Peak Trade

On 19 juni 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 28 April 2016:

Again two newspaper articles worth reading: one of Frank Boll (28 April), on capitalism triumphant, the other of Maarten Schinkel (4 May), on the future of global trade. Boll, founder of Ecofis, wrote in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on how capitalism liberated migrants from the countryside on a massive scale since the Chinese started their economic liberalisation policies at the end of the seventies of the twentieth century. Urbanization started, poverty rates dropped, two billion people entered the middle class, world income doubled. So why is everybody criticizing capitalism nowadays? It seems the tremendous success of capitalism is creating its own enemies. It did so, Boll emphasizes, in the past too, time and again. The point is, he thinks, most of the developing world is still lacking full capitalism: land rights for the poor in particular. Then he quotes Nobel prize laureate Robert Solow (1924), who did research in the fifties and later on the evolution of economic growth. Land, labour, and capital can explain only 20 percent of economic growth. Eighty percent is non-economic: human capital, technology, social institutions, urbanisation, advanced cities providing both civic institutions and technological infrastructure. Regimes patronizing their citizens always reduce growth. (More on Solow: ).

Schinkel, editor of NRC Handelsblad, tried to explain the massive protests against TTIP, the Trade Pact between the US and Europe being negotiated. Globalization reached its peak in 1914. With the Great War, times of global prosperity ended, nation-states took over, which resulted in more crisis, another war. Then it took more than sixty years of troublesome state-to-state negotiations to reach the old level of globalization again. And, yes, now we all feel uncertain again. Why? Too many shocks, technology is developing too fast, urbanizing China entering the world market being a major shock we still have to accommodate. Again we all seem to long for strong nation-states, people hoping their governments will protect them. Schinkel: “Maybe this era of ever expanding global trade is over and are we now experiencing a 1914-moment. Whether this lack of global solidarity is making the world safer, can be doubted.” Sure, the nation-state will be no help. It will make things worse. Only global networks of expanding and collaborating cities can save the world. So enterpreneurial citizens all over the world, unite!

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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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Jane Jacobs again

On 1 april 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in OECD Territorial Review of the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam-The Hague (2016):

With the financial support of the Ministry of Interior Affairs in The Hague, the OECD published a report on the regional economy of the two Dutch neighboring cities Rotterdam and The Hague. It’s worth reading, especially for the students  following my course on global cities at the University of Amsterdam. How competitive are these two cities in the South Wing of the former Randstad area or, better, why do they lack competitiveness? The OECD concludes that “the distinct socio-economic profiles of Rotterdam (centred on the port and logistics activities) and The Hague (specialised in public administration and services) have contributed to weak functional integration of the MRDH area,” and also the “two cities have not traditionally considered themselves as natural partners”. Commuting flows between the two cities are extremely low, even though the distance between them is less than 30 kilometres. And yes, it’s the most densiliy built area in the Netherlands. ”However, the MRDH lags behind the Dutch average in terms of educational attainment, disposable income and employment.” Globalization is testing the capacity of city-regions to exploit their comparative advantages. MRDH is losing ground. “It has struggled to recover from the 2008 global crisis and continues to be outperformed by other metropolitan areas in the Randstad.”

So what does the OECD advise the Ministry and its two cities? Its key recommendations are:  it’s a long way to go, and best would be “focusing inward to promote greater integration of the MRDH while looking outward to boost the national and international profile of the region”. Personally I hope they will not boost the national and international profile too much. The two cities are quite good at that already. Better look inward. That’s also what I teach my students, I mean, the sustainable development of a city-region requires giving greater attention to the creation and conservation of regional wealth. Especially now that globalization is testing regional economies, big projects are no help, nor does city marketing. Focus on your regional assets. So let’s quote the great American planner John Friedmann, who wrote: “Sustainable development is never bestowed from the outside but must be generated from within the regional economy itself.” Or I would suggest reading Jane Jacobs again: Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984.

