels. Hotel Nacional is one of the most famous examples of this period. Continue reading
Something terrible happened to the city of Dresden, something which is perhaps indescribable and unprecedented anywhere else in the world. Dresden (Germany) is the first city which has been removed from the renowned UNESCO World Heritage List. The reason? A bridge was built. ‘A bridge too damaging for the great cultural site of Dresden’, says UNESCO. ‘A shame’, says I. The German city only enjoyed a brief time on as a World Heritage site, as it was listed in 2004 and was removed five years later. Using the Dresden case, I argue that UNESCO’s conservationist discourse is detrimental to cities. An argument about why UNESCO is treasuring the past while blocking the future.
The Waldschlösschenbrücke under construction
Romania is a country with a long socialist planning tradition that evoked in mass urbanisation, leaving a tremendous footprint on the current urban structure of virtually every Romanian city. The first years after the 1989 revolution, however, caused a clear break with this blueprint planning and state controlled housing system, and ushered in an era of, among other, predominant building freeze and decreasing maintenance funds. This new era, in the planning and geography literature specified as transition, had a disproportional impact on those who were dependent on government aid, among them many Roma. This article will discuss the case of Ferentari, Bucharest’s most feared neighbourhood and one of Romania’s notorious Romani ghettos. Empirical data in this article is based on a 2012 ethnographic fieldwork of three months.
Rubbish Livezilor Alley © Dominic Teodorescu
Macau’s elephantine gambling industry is known for its size: Macau has already overtaken Las Vegas in terms of revenue and is rapidly developing as the destination city for wealthy gamers. In order to market itself towards potential visitors, licensed casino operators have had to increase their efforts to make their offerings unique.
Decorations in the Lobby of the MGM Grand (Photo: Adam Nowek)
Unique can certainly be applied to a handful of these mega-casinos, but none more so than the Grand Lisboa. A regular on lists of bad, gaudy architecture, the Grand Lisboa is emblematic of opulence in interior design. A casino, it seems, ought to be reflective of the depth of the casino’s purse, and the Grand Lisboa’s ornate collection of fine art in display in the lobby serves as the primary example.
Grand Lisboa’s ornately decorated lobby (Photo: Adam Nowek)
The Internet entrepreneur’s rhetorical joyrides down the streets of the Smart City
Recent years have seen growing excitement among professionals and academics interested in the radical potential of technology in transforming the city. The “smart city” and “big data” have all come to refer broadly to this emerging trend and its applications. Many of these debates and recent developments have also earned significant media attention, with many figureheads among the “Internet entrepreneurs” applauding the “vast potential” of advanced information technology’s applications to the “electric city.” Yet others have rightly questioned the practicality and usefulness of recent attempts to “electrify the city.” Some even argue that “digital technologies are not liberating the world, they are imprisoning it.“
Not long ago, bright blue posters with cute little bees drawn on them decorated the streets of Amsterdam. They caught my eye, partly because of the funny title that was written on them: I Love BEEing. Who now loves bees? I have to admit, the stinging creatures are not my best friends over the summer season. The fact that they are useful and produce sweet honey makes up for a lot of things, but does it not make more sense to keep them somewhere on the countryside instead of on the cities’ rooftops?
Posters from the Urban Beekeepers in Amsterdam (Picture by Jolien Groot)
Time to find out why bees are being kept in urban environments, because the popularity of small-scale beekeeping has been growing in many cities around the world. ‘Urban beekeeping,’ as it is called, is practiced in global cities such as London, Paris, San Francisco, Washington, New York City, Toronto, Tokyo, and even in Mumbai. Many cities in the United States lifted beekeeping bans to give beekeeping hobbyist the opportunity to install their own beehives on rooftops, balconies and gardens. Even the White House has installed a bee hive in the back yard. Continue reading
Suburbia and Ugliness
“No time for Ugliness” is the title of a shockingly beautiful documentary shot in 1965 about urban renewal in the United States. The filmmakers warn that there is an urgency to renew the American inner cities to prevent inner city urban decay and further suburban sprawl. The urban sprawl that followed is history.
