The World Within

On 22 januari 2016, in regionale planning, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Cities in Evolution’ (1915) of Patrick Geddes:


Old stuff. Got a copy of Cities in Evolution (1915) of the Scottish biologist and planner Sir Patrick Geddes in my hands again. In the appendix I found the explanation of his diagrams. I love the one on ‘The World Without and the World Within’. It’s from his sunday talks with his children. It’s very useful stuff to read now that we’re preparing a children’s program for the People’s Industry Palace (Volksvlijt 2056), to open this spring in Amsterdam. The Out-World is a world of facts and acts, the In-World a world of memories and plans. Geddes explains that you can only go from facts to acts via the In-World. You have to think first, to ponder, to create a rich In-World before you can start working. Dreaming is the Passive In-World. Planning is the Active In-World.On school you only learn facts and acts.

Then he explains why educated people have difficulties with acting and working. Their In-World is a world of memories, not plans.  And science looks mainly at the Out-World. Geddes: “those who stay behind, in the house of memory, may become more and more learned, but they will never do very much. That, in fact, is what is wrong with too many educated people; that is why they feel paralysed, and can neither speak nor act though the occation calls.” So we should all learn to climb away up into the skies of thought, and away down into its strange dim depths. Geddes refers to the angel who took St. Peter out of prison. Anyone, he adds, could be liberated by an angel. So we need them both, the Out-World and the In-World. Geddes: “Not only to enjoy more but to do more, plan more, carry out more.” It’s the circle of life. Or better, it’s a spiral, a growing spiral. Great men are only children of larger growth. “Life is like childhood – it can’t be still.”

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Out of control

On 3 november 2015, in duurzaamheid, participatie, planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Heard in Boston City Hall on 22 October 2015:

Image The Boston Harbor Association

Leaving Penn Station early in the morning, I took de Amtrack train from New York City to Boston, Massachusetts. There I would meet some people at City Hall, to discuss the planning of the city-region. Boston – a city of some 640.000 inhabitants – is preparing its first new comprehensive plan for its city-wide future after fifty years. Citizens are invited to ‘Imagine Boston 2030’, when the city will celebrate its 400-th anniversary. In May this year Mayor Marty Walsh launched a two year public engagement process, saying it would be a more dynamic process of civic engagement than has been done with planning efforts in the past. So that’s why I took the train to Boston and meet the planners, Gerald Autler, director of Boston Redevelopment Authority, in the first place. To discuss with him and his staff some new approaches of open planning.

How’s Boston doing? Quite well in economic terms, I would say, surely for an east coast city. It’s a thriving, innovative city in the Bos-Wash megaregion, just north of New York. However, climate change is a real threat, because its position on the Atlantic coast makes the urban area extremely vulnerable. Especially the redeveloped southern waterfront with the new convention center near South Station is in danger, as is all the land that has been developed on the waterfront in the 19nth and 20th century. In the Boston Globe I read: "Over the past century, temperatures in northeastern states have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and if heat-trapping gases increase at current rates, warming could spike as much as ten degrees by the 2080s, prolonging bouts of extreme heat, taxing electrical systems, and disrupting ecosystems." What is to be done? There is a Boston Climate Action Plan, sure, but is it adequate? Could ‘Imagine Boston 2030’ bring solutions? A radical open approach might give birth to miracles, but no one knows the outcome from the outset. Open planning means: being out of control. Will the leaders accept uncertainty? I hope they will not only take action, but listen to the people first.

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A neotechnic order

On 24 september 2015, in planningtheorie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Cities of Tomorrow’ (1992) of Sir Peter Hall:


While you are reading this blog post, I’m sitting in a plane flying to London, pondering on my lecture of yesterday at the University of Amsterdam for bachelor students in planning and geography. It was an introduction to planning, the last part: from the Fourth Report on Spatial Planning in the Netherland (as the last sweeping governmental measures of the Dutch state) untill recent times. They all had to read Peter Hall’s ‘Cities of Tomorrow’. In the end I quoted Hall: “No, planning will not go away; no, it will never again be de-politicized, as some once hoped. Like the Abbé Sieyès in an earlier revolution, it lives. But traditional land-use planning has come under more basic attack in its country of birth than ever in its eighty years of existence. It has become determinedly reactive, artisan and anti-intellectual, while planning in the academy has retreated ever higher up its ivory tower.” This he wrote in 1992. We’re now twenty-three years later. Hall died a few years ago. How optimistic can we be?

One of the students wanted to know what new life is waiting for planners. And why did I tell all those heroic stories on the history of planning if it is all over now? The answers I gave her didn’t satisfy her, I could see. What to add? We should learn from history, I told her. And be inspired. For me, it was inspiring to read about Patrick Geddes again, who founded his planning beliefs on the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French anarchist who thought that individual property ownership was the essential guarantee of a free society, so long as no one owned too much. “Such a society, he believed, could alone provide the basis for a decentralized, non-hierarchical system of federal government.” Even more so, Geddes, and also Ebenezer Howard, were friends of Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist who founded his thoughts on Proudhon and believed in a new age of industrial decentralization. Geddes also took his position “that society had to be reconstructed not by sweeping governmental measures, but through the efforts of millions of individuals; the ‘neotechnic order’ meant the creation, city by city, region by region, of a Europia.” That is what we planners should do: focusing on the efforts of the millions in this neo-neotechnic age, creating a Europia at last.

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Dark Sky City

On 24 augustus 2015, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Seen in De Pont in Tilburg, the Netherlands, on 6 August 2015:


The exhibition on the American artist James Turrell in De Pont, Tilburg, was exciting. Thursday two weeks ago we visited the museum, but I have to admit I didn’t know his work when I entered the place. There were some four installations. Most extreme and impressive was the video on Roden Crater, Arizona. You can find it on Youtube. It was amazing. Turrell, who works with light, found the crater in 1974 on a trip with his plane flying over the desert, and then he bought it. More than forty years now he’s building an obersvatory and tunnels in the crater, which is situated near the city of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is called the ‘Dark Sky City’, because local government tries to keep the sky over the city absolutely dark at night. It is an excellent condition for Turrell’s obervatory. The first room he built is the Sun and Moon Space. He added a tunnel to it, which works as the biggest telescope on earth: 854 feet long. Turrell wishes to bring astronomical events and objects down into your personal life, because you live in space. “We drink light,” he says. In the end he hopes the volcano will contain twenty spaces, each reveiling different perceptions of light.

What I like in his work is his notion that knowledge in itself  is not enough. “It is one thing to know these things, and another is to see them happen.” All his installations are built in a way that visitors experience light personally, with their body. He’s after this primary relation to light. “You come to this room and discover these things yourself, you go through these things, it’s your discovery.” I became conscious of the fact that, in a way, the same holds with all the projects I developed as a planner over the last thirty years: Nederland Nu Als Ontwerp (1986), Creatieve Steden (2002), Vrijstaat Amsterdam (2009), De Nieuwe Wibaut (2011), Volksvlijt (2016): these were all installations in which thousands of people could experience and discover the future in a most personal way. Why? It is their future. I think this is the most powerful planning approach. You need a space where these things can happen. Roden Crater is that kind of space. I hope the Amsterdam Public Library will gonna be a sort of Roden Crater in the first half of 2016, when Volksvlijt (The People’s Industry Palace) is staged right there.

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