Archives for posts with tag: netherlands

Holland-motion

I know it may be hard to conceptualize, but try and imagine the provinces of North and South Holland — the Randstad specifically — as one big city.

the ranstadThe complex dotted-and-linked towns and cities of the Randstad

I know it’s hard to conceptualize when looking at a map: a highly complex and widely spread system of independent-seeming towns, cities, farms and transportation in between — the Randstad alone has an area of 8 287 square kilometres (about 4000 of which are urban).

But functionally North and South Holland is one big city. And with that comes a lot of motion:

A first example of Holland-mobility is that many people from the Netherlands that I’ve encountered have personal geographies that consist of a lot of movement between the cities of North and South Holland (the sort of movement you associate with the United States and the American Dream).

Of those I’ve spoken with, many of their grandparents are from one city, their parents grew up in another, they were born in that town, but now live elsewhere.

These common stories of intra-provincial migration contribute to a blurry sense of place-based identity, and soft declarations of one-point-of-origin as where they’re “from”: a confusion that ultimately leads to a Holland-wide identity, and the allegiance to the Randstad as a whole as the basis for identity, rather than an individual town or city.

Another point of Holland motion: people travel from in between cities near and farther away, to live, work and socialize on a daily basis. My fellow interns at Golfstromen themselves live in Utrecht and Zandvoort. A friend’s colleagues similarly travel from major regional cities — cities with their own employment — to work in Amsterdam.

And a final meditation on Holland Motion —
Lining the bike paths of Amsterdam are the constant appearance of way-finding signs directing you to far-flung Haarlem, Almere, Den Haag, and Utrecht — cities that are relatively quite far away. But these cities, appearing on the streets, inhabit your consciousness as you negotiate the local geography of Amsterdam. Being constantly reminded that they and are within biking distance — indeed that they exist! — wraps their being into the being of Amsterdam, tightly weaving Holland together as a series of neighbourhood-cities within a greater regional metropolis.

Bike signs

This May, I look forward to “following the signs”, that is, choosing a city that I see a  bike way-finding sign for, and biking there without consulting a map — to experience Amsterdam, the city I choose to bike to, and the spaces and tight relations in between.

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I can describe urban planning in the Netherlands with one term: Multiple Land Use.

Multiple Land Use in the Netherlands has a much deeper meaning than what I’ve come to know of the same concept in Canada.

In my understanding, Multiple Land Use in Canada is a fairly simple mixing of residential, commercial and industrial activities. Also known as Mixed-Use Zoning, this practice has come into vogue in the last 20 years, in direct response to the negative consequences of the Modernist practice of isolating functions which characterized urban planning in the mid to late 20th century.

In the Netherlands, Multiple Land Use means so much more than having commercial and residential beside each other, and refers to a deeper mixing of land use functions — indeed, Multiple Land Use refers to the literal stacking of functions on top of each other!

Some of my fave examples:

◈ Along the Prince Hendrikade, which lines Amsterdam’s historical Eastern harbour, there are bike, car, bus and pedestrian lanes. There is a boardwalk style green space lining the water. Where Valkenburgerstraat intersects Prince Hendrikade sits the NEMO – a  science museum with a very distinct, contemporary architectural style. On top of the NEMO is a cafe, and terrace with expansive view of the city. Under the NEMO runs the IJtunnel – a bus and car link that runs under the science museum, under the IJ and into Amsterdam Noord.

Green space beside an institution which is under leisure space and over transportation space: classic Netherlands Multiple Land Use.

Another example:

◈ Westerpark, in Amsterdam’s west. In a small strecth of land, you can find residential, commercial, leisure, agricultural, cemetarial, transportation and gardenal uses. Standing in the middle of Westerpark, you get a strange floating feeling. Runners and bikers whip by you. Inter-city trains passing mