Tagged : history

A new urban model

In the 1920s, experts estimated Amsterdam would grow to 960.000 people 80 years from then. They were wrong by a big margin (2000: 740.000 people). In October, experts again calculated Amsterdam (the Randstad) will continue to grow rapidly while the rest of the country faces a population decline (Volkskrant, October 2011). I believe experts are wrong again. Here’s why.

In the digital age we currently live in, everyone has a laptop and smartphone. Most people are connected via Twitter and Facebook and information gets stored in the Cloud. All these innovations make it possible to work anywhere and anytime we want.

These developments depart from the current urban model which is used by most experts. Put simply, employees wanted to live as close to work as possible while still retaining as much space and luxury as possible. For example, the Dutch city of Almere continues to grow because of its proximity to Amsterdam in combination with more affordable housing (more bang for their buck). But what if people could live even further away from Amsterdam without sacrificing their jobs?

In recent years people started to work from their houses more often. Distance becomes less relevant, since house equals workplace. Within years, current cities and the current urban model no longer suffices, thus suggesting a new urban model.  How do we get the Netherlands future proof?

Later this week I’ll post three of my solutions. Stay tuned.

Read about three of my solutions in part 2 of this blogpost.

Do people really want to live in cities?

Yesterday we welcomed the 7 billionth person into the world. This is why (Dutch) newspapers were flooded with charts, statistics and analysis about the United Nations report predicting the world’s population growth. It seems experts agree we shouldn’t agree with experts (in this case the United Nations’ researchers). Many questions were raised. But none of them questioned the United Nations’ prediction about the percentage of people living in cities. Which, according to the UN, continues to grow on every continent. No exceptions. And let’s be fair, all data (and most experts) suggests the same. So it makes sense to assume this actually will be the case. But…

Do people really want to live in cities?

You might say this is an irrelevant question. Don’t we all have to live in cities? Won’t we run out of space otherwise? Ehm. No. We’re not about to run out of space any time soon. We could however run out of resources, but this has not so much to do with cities. So let’s get back to the question raised before. Do people really want to live in cities? In order to answer this question we have to ask ourselves another question.

Why do people live in cities?

For matters of simplicity we’ll divide the people who live in cities in two categories. There are (1) people who love to live in a city, because of their social life, the buzz, entertainment and services. And there are (2) people who need to live in a city because of their jobs and/or education. They might not have had a job otherwise, or pay is higher, the job is more interesting, et cetera. I bet if you’d ask any urbanite (a person who lives in a city) he or she wants a bigger house with a garden and a safe neighborhood for their kids (if they have any). Instead, changes are big they live in a small apartment in a generic suburb of a city. Some of them love cities so much, they’re willing to make the tradeoff. Others just need to live there because of their job. They simply have no choice.

The situation described above (which I simplified quite a bit) is basis for the current urban model. This urban model is used by most architects, urban planners and also researchers like the ones who crafted the United Nations report. Since these researchers predict the percentage of people living in cities will continue to grow, they assume the current urban model will continue to exist for many decades to come.

But what if people don’t need to live in cities anymore? If this would be the case, the current urban model becomes irrelevant. Right?! And that’s exactly what’s happening today. Slowly we see a new way of working emerging. Because of technological innovations like smart phones, laptops, tablet computers, video conferencing and data storage ‘in-the-cloud’, employees can work wherever and whenever they want. As a result employers can cut costs because they need less office space for each employee (they’ll work from their houses more often).

These developments suggest a new urban model. Distance becomes less relevant since house equals workplace. Employees don’t need to live as close to their offices anymore allowing them to live wherever they want. For some people this will continue to be a city. They simply love to be there. But for others, their dream house could be located in a small town near a lake, in a forest or maybe in the mountains. More companies will adapt to this new way of working (which is already happening) thus speeding this development.

This new urban model creates major possibilities for (rural) areas which currently face a population decline. For them it is important to invest in education, health care and other services. But most importantly, they should invest in the best (Internet) connections possible. If these (rural) areas succeed in doing so, don’t be surprised the percentage of people living in (mostly western) cities will decrease in time. After all, do people really want to live in cities?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Proud to be Dutch

A couple of days ago I picked up some family members in Amsterdam. I left a little earlier to ‘be a tourist in my own country’. Since I’d been in Amsterdam before, I decided not to go downtown but to check out several (famous) sights nearby the Dutch capital. Below I’ll mention three of them.

First stop: Muiden

To me Muiden is known as the northern end of the Dutch Water Line (Dutch: Hollandsche Waterlinie) and as part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam (Dutch: Stelling van Amsterdam). Also, Muiden is most well known for the Muiderslot. It’s probably the most well known castle of Holland.

In 1629 the Dutch started to protect the economic heartland of the Dutch Republic, Amsterdam, by creating a line of flooded land protected by fortresses. The water level in the flooded areas was carefully maintained to a level deep enough to make an advance on foot precarious and shallow enough to rule out effective use of boats (other than the flat bottomed gun barges used by the Dutch defenders). During the Second World War the line became mainly obsolete. In 1940 the Germans simply flew over the defense line using airborne troops. They caught the heart of “Fortress Holland” by surprise. Nonetheless, the defense line was kept into service until 1963. I’ve always been intrigued by these defense lines.

Second stop: IJburg, Amsterdam

IJburg is a residential neighborhood in the east of Amsterdam. I’ve been in Amsterdam several times, but never to IJburg. It’s currently being built on six artificial islands which have been raised from the lake. The artificial islands remembered me of Dubai (here and here), although I’ve never been there (and IJburg is not as big and prestigious).

Third stop: Enclosure Dam (Dutch: Afsluitdijk)

The Enclosure Dam is a famous dike with a total length of 32 km. It’s part of the larger Zuiderzee Works and the damming of the Zuiderzee, which was turned into a fresh water lake, the IJsselmeer. It’s one of the marvels of the Dutch battle against the sea.

Proud to be Dutch

After seeing these three places, I can’t help myself but to feel proud to be Dutch. How a small country can be big!