Beyond Big Plans

On 15 april 2016, in duurzaamheid, economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Beyond Seun-Sangga (2015):

Last Thursday Hyeri Park, an urban planner from South-Korea who’s living in the Netherlands, gave a great lecture at the University of Amsterdam on ‘Seoul Mutations. Another Story after Fast Urban Growth in Asia’. Mrs. Park told the students about the ‘Miracle on the Han river’, which took place in the sixties and seventies, and also she focused on what happened afterwards. In only fourty years, the South-Korean capital grew from 1 million to 1o million; the metropolitan region nowadays counts almost 25 million inhabitants – half the population of the Korean peninsula. In 1997 came the crisis, and another economic crisis followed  in 2007. She pointed at how poverty since then is growing, and how the rich are getting richer. She introduced the policy of New Town Development of 2008, when the government tried to intervene and turn poor neighborhoods in the cities’ north into more prosperous districs. This new policy failed: big plans did not work out. The property owners, backed by construction corporations, were actually in control. Corruption is rampant. So the question is, how can a city like Seoul develop itself in a more balanced and sustainable way?

In ‘Repositioning of the City Regions: Korea after the crisis’, Mr. Won Bae Kim wrote that the competitiveness of a city region depends on a whole series of factors, including its process of governance, the social and economic infrastructure, the quality of its human capital, the quality of its natural environment, and the capability of its local institutions. The key factor in affecting the rise and fall of local economies like the one in Seoul lies in local adaptability. Mr. Kim thought a radical departure from the centralized model of governance of the past in Seoul is needed. Alternative forms of governance are to be developed. That was in 2001. This week, Mrs. Park gave great examples of horizontal strategies in Seoul, some of them based on a conference she and Mrs. Vitnarea Kang organized last year in Seoul City Hall, called ‘Beyond Big Plans’. The new approach of the Seun Sangga area for instance is promising. You might call it a ‘platformization’ of a poor neighborhood in the inner city, an area where traditional industrial clusters are becoming more productive, while introducing new ones and accommodating dfferent users. This bottom-up strategy, which focuses on cultural heritage, walkability and public engagement, is far more fertile than the traditional neoliberal masterplanning of the starchitects and urban designers. The government needs to involve different stakeholders in the decision-making process and reflect their interests in their future plans. Seoul is in the process of adopting these kind of open strategies. Very promising indeed.

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Dream your own future

On 5 april 2016, in economie, participatie, by Zef Hemel

To be visited from 12 April till 3 July 2016 in the Public Library Amsterdam:

On Tuesday 12 April 2016, the People’s Industry Palace (Paleis voor Volksvlijt) in the Public Library of Amsterdam will open its doors. Twelve weeks long, citizens, young and old, from different backgrounds, from all neigborhoods and neighboring cities, can visit the exhibition and experience the economic future of the Amsterdam metropolitan region: not as consumers, but as makers of their own future. Moreover, the twelve installations that will be on show in the seven-story public building at the Oosterdok are the result of many workshops over the last year, when hundreds of citizens discussed with twelve artists the future of food, health, industry, media, logistics, entertainment, tourism, ecology, circular economy, smart city, sustainable development, selfsufficiency, in their own city. Based on the people’s ideas, knowledge, and personal experiences, each of the artists then developed his or her own speculative concept on the future for the exhibition. Volksvlijt is a project of collective imagination. Adults becoming children again. ‘Dream your own future’. 

The concept of Volksvlijt more or less is based on the 19th century phenomenon of Christal Palaces, a European movement of optimistic and progressive city exhibitions, which started in London, 1851. These city exhibitions were organized not only for bankers and rentiers to persuade them to invest in industry and urban infrastructure, but also for citizens, inviting them to become entrepreneurs, get educated, start reading, embrace technology, thus fighting hunger and poverty. The result of this powerful social-economic movement was a great new civic institutional infrastructure in our cities of public libraries, public schools, universities, concert halls, housing corporations, etcetera. In his masterpiece ‘Cities in Evolution’ (1915), the Scottish planner Patrick Geddes painted it  as a promising Neotechnic world. So this could happen again. Volksvlijt is an experiment in testing a new kind of open planning in a city like Amsterdam at the beginning of the 21st century by using an old, extensively tested concept. Feel like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, enter the palace, and forget Dostoyevski’s ‘Notes form the Underground’. If we’re not optimistic, we all will fail. Let’s celebrate our cities!