American Suburbia (Source: redfin local blog, http://blog.redfin.com/
Within the tradition of socially engaged aesthetic architecture documentaries, we must also include the film “suburbia”. The film criticizes the suburban development and the social ecology provided by suburbia in the US. The suburban environment is often discussed as the stage of middle class life during the coming of the mass consumer society. It is not so much the risk of a physical decay that threatens the suburbia – but the lack of ugliness, or urban liveliness that apparently makes it repelling.
The shattered dreams of middle class lives manifested in a critique that becomes equated with the suburban environment is however not specific to the United States. The Dutch suburb has come to materialize alienation of the white middle classes according to Naima el Bezaz. Her autobiographic novel Vinexvrouwen provides a critique of consumerism, atomism and neighbourly contempt of the white middle class situated in the suburban VINEX locations (one of those location, as applicable in the photographs below, is ‘Leidsche Rijn’, near Utrecht). El Bezaz speaks about the problem of boredom in the VINEX, and the depression that flew out of it. She and her neighbours have become, in Bauman’s terms ‘the collateral casualties of consumerism’. Continue reading
Earlier this year, two members of The ProtoCity Editorial Board joined on a trip to Istanbul organised by the department of Urban Sociology of the University of Amsterdam. During this trip, a variety of social, cultural, and economic developments of this intriguing city have been explored. This article, written by one of the trip organisers, Freek Janssens, is the kick-off of a number of articles that will be published about Istanbul within the upcoming weeks.
Vendors selling grilled mackerel on a sandwich from colourful pushcarts move along the Galata Bridge on the sounds of the prayers that are called for from the minarets of the mosques and the ring tones of the mobile phones of office people on their way to work. Meanwhile, hundreds of periodic markets in Istanbul – called ‘pazar,’ a word that refers both to ‘market’ as well as ‘Sunday’ – pop up in the city every week, each day in a different location and in a different shape. They offer everything from fresh food and clothes, to electronics and cosmetics. Their movements visualise the rhythm of the city – a city whose character is rapidly changing.
‘Modern Istanbul’ – under mayor and later prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once again the centre of the region – wants to shake off its embarrassing image of informal urbanity that has characterised it for a great deal of the past century. In that spirit, periodic markets are actively being closed down by the municipality in an effort to ‘clean up’ the city. In the eyes of city planners, the markets are but a reminiscent of the past that need to be ‘fixed’ (Harvey 2001; Aksoy 2009). The mayor of Kağıthane, a working-class neighbourhood adjacent to the upcoming business districts of Mecidiyeköy and Levent, proudly shows me a list of all the markets in the borough: ‘these six will be shut down this year, these other ten next year, and then, in a few years’ time, we will have gotten rid of all the markets.’ On the locations of periodic markets, high rise malls and other private real estate projects are being developed.
The shared canopy of the marketplace, Sanayi Mahellesi market. Picture taken by author
Experiences from the ‘New Mariahilferstrasse’
Global movements and initiatives towards (more) equal and sustainable mobility patterns, as well as uses and distributions of urban space are constantly growing and actions to reclaim ‘our’ streets, buildings and cities seem to be more prevalent than ever. Also, sustainable urban planning paradigms (looking beyond mere environmental impacts) increasingly point towards criticisms of current and long-established traffic and user hierarchies. There are several ways to deal with and break barriers and power struggles among the users (pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers) of urban space.
A relatively new concept and increasingly praised idea termed ‘shared space’ aims to reduce such barriers, especially among pedestrians and car drivers. The principal ideas are a shared and equal use of space, and a redistribution of priorities to the non-motorized users. Don’t we all want more equitable rights to use urban (public) space!? Can we then applaud shared spaces as a ‘key to the future of urban centres‘ or is it just a nicely sounding ‘delusion of shared space as an urban transport panacea‘?
A newly installed shared space zone in Vienna, ‘Die Neue Mariahilferstrasse’, on the largest shopping street (‘Mariahilferstrasse’, 1,8km) in Austria, appeals to the emotions of Viennese residents, politicians, public figures, and beyond – and not only the happy kind.
The original design of the ‘New Mariahilferstrasse’