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Winners and losers

On 12 maart 2016, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘De verdeelde triomf’’ (2016) of Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving:

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in The Hague published its yearly spatial report last week. This year’s theme is urban inequality and justice: when economic inequality between cities and between cities and regions is growing, is it good or bad? The title of the report refers to Edward Glaeser’s ‘Triumph of the City’ (2011), but its content is largely inspired by Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs (2012). The American neoliberal triumph of cities in the Netherlands is much milder, but an unequal one too. The winners are Amsterdam and Utrecht, but the report does not highlight this too much. In a subtle way the autors even seem to critize the triumph (it is unfair) or should I say, their approach is a Calvinist one in the sense that they think it is almost sinful to celebrate the economic success of some big cities, and that we should always keep in mind that there are other cities that lack this potential and stay poor. We live in an egalitarian country. So their conclusion is: it’s up to politics to decide whether it’s troublesome or not. And don’t forget, in policy terms it is best to focus on people, their capabilities, not on geography.

An intermezzo in the report is on four major inner-city projects in the Netherlands: Zuidas and Wibautstraat in Amsterdam, and Kop van Zuid and Weena in Rotterdam. It is worthwile to study this chapter closely because it is meaningful. In the Fourth Report on Spatial Planning (1994), Zuidas ànd Kop van Zuid were to become two new, ambitious Central Business Districts in the two biggest cities of the country, like Canary Wharf in London and La Défense in Paris. The government didn’t dare to chose, so it promised to support both cities in their efforts to develop a costly CBD (so do it half). The conclusion after twenty years is that Zuidas is booming, but that Rotterdam’s Kop van Zuid is primarily a public-oriented development: almost 50 percent of all the jobs there are government-related, while in Amsterdam this is only 4 percent. Meanwhile, Weena and Wibautstraat had to reinvent themselves. In terms of new jobs Wibautstraat is extremely successful, with a great mix, while Weena is in a danger zone. The amount of vacant floor space there is alarming: 25 percent (on Wibautstraat only 5 percent). What does the government agency conclude? You really should read the full report.

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Capital of the Internet

On 9 maart 2016, in economie, energie, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in FD Morgen of 5 March 2016:


Its special last weekend on innovation, leadership and technology ‘Morgen’ was on ‘Cooling down’. Het Financieele Dagblad published a beautiful map on page 6 and 7 of its special which showed all the datacenters in the Netherlands as gleaming stars. According to the journalist, Bob de Lange, thirty percent of all the new datacenters of Europe of 2015 were built in the Low Countries, most of them you can find in and around Amsterdam: some 180 ‘data-hotels’, with a total floor space of 240.000 m2. Really? After London and Frankfurt, Amsterdam is number three now. So yes, that would be amazing and a real big success! But the fast growth of these datacenters is becoming an issue these days. The problem is one of sustainability, because these buildings consume a lot of electricity. More than half of their costs are for cooling. Some 10 percent of all the electricity consumption is for the internet, 50 percent more fuel than for air transport. And its share is growing fast, because ever more datacenters are needed. The newspaper introduces a new concept: ‘software footprint’. How to make software smart and sustainable, that’s the question. Why, then, such a tempting cartography?

There are at least 40 datacenters is Amsterdam, consuming 11 percent of all the electricity consumption of the 22.000 Amsterdam-based companies. In an agreement the centers promised to cut their energy use by 68 million kWh the coming years, that is 15 percent. This local policy, three years ago introduced, was not undisputed at all. Why would Amsterdam go green on its own? Why undermining its strong market position? But now I read in FD: “Amsterdam follows a more strict policy on CO2-emissions that stimulates all parties to intensify the search for new concepts, that could be interesting for other countries. This strengthens the export position of Dutch builders of datacenters.” So the policy was clever and now it’s profitable too. One drawback: the newspaper qualifies the whole of the Netherlands as ‘the capital of the internet’. A country is not a capital. Besides, the map shows different.