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Spatial horror scenario’s

On 25 maart 2016, in toerisme, by Zef Hemel

Experienced by driving on 24 March 2015:


Got a phone call of a researcher. She wanted to know my opinion on a campaign Amsterdam Citymarketing is starting to bring tourists to unknown neigborhoods in Amsterdam. They’re aiming at relieving the pressure on the inner city with all its museums, theatres, shops and hotels. People living there are complaining. And yes, tourism is booming business. I told her you don’t have to campaign, because it is already happening spontaneously. Tourists are renting bikes nowadays. Better leave it, because the next problem will be nineteenth century neighborhoods like De Pijp becoming tourist destinations too. With tourists flocking in, all these neighborhoods will lose their creative, gentrified ‘authentic’ character. By campaigning, you will only speed up this process. Moreover, Amsterdam as a total will become even more a tourist destination. Tourists from all over the world will think: it’s such a great city, with so many opportunities in all these neighborhoods, which means they will stay even longer. The result will be that tourism in the inner city will not decrease at all, but will double instead, no triple, will profit from these campaigns anyway. She said she had never thought it that way. I think she was perplexed.

Such an ingenious thinking of those city marketeers. It reminded me of post-war planning in the Netherlands. Planners thought it would be better to distribute housing and business more evenly over the country in order to relieve the pressure on the biggest cities in the Western part of the country (Amsterdam and Rotterdam). The state took the lead and started building new towns and industrial growth poles, favouring peripheral regions, subsidizing culture, companies, infrastructure and municipalities in poor and outlying  provinces. Now let’s see what has come out of it. Drive through this small country and be honest: it has become one big mess, one big traffic jam, congestion everywhere, even in Groningen and Drenthe. And no problem whatsoever has been solved. Policies aiming at dispersing activities always result in the opposite.  In the end they are no less than spatial horror scenario’s. Better concentrate things, better build great cities, focus on great inner cities, add more quality, and enjoy!

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Witte plannen

On 7 februari 2016, in cultuur, participatie, regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Gelezen op scholieren-com van 7 april 2000:


In de vorm van ‘witte plannen’ bood het Amsterdamse provo, opgericht op 25 mei 1965, allerlei speelse oplossingen voor grootstedelijke vraagstukken. Het Witte Fietsenplan uit zomer 1965 is de bekendste: om het autoverkeer uit de binnenstad te weren wilden de jongeren 20.000 witgeschilderde openbare fietsen plaatsen, vrij te gebruiken door alle bewoners binnen de Singelgracht. Ook beroemd geworden is het Witte Wijvenplan, dat geboorteregeling en vrije liefde propageerde. Het Witte Lijkenplan omvatte een alternatieve straf voor verkeersovertreders. Dat ging als volgt: zij die een dodelijk ongeluk op hun geweten hadden, dienden het silhouet van het slachtoffer in het asfaltdek uit te houwen en met witte specie te vullen. Bovendien moesten ze de familie een witte begrafenis aanbieden. Met het Witte Schoorstenenplan werd de luchtvervuiling op ludieke wijze bestreden. En met het Witte Woningenplan maakte provo sloopwoningen en leegstaande kantoren geschikt voor bewoning. Een onderdeel daarvan vormde het Witte Vuilnisbakkenplan voor onbehuisden: tot wieg omgebouwde vuilnisbakken voor starters op de woningmarkt. En met het Witte Kippenplan wilde men politieagenten omturnen tot sociaal werkers.

