Brexit-vote against the global city

On 25 juni 2016, in migratie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Independent of 24 June 2016:


The Dutch presidency of the EU in the first half of 2016 ends with a Brexit. Well done. In Amsterdam, where all the EU-meetings were held, we can put away the flags. The party is over. The young and fragile Urban Agenda of the EU will be an agenda without London, by far the biggest city of the EU. So goodbye Urban Agenda. This Brexit doen’s mean the proud nation of the UK will be restored. Nation-states are outlived and will not come back, unless they start a new world war. No, it means the UK is becoming a city-state in a globalizing world, with a cosmopolitan London, still in favour of the EU, being forced by its shrinking and ageing hinterland to step back. The same holds for Manchester, Leeds, and Belfast, where a majority has also voted against Brexit. Brexit is a vote of the shrinking hinterland against the Global City. What will London do? Think of its urban economy, which is already fully globalized. Its former mayor, Mr. Boris Johnson, has a chance to become the prime-minister of the new London city-state. How ironic. He will weave his urban ‘nation’ in the new networks of global cities, starting with New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Shanghai, all cities with economies as big as the UK. It is a scenario. Or a way of seeing things.

The other option is Mr. Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London, will come up with the proposal to leave the UK. Why not? London will certainly not become the new capital city of a former powerful country, it is a global city already for quite a long time, a very powerful city indeed, which in many ways is disconnected from its surroundings. There are more than a million Europeans living in London. Besides, there are quite a few millions of immigrants living in London from all over the world. Mr. Khan is one of them, his family is from Pakistan. The Brexit vote was a vote against immigrants in the first place, against the global city. So how did the new mayor respond to the Brexit vote? “There is no need to panic.” And: “I want to send a particular message to the almost one million Europeans living in London, who make a huge contribution to our city – working hard, paying taxes and contributing to our civic and cultural life. You are welcome here. We value the enormous contribution you make to our city and that will not change as a result of this referendum." Will they stay? It starts with London protesting.  Mind ‘London Stays’.

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Window dressing

On 31 mei 2016, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Heard in the People’s Industry Palace in Amsterdam on 30 May 2016:


The EU is in a crisis. And it’s a big one. Something went wrong. Remember, for many years Europe has been a sex object in the world. These times are gone. What happened? Mr. Jan Zielonka, professor of European Policy and Society, gave a dark and gloomy lecture yesterday evening on the future of the EU in the temporary People’s Industry Palace in Amsterdam. The lecture was organized by the Amsterdam Economic Board in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam. That same day the EU had presented its Urban Agenda in the Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam. So what happened? First there was the financial crisis, then the euro crisis, Greece not being able to pay its debts (and it will not either), next the internet revolution, it ended up with the refugee crisis; the whole Mediterranean is now turning into one big cemetery. So there is a crisis of cohesion in the EU, a crisis of trust, and, most important, a crisis of imagination. We don’t know how to fix the crisis. Mr. Junker is a ‘Spitzenkandidat’, a man we should have been happy with, his appointment the greatest triumph of democracy. How sad. We’re not even supposed to criticize.The only real new thing the EU came up with was the national referendum. So now the people in the Netherlands, in the UK, in Hungary can vote on matters of great complexity, with implications for the whole of the EU. How democratic is that? There is no plan-B. “Are we going to wait for Mrs. Le Pen and Mr. Wilders?”

The problem are the nationstates. Some have turned into protectorates, others look like semi-failed states, Germany behaves like an empire. They have become dysfunctional without noticing it. They’re working in a hierarchical way. And so is the whole of the EU, which is a creation of the member-states, with Berlin at the top. “We got more rules, but no governance. In this situation an Urban Agenda doesn’t help. The cities of Europe do not wait for the EU. Life goes on.” Mr. Zielonka pointed at the fact that we’re living in an economy and a society that have become more global and more networked, with powerful multinationals and megacities. Sure, we trust our leaders, but they don’t deliver. No, the situation doesn’t look very well. Mr. Zielonka believed that if you cannot push forward, you will have to step back. Brussels should disperse power. We need more horizontal structures. But this the nationstates will not do. So what happens if institutions become dysfunctional? There will be more ad hoc arrangements, people finding pragmatic solutions; this is probably the only way. What about the EU then? The EU should abolish the monopoly of the states on integration and stop working like an old propaganda machine; instead of territorial integration it should allow functional integration. And it should decentralize governance to a lower level. Back to the nationstates is no option. And just like the Lisbon Agenda, the Urban Agenda – this Pact of Amsterdam – is no more than window dressing.