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Powering forward

On 30 oktober 2015, in economie, innovatie, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘The Metropolitan Revolution’ (2013) of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley:


The US economy is broken. How to repair it? Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley wrote a book about ‘how cities and metros are fixing our broken politics and fragile economy’. It is similar to Benjamin Barber’s ‘If Mayors Ruled the World’, only more in detail. Katz and Bradley are working for the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, a nonprofit public policy organization, one of Washington oldest thinktanks, maybe even one of the most influential thinktanks in the world. Their message: the US government can’t solve the huge economic and competitive challenges its cities are facing, so networks of metropolitan leaders are stepping up "and powering the nation forward." They give examples of New York, Denver, Northeast Ohio and Houston. Katz and Bradley think power is shifting again in their country. No longer the federal state is the central agency in moving the country forward. The American revolution, they write, was an urban revolution, so the new economic revolution will be urban again.

The example of New York is exactly the one the Masterclass NYC of the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam is studying in depth right now: innovation and the next economy. It is the case of ‘the applied science initiative’ of mayor Bloomberg in 2011-2013. The initiative was based on the idea that innovation is closely intertwined with new developments in science and technology, but that New York was weak in engineering. There were too few engineers and similar technical professionals based in New York City. Technology strength often clusters around universities, so universities are basic to the infastructure needed. Katz and Bradley: "There is, of course, a deep irony in the fact that technology, which was supposed to cut ties between people and places and allow people everywhere to work from almost anywhere, turns out to flourish in fairly compact geographic concentrations." A host of studies have shown that clusters spur entrepreneurship and boost start-up initiatives. "Universities do not usually by themselves create clusters, but they can be powerful factors in maintaining and energizing them." So that’s why New York launched an international competition in which the prize was a new school of engineering on Rooseveldt island. Cornell University and Technion in Tel Aviv were the winners in 2013. The building of the new campus has already started. We visited the site two weeks ago. It will open in 2017. "This process will be a model going forward for any kind of technology-oriented development."  Also in Europe. In the biggest European cities and metros, I mean.

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Size, density, proximity

On 28 oktober 2015, in economie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in Brooklyn, NYC, on 19 October 2015:


His name: Eddie Summers. Mr. Summers is the executive director of Brooklyn Education Innovation Network, NYC (BE.IN). He showed us around in Brooklyn. His walk was more than twenty kilometers long, the weather was beautiful, although a bit cold. We crossed downtown Brooklyn, headed for DUMBO, visited a co-working space at the seventh floor, enjoyed the view, met some young people, walked on to Brooklyn Navy Yard, ended up at the campus of the Pratt Institute. All in all it took us two hours to make the tour. The excursion was part of the masterclass NYC, an initiative of the city of Amsterdam, on cities and its universities. Why Brooklyn? With more than 60,000 college students hailing from 11 higher education institutions, Downtown Brooklyn is truly New York City’s College Town. Mr. Summers’ task is to foster cooperation among member institutions to broaden and enrich academic programs, encourage fiscal economies through shared services, facilitate interactions with industry, and expand and encourage student programming and community service activities. His work reminded me of the Amsterdam Economic Board, whose task is to foster collaboration between higher education, industry and public authorities in the Amsterdam region. Mr. Summers did it all on his own.

Eddie Summers told us about his organizing a lot of Meet-up’s: of bringing some thirty people together around a certain theme or subject, starting at four PM, ending at six, doing business. It really worked. He gave some great examples of local colleges starting to collaborate, industry helping colleges, public authorities making use of the knowledge of colleges, with the result of new startup’s as a spin-off. The startup ecosystem of Brooklyn, he explained, is a highly interwoven complex of colleges, institutions and buildings with a lot of startups in a relatively small area of old buildings, not too far from Manhattan. The ecosystem works because it is a dense tissue of highly interrelated activities, it has critical mass, with a high-tech component, it works, he added, through close proximity. You can experience it by walking around. That’s why we walked, walked, walked around untill late afternoon that Monday in October.