Voor de gemeenteraadsverkiezingen van juni 1966 werden alle Witte Plannen bij elkaar gevoegd in een ludiek programma voor Nieuw Amsterdam. Dat omvatte ook het Witte Kinderenplan (gratis kinderopvang), en het Witte Bedjesplan (ziekenhuisbedden in De Nederlandsche Bank aan het Frederiksplein). Alle ideeën en initiatieven werden ook uitgevoerd en uitgebreid getest, tot aan het loslaten van een witte kip in de Raadhuisstraat tijdens de huwelijksplechtigheid van prinses Beatrix en prins Claus. De autoriteiten konden het allemaal niet waarderen. Er werd door de politie hard opgetreden, ook de rechters waren niet mals. Provo Rob Stolk belandde zelfs in de gevangenis. Een verzoek tot gratie bij de koningin werd afgewezen. Op 15 mei 1967 hief provo zichzelf op. Kort daarvoor was in Nieuwe Revue een enquête gepubliceerd waarin 37 procent van het Nederlandse volk de provo’s het liefste wilde opsluiten. Dit alles las ik in een werkstuk geschiedenis van een scholiere van de derde klas VWO. Ze schreef: “Als er nu een zelfde soort beweging zou ontstaan, denk ik, dat we er beter mee om zouden kunnen gaan. De ideeën waren namelijk best haalbaar en de overheid zou het voor 100 procent moeten steunen.” Zou het echt? Denkt ze dat werkelijk?

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Looking backward

On 18 november 2015, in participatie, planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam, on 27 October 2015:

The 740th anniversary of Amsterdam was celebrated this year in Pakhuis de Zwijger, on 27 October. Another ten years to go. Then the city will celebrate its 750 anniversary. What should we add to the city? What’s still missing? A selection of speakers was asked to give their view on the city of the future. The aim of the long-term programme is getting citizens involved in a process that already started two years ago with asking some hundred young professionals working for Amsterdam-based companies to make scenario’s for the future – a process that will continue untill the year 2025. Ila Kasem, Paul Scheffer and Zef Hemel are the initiators of this inspiring ‘planning process’ of long-term engagement of citizens. We think that people should participate more, really contribute to and reflect on their own city as it will develop in the coming years. The format should not be a kind of competition or ‘challenge’, with winners and losers. There are no awards to win at all. We’re just fostering a more optimistic mood, many great new ideas, amazing plans, new entrepreneurship, thrift. Will we succeed?

What I found striking that night was the huge number of people who came up with proposals to add another museum to the city fabric:  for migration, for water management, for modern art, for this and for that. Every round in the Pakhuis ended with the M-word. But Amsterdam already has the highest museum density of Europe! Why adding more museums to the existing 75? And why are the citizens only looking backward? Why not forward? What are the people nostalgic for? It seems the future is too uncertain for them. There is no vision, no shared story, no goal, no hope, nothing to strive for as a civil society. Amsterdam’s Third Golden Age started with the reopening of the Rijksmuseum in 2013. This old building celebrates a national heroic history. Typical. We lack a Samual Sarphati, a visionary entrepreneur who built a People’s Industry Palace in 1864, a space of glass and steel where citizens could experience – almost enter – the future. Thank God it will reopen its doors in April 2016. But not the old one. We will welcome you in the new Public Library on the Oosterdok, where you will enter a brand new People’s Industry Palace, a space where in twelve weeks time more than 500.000 people will gather and dream their city’s future! See you there!

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On 5 november 2015, in geschiedenis, infrastructuur, planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Building Gotham’ (2003) of Keith Revell:

We met at Penn Station, New York. From there we would take the train to Boston. He had the tickets. The station, dating from the sixties, looked like Dante’s Inferno, but then as if you’re in a science-fiction movie, from the Jetsons, a world deep under the ground. My friend – also a planner – said I should read ‘Building Gotham’ of Keith Revell if I wanted to know more about Penn Station and its history. The book, he said, describes the engineering works of New York City from the end of the 19nth century untill the beginning of the Second World War, the Progressive Era. And yes, Keith Revell, a historian from John Hopkins University, did a great job by studying the regulation of skyscrapers and railroads in the city. All the great experts – mostly engineers – who were doing those difficult urban projects, were his heroes. The first chapter is about ‘conceiving the new metropolis’; next a chapter on private infrastructure follows, one on public infrastructure, and the book ends with a chapter on urban and regional planning – zoning – as a new expertise. So after our trip I started reading the book. A great book.

In his preface Mr. Revell writes that at first he thought his project would be an inquiry into the ways that the concept of efficiency affected the building of New York. Instead, he discovered quite something else. “As I learned more about what the experts engaged in those projects were doing, I discovered that efficiency played a less important role in their worldview than interdependence – the latter far more powerful concept with profound political implications.” He calls it ‘a civic culture’, leading to the formation of new public institutions. That’s what urban and regional planning is about: a civic culture. But all those institutions are weak now. People very much disagree on the future. So Revell wonders if “bureaucratic organizations (can be) the proper instruments for determining and carrying out the public interest in a democratic society.”  The answer is no of course. And interdependence is ever more a problem. That’s why we have to rethink planning.

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People’s minds & stories

On 17 oktober 2015, in participatie, planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Power of Identity’ (1997) of Manuel Castells:


Is our personal identity changing in a globalizing world? Will it become ‘unlimited’? The symposium of the Veer Stichting (Veer Foundation) in Leiden (Leyden), the Netherlands, on 15 and 16 October 2015 was on ‘Unlimited Identity’. Speakers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Jang Jin-sung, Pat Cox, Simon Kuper and Mario Monti presented their views on the subject. Some 250 students and 250 policymakers discussed the theme. The organization had asked me to lead one of the workshops. Theme: ‘Cities and Identity’. In less than an hour, all twenty-five participants had to come up with powerful stories on their own city, every story containing elements of its identity in an positive, meaningful and productive way. There should be a hero, some killing or disaster, lessons learned. The result was amazing. One of the participants told the history of the ‘Maastunnel’ (1937) in Rotterdam, connecting the poor south with the rich north, she recounted its symbolic meaning, events in the war, anecdotes, its anniversary in 2017. Someone else told about how the French king Louis Napoleon became loved by the Leyden population, after the gunpowder explosion of 1807, and how the citizens felt in his behaviour a true sense of leadership. There were also stories from Schiedam, Blaricum and Het Westland, south of The Hague. We enjoyed the exercise, there was pleasure, relaxation, sociability, even togetherness; many even tended to feel more confidence in the future.

To prepare myself I had read ‘The Power of Identity’ of Castells again. Great visionary book. Information technology is changing the way we perceive and organize our society, it does so in a most radical way. Social change in the network society means the modern nation-state is losing much of its sovereignty. Liberal democracy is getting weaker, shared identities are dissolving. Castells: “The new power lies in the codes of information and in the images of representation around which societies organize their institutions, and people build their lives, and decide their behavior. The sites of this power are people’s minds.” Castells discerned an endless battle around cultural codes. “This is why identities are so important, and ultimately, so powerful in this ever-changing power structure – because they build interests, values, and projects, around experience, and refuse to dissolve by establishing a specific connection between nature, history, geography, and culture.” The battle is not yet won. While institutions are crumbling and political forms get exhausted, new stories on cities come to the fore. They could be the positive new keystones in the process of world urbanization.

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Polynuclear nonsense

On 19 juni 2015, in ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The World Cities’ (1966) by Peter Hall:


Dutch planners love polynuclear patterns of urbanisation. They think these patterns are the most sustainable. Polynuclearity, they say, is the best you can get. The Dutch became world champions in developing polynuclearity and are still proud of it. It became part of the Dutch planning paradigm. It has to do with planning history. The Golden Age of Modernist planning were the sixties, when the young Peter Hall praised the socalled Randstad concept in The Netherlands. In his ‘The World Cities’ (1966) the Randstad is one of the seven ‘World Cities’, next to London, Paris, New York, Ruhr Area, Moscow, and Tokyo. Mind you! The little country next to the big Germany was praised by a young teacher from Birkbeck College London, who described it as a planning paradise. It made Peter Hall world famous, at least in The Netherlands. Problems of a world city in general, Hall declared, were its sheer size, its fast growth and complexity. Big cities would become too crowded. The biggest problem by far was the city-centre. So Hall advocated solutions he adopted from his hero-pioneer Ebenezer Howard. These were all utopian ideas – nineteenth-century schemes which were very anti-urban, something of a fusion of city and countryside. It was all nonsense of course, but Hall became the evangelist of decentralization: build new towns! Add green belts! Develop new centres! Dismantle the exisiting city! The Dutch promised to do all this. They were full of good intentions.

