Heard in the Volkshotel, Amsterdam, on 17 September 2015:
Theme of the first Ruimtevolk College last week at the Volkshotel (People’s Hotel) in Amsterdam was ‘Foreign capital in the city’. Two professors of the University of Amsterdam, Ewald Engelen (financial geography) and me (urban planning), were asked to give a lecture on the subject. Engelen spoke first. His tone was agressive, angry, mad. It was, he told us, a lecture he had given in Antwerp last summer, his slides were just for him, for not getting lost in his anger. Between good and evil, for him there was a clear distinction; unlike a scientist he lacked any doubts. He accused the bankers, the entrepreneurs, the planners and the politicians for not stopping the madness of globalization. His tone was fiercely anti-urban: Amsterdam should stay small and successful cities are plundering the countryside. Now and then he raised his voice. His rhetoric and temper moved me. The hall was sold out, the air inside was hot and humid. You almost could feel the floor trembling. At a certain point I imagined there was Karl Marx standing in the middle of the Volkshotel (ironic name: People’s Hotel), an intellectual rousing the proletariat. Or was it Max Havelaar? I thought revolution might be coming.
I myself felt like Bakunin. My lecture was less clear. The title I had chosen was ‘Strange’, because the spatial trends I described are very obscure indeed. What we observe at this very moment is an extreme kind of spatial concentration of certain scalable phenomena: tourists, Airbnb, capital, expats, migrants, all global things, at the same time very localized. Some cities are growing fast, others are shrinking. It’s the process of globalization we’re in. Cities are being hit as if by thunder and lightning. What’s happening in London has nothing to do with the rest of the UK. The same holds for Amsterdam (on the picture: number of Airbnb dwellings in the Netherlands 2014). That’s why the world is looking more and more unequal, spiky, everything seems to be totally out of control. Mayors like Boris Johnson and Michael Bloomberg are pleading for devolution. They are right. You have to solve problems at the local level. But my lecture was to no avail, the audience just didn’t want to know. And Ewald Engelen started stirring up the masses again. When at last I got the chance to speak I tried to explain what is the difference between Engelen and me: Engelen thinks globalization is a project you can stop, while I think globalization is a process you have to deal with. Marx and Bakunin. I’m afraid Marx will win, again.