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Crisis, what crisis?

On 27 november 2015, in politiek, ruimtelijke ordening, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 7 November 2015:


Yesterday evening I had to give a short presentation in Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam, on ‘Growing cities, shrinking regions’ (Groeiende steden, krimpende regio’s). The meeting was organized by the journalist Floor Milikowski of De Groene Amsterdammer on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, celebrating its ‘Space Year 2015’ (Jaar van de Ruimte). My opponent was Pieter Tordoir, an economic geographer, who showed his elaborate work on recent mobility- and migration patterns in the Netherlands. His slides showed familiar, reassuring images, his policy advise was affirmative for those in power. My contribution on the other hand, was on the future and was far more alarming. My speculative research I based on globalization, fractal patterns of spatial localization, long-term trends, disruptions. The reaction of the audience on my presentation was rather negative. I think people still do not understand. So I tried to explain what globalization means: complexity, extreme interdependence, modern information technology making everything transparant, all resulting in extreme spatial concentration on the one hand, brutal expulsions on the other.

To clarify I told about the chaotic Facebook riots in Haren, a sleepy suburb of Groningen, in September 2012: thousands of young people gathering one night after viral messages on Facebook, announcing a great party, all started to drink and fight with the police. It was breaking news all over the world. The other example was the exponential growth of Airbnb in Amsterdam, while in the rest of the Netherlands nothing happens. The third I wanted to give but didn’t because of lack of time, is on the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. In The Economist of 7 November, Charlemagne wrote about the late French decision to put on a show of European solidarity. “French bureaucrats, armed with Arabic translators and loudspeakers, chartered three coaches and set off for the German city of Munich. The idea was to fill the vehicles with refugees and drive them over the Rhine to France, thus easing Germany’s load.” What happened? No one wanted to climb on board. The refugees from the Middle East and Africa were too well informed. They only use Paris as a transit to the far stronger London economy. Most prefer to stay in Munich. Just have a look at the interactive map of Lucify on those thousands of migrants flooding Europe, searching for great cities to live in (picture). It’s the rise of the network society!

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Asian style

On 12 oktober 2015, in duurzaamheid, economie, migratie, stedelijkheid, by Zef Hemel

Read in China Digital Times of 26 June 2014:


What the Russians are trying to do in and around Greater Moscow (17 million inhabitants), the Chinese are doing even on a grander scale with Beijing (22 million inhabitants): building an Asian megalopolis. I remember the session in the Intercontinental Hotel in Moscow in April 2012, when a delegation from the Chinese capital informed the Russians about their plans to transform Beijing into a city of 110 million inhabitants. We were all perplexed. Since then president Mr. Xi Jinping took over. He changed the policy of the Hu-Wen administration, which was focused on accelerating development in the inland regions (‘Go West’), and called for integrated, coordinated development of the region around Beijing. This megalopolis will become the third economic power house of China, after Shanghai’s Yangtze River Delta and the Guangzhou’s Pearl River Delta, two spatial-political products of Den Xiaoping’s administration in the 1980’s. Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province are collaborating now on a huge scale, it’s a daring experiment of the new leadership all the rest of the world should have a closer look at.

Just imagine the European Union would force the Netherlands to collaborate with the Belgians and the government of Germany to build a World City out of the triangle Amsterdam-Brussels-Cologne: a megalopolis of more than 60 million inhabitants, doubling its size the coming twenty years thanks to migration from the Middle East. Schemes of densification of the extremely distributed suburban landscape would aim the creation of an economic power house on the North-Western shores of Europe, comparable to Greater London (10 million) and Ile de France (12 million). It will never happen of course. This is Europe, not Asia. But maybe Mr. Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, aiming economic growth as well as sustainability, will at least come up with a proposal to transform the Dutch fragmented suburban landscape into a densily built city-state of 17 million inhabitants. How will the nation react? Negative, I suppose. It will happen anyway.

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