Polynuclearity fitted remarkably well in the existing Dutch geography of small cities, lacking real urban centres. So ironically the only thing Dutch planners had to do was avoid the coming of a big city. Which they did with fervour. Postwar planning in The Netherlands became vehemently anti-urban from the start. Polynuclearity is not wrong of course. If only you develop it within an existing agglomeration. The Dutch polynuclear pattern is different. It isn’t sustainable. The ecological footprint of The Netherlands is one of the worst in the world. Congestion though isn’t evil either, on the contrary, it is admirable, something really to aim for. And megacities are, in fact, the best and the most sustainable you can get. If only you keep them livable. For that, you don’t need huge amounts of countryside, but parks, not highways, but public transport, not many centres, but one big city-centre with many subcentres. Peter Hall thought the megaregion was not social. Again he was wrong. He just hated heterogeneity, diversity, chaos, density, and he was afraid of complexity. So are the Dutch. And the problem is: they all agree.

Over het nut van planning

On 27 april 2015, in internationaal, regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Gehoord op het Roeterseiland te Amsterdam op 23 april 2015:

Vorige week Moskou, nu Istanbul. Met de studenten bespraken we de ontwikkelingen in die stad aan de hand van de Turkse documentaire ‘Ecumenopolis’. We constateerden opvallende overkomsten tussen Moskou en de Turkse metropool. Beide metropolen bevinden zich in de schemerzone tussen Europa en Azië en groeien snel, heel snel. Beide streven een status van ‘global city’ na. Beide ook worden steeds orthodoxer en keren zich van het Westen af. De studenten die het ‘Cities in Transition’-programma dit jaar aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam volgen vroegen zich af hoe dit zou aflopen. Ze kunnen kiezen tussen het standpunt van Mike Davis en dat van Doug Saunders. De eerste meent dat het slecht zal aflopen (‘Planet of Slums’, 2006), de tweede ziet eerder kansen. Hoewel. Ten aanzien van Istanbul schetst Saunders in ‘Arrival City’ (2010) het beeld van een stad die geen sloppenwijken meer kàn bouwen eenvoudig omdat alle grond op is. Toch arriveren er jaarlijks nog zo’n 250.000 migranten in Istanbul, de laatste jaren zelfs beduidend meer als gevolg van de oorlogen in Syrië en Noord-Afrika. Middenklasse èn onderklasse groeien. De ‘gecekondu’ (sloppenwijk), schrijft hij, verandert steeds meer in ‘een plek voor mislukkelingen.’

De laatste jaren heeft de gemeente grootschalige opruimacties voor de sloppenwijken opgezet. Steeds meer gecekondu’s worden door bedrijven als TOKI en Sinpas opgekocht, gesloopt en tot enclaves gemaakt voor de nieuwe Turkse middenklasse. Het programma is steeds dezelfde hoogbouw die ook Moskou’s buitenwijken kenmerkt. Volgens Saunders is het de nieuwe, gemondialiseerde Turkse middenklasse die de periferie verkiest boven het centrum. De buurt zelf interesseert ze niet, alleen de parkeergarages en de snelwegen die ze naar het centrum voeren. Het allergrootste probleem van de groei van de metropool Istanbul is echter niet meer deze perifere suburbanisatie, maar de snel naderende ecologische ramp. De bossen en de waterbekkens in het noorden zullen namelijk snel verdwijnen als Istanbul doorgroeit van 15 miljoen naar 25 miljoen en de derde brug over de Bosporus wordt aangelegd. Kan de metropool dan nog bestaan? Dat is twijfelachtig, zeker nu ook nog eens een humanitaire ramp dreigt als gevolg van de recente toevloed van vluchtelingen. De bestaande planning werkt niet. Het falen kan zich uiten in woede, frustratie, islamisme. Tenzij alsnog een geschikte, effectieve planning wordt gevonden. Een van onderop.

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Open City

On 20 maart 2015, in planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Gelezen in ‘The Endless City’ (2007) van Ricky Burdett en Deyan Sudjic:

In zijn essay ‘Open City’, gepubliceerd in het vuistdikke ‘The Endless City’ (2007), beschreef de Amerikaanse socioloog Richard Sennett wat er volgens hem mis is met onze moderne stadsontwikkeling. Het grote probleem, schreef hij, is overdeterminatie. Daarmee bedoelde hij dat wij in de wijze waarop we sinds het midden van de twintigste eeuw onze steden ontwikkelen en inrichten alles teveel willen controleren en te weinig ruimte laten voor toeval, voor ongezochte gebeurtenissen. We zijn in de greep geraakt van nauwkeurige tekenprogramma’s, strakke schema’s, rigide toekomstbeelden, technologie en hele precieze doelen. Alles is tegenwoordig resultaatgericht. Technologie en organisatiekunde stellen ons daartoe in staat. Ons probleem, meent Sennett, is dat we ons gevoel voor tijd hebben verloren. Dat is een ernstig probleem. De stad is juist een proces, hoe wij de stad bewonen oefent weer invloed op haar uit, ons beeld van haar zou daardoor voortdurend moeten veranderen. Maar wij doen alsof we haar tot in detail kunnen beheersen. Zoneringen, bestemmingsplannen, stedenbouwkundige plannen, beleidsprogramma’s, projectinterventies, maatregelen, toekomstvisies, zelden is er meer beleid over de stad uitgestort dan in de twintigste eeuw. Onze verbeelding heeft daarmee ernstig aan vitaliteit ingeboet. Al onze maatregelen hebben de stad bevroren. Sennett spreekt van een dystopie.

Het resultaat van deze bevroren toestand is namelijk ‘Brittle City’. Dat is een stad die snel slijt, die voortdurend wordt afgebroken en uitgewist, om plaats te maken voor iets nieuws, iets zogenaamd beters. Mensen moeten steeds vaker uit hun huizen in plaats van dat ze zelf hun huizen mogen opknappen en hun buurt verbeteren. Groei lijkt gelijk te staan met de vervanging van wat er was. Functies worden gescheiden, bevolkingsgroepen raken gehomogeniseerd, niemand krijgt nog de tijd om zich aan te passen. ‘Brittle City’ is een symptoom. Ze staat voor een gesloten systeem waarin alle onderdelen van stad en regio geïntegreerd en in balans moeten zijn, passend in het grotere geheel: het masterplan. De consequentie van dat uitgebalanceerde en geïntegreerde ideaal is dat ervaringen die daarmee niet sporen worden bestreden of buitengesloten. Ze zouden de waarde van het geheel doen verminderen. Dat betekent dat er geen ruimte is voor experiment. Kijk maar om je heen. Planners en ontwerpers verafschuwen alles wat van het systeem – het plan, het ontwerp – afwijkt. Sennett waarschuwt vervolgens: tegenover het gesloten systeem van de experts staat niet de vrije markt. Die bevoordeelt volgens hem vooral de elite. In Londen en New York ziet hij waar dat toe leidt. Het alternatief is het open systeem: dat is een systeem van kleine aanpassingen, van sociale strategieën waardoor buurten dichter bebouwd en meer divers worden. Het tijdsbegrip in de stad als een open systeem is heel anders dan in de geplande stad, namelijk ze is onvoorspelbaar, vol dissonanten, ze gaat gepaard met hele kleine stapjes, een kwestie van trial and error, gevoed door een verlangen naar groeiende complexiteit. Verhalen zijn hierbij een geschikter hulpmiddel dan ontwerpen, visies, eindplannen of blauwdrukken. Sennett: “All good narrative has the property of exploring the unforeseen, of discovery; the novelist’s art is to shape the process of that exploration.”

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