On tour

Seen in the Netherlands in August 2015:


Because the Dutch Minister of Interior Affairs, Mr. Plasterk, wants us to consider the Netherlands “as one big city of 17 million people”, I decided to make a two-weeks tour in my own city, after having spent a full week in London. What a strange city Holland is! I visited Rotterdam, Middelburg, Domburg, Tilburg, Den Bosch, Valkenburg, de Hoge Veluwe and Maastricht – say, the south part of the Dutch megacity. I walked, biked, drove a car.True, the province of Noord-Brabant looks like one big industrial estate: agro food, horticulture, pigs, poultry, construction firms, logistic halls, infrastructure, chemical plants. Also Limburg seemed to me one big entrepreneurial zone. Only the valley of the Geul has been saved. All provincial roads were filled with cars, the highways loaded with trucks. Tourists find their own zones: the inner cities of Middelburg, Den Bosch and Maastricht were crowded with shoppers and regional sight-seeers. People looked rich, prosperous, many were fat, with their white skins far from being members of a multicultural society. Now and then I saw some asylumseekers in the woods, who felt lost. Wherever I went the sky was filled with airplanes, the noise: there was always an airport nearby (Schiphol, Luik, Düsseldorf, Eindhoven). Remarkable trend: tourists renting scooters in hilly Limburg. And yes, public space is great everywhere, in every village the lampposts and benches are brand new, facades have been painted in fresh, bright colours. All thanks to VINEX (Dutch national spatial policy 1994-2015).

But what a strange city it is! If this is a city, it is the least densily built city in the world. It’s also a noisy city, full of cars, scooters and planes, unhealthy, stinking (after gas and manure), rich. But not sustainable at all, to say the least. The most astounding fact is the high vacancy rate of the real estate, all recently built. Even in the successfull inner cities of Den Bosch, Middelburg, Tilburg and Maastricht shops were left vacant, high rise was standing empty, there was simply too much office space. I could not guess why this building boom has found completion in this mass of houses, malls, stables, boxes, office parks, bricks and mortar, all spread out over the countryside. Does the apparent prosperity of the Dutch have anything to do with it? Was our booming economy based on building a maximum of dwellings, offices, shops, all to be furnished with junk we would consume? My tour ended in the national park of De Hoge Veluwe. An oasis. What a relieve!





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