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Growth or decline

On 27 oktober 2015, in demografie, economie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in City Hall, New York, on Monday 19 October 2015:

Last Monday, on the first day of the masterclass NYC in New York, we visited New York City Hall. The masterclass, initiated by the city of Amsterdam, studies the interaction between cities and their universities. Master: Zef Hemel, holder of the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam. Edith Hsu-Chen, vice-executive director of the City Planning Department, borough of Manhattan, and Edwin Marshall, senior planner, gave useful introductions to the theme from the perspective of the city. The expansion plans of all the universities in New York City on the island of Manhattan, Mrs. Hsu-Chen stressed, are most remarkable, and the city is facilitating all of those plans. The universities are important, a major growth sector and an economy in itself. A decentralized, more evenly distributed pattern is not aimed for. In fact, the city understands that all the universities have their roots in Manhattan, and wish to stay there. That means constant rezoning, because in the costly, densily built environment of Manhattan huge volumes of extra floor space are needed. It can only be served by high rise. But of course there is a tension between new campus developments and daily life in residential neighbourhoods. Take New York University (NYU) on Washington Square, or Columbia University in West-Harlem. They all serve as study material in the masterclass.

On Tuesday we visited Toni Griffin, director of the Max Bond Center on Design of the Just City at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York. The center is based in Harlem, close to the campus of Columbia. Mrs. Griffin told us about her research on ‘legacy cities’ in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast of the United States. Some 48 cities are shrinking because they lose population and/or are economically depressed. Most of them are former industrial cities. Often they lack higher education or have to close down their colleges because of a lack of students. It’s a pattern of young adults leaving their hometown cities for college and not returning after graduation, or encountering obstacles to obtaining the educations needed to be competitive for local jobs. In America’s northeast, Boston and New York are the remaining growth poles, Carnegy Mellon University in Pittsburgh is also doing well, so higher education seems to be crucial in these struggling former industrial urban economies, who are all competing with the dynamic Westcoast and urban South economies. Size and density matter (all the fragmented land of Detroit fits easily in Manhattan), but also quality of the local colleges is critical to their economic future – whether it will be urban growth or decline. Even New York cannot ignore its universities. On the contrary, the city has to stimulate the quality of its higher education system by investing in it on a structural base.

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On 26 oktober 2015, in economie, technologie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in New York City on Wednesday 21 October 2015:

Sharon Zukin, professor on urban sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY), was our guest on the morning of 21 October 2015. She told us about CUNY, how this local university of some 500.000 students was structured, who owned it (public, the state, not the city), why its focus was on education, and less on research, who paid for it, why it was problematic to speak about this ‘Harvard for the poor’ with pride at this very moment (because of the unrest amongst the professors, fearing new budget cuts), what its future might be, and how CUNY is related to the so-called ‘new economy’ of New York: the one of the growing tech scene, the startups, the bootcamps, the fintech, the medtech, the anytech jobs. She was researching this new economy, which she still didn’t fully grasped. According to the many people she had interviewed it is still ‘inchoate’, that means: not developed yet, just begun, lacking order. We listened to her for more than one and a half hour in a small room at the Graduate Center of CUNY at Fifth Avenue. Welcome to the masterclass NYC on cities and its universities, an initiative of the city of Amsterdam.

Mrs. Zukin showed us the new website of ‘Digital New York City’: For her research, she told us, it was an excellent source. It gave all the information on startups, events, jobs, investors, courses, workspaces, incubators, a great map, all this news on the new economy in New York assembled on just one website. She could not tell whether any city in the world is giving this information real time. The website was initiated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), or was it IBM that not only sponsored it, but also had come up with the proposal? We had to admit, this is a city that is strategically focussing on the new economy, and doing very well. Of course, New York had to, in a way. After the financial crisis of 2008, the city understood that being too dependent on the financial sector is very risky. The city should diversify its economy, adding a bit of Silicon Valley to its already diverse economic ecosystem. Or was it even more urgent? The whole economy, the mayor had told his staff, will become digitalized the next ten or twenty years. The city should wake up. So what about CUNY then? And Amsterdam?

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