Keep it light

On 2 oktober 2015, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Discussed in the House of Lords (Eerste Kamer) in The Hague on 1 October 2015:

The conference was about ‘Contours of the Third Century of the Dutch Kingdom’ in the House of Lords (Eerste Kamer) at the Binnenhof in The Hague. The seminar was organized by the Scientific Advisory Board of the Dutch Government (WRR) and marked the end of all the festivities of ‘Two hunderd years Dutch kingdom’. My presentation was on globalization, the retreat of the nationstate and the future of Dutch cities. Most of the lectures in the morning were about democracy, citizenship and the Dutch constitution. Many complaints were heard, but I really felt a lack of imagination; it was almost depressing. Andreas Kinnegin, professor philosophy of law at Leyden University, was quite pessimistic (he warned for the tyranny of the state and the disappearance of the protestant ethos), so was Kustaw Bessems, historian and journalist of de Volkskrant (who warned for islamic antidemocratic acts). His message: we are living in the best possible world, it will get worse. Even Jonathan Holslag of the Free University of Brussels was negative in his analysis of the international geopolitical situation. Nothing to be proud of. Scary even.

It reminded me of the lecture of Peter MacFadyen at the ‘Flatpack Democracy’ event of last Saturday in Brighton, UK. Peter had told us about creating independent politics in Frome, Somerset, south of Bath. After years of missed opportunities, a group of residents had taken control of their town council and had set about making politics relevant, effective and fun again. Frome counts 26.000 inhabitants. Its political system lacked vitality, people didn’t feel represented any more. Peter: “Britain today has a dysfunctional political system. Many politicians are making decisions to meet their own needs or those of their party, not the needs of the people they serve.” In detail he described how citizens took control of the system and searched for a radical democracy, without making use of political parties.The underlying ethos of all our actions is to build confidence and facilitate opportunity.” MacFadyan’s speech inspired many in the audience who apparently do not feel represented after the last election too, when most of the UK turned ‘blue’. MacFadyen gave a manual of how to develop a political system from the bottom-up. Essentials: work as a group, agree your ways of working together, use facilitators, friends, experts, people with skills, keep it light, decide on a good name. He told us it works. Why not?

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On 28 september 2015, in wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Argus of 24 September 2015:


Samer Bagaeen, teaching planning at the University of Brighton, showed me the local newspaper. In The Argus of last Thursday there were at least three pages on new high-rise initiatives in Brighton, UK. In ‘Building upwards is the way to go to meet housing crisis – but it can still look good’, Bagaeen is interviewed on the local housing crisis. He is one of the experts telling the readers that ‘the only way to go is up’. Geoffrey Mead of the University of Sussex adds: “The Dutch put something like five times as many people in their cities.” Some seven years ago the American architect Frank Gehry proposed a series of new tower blocks near the waterfront, worth 300 million pounds, but because of the financial crisis nothing came out of it. Bagaeen thinks projects like these are still needed. Brighton, south of London, is growing fast. There is no land for extension, but people need affordable housing. There are more than 20.000 households on the city council’s waiting list and an estimated housing need of 24.000. Brighton should be densified.

Brighton is a city of 250.000 inhabitants on the South coast of England, not far from London. The coastal region has beauty, the climate is gentle, everything looks nice. In many ways Brighton is a small version of the British capital city: low density, large parks, attractive neigborhoods, and a booming economy. You might compare it to Haarlem near Amsterdam. As a touristic beach resort it is transforming itself into a creative high-tech hub. Lots of people have moved from expensive London to Brighton, many are commuters now, the housing market is overheated, traffic congestion on the roads to London is an issue. Brighton, experts say, should densify. At the ‘Connect’ conference, organized by Austen Hunter and Jenni Lloyd, some eighty citizens focused, instead, on the identity of Brighton. They asked me to give a lecture. The outcome? Brighton’s identity should not get lost. But there is room for improvement. Many things can be done. People are willing to help. Let them. Connect them. Empower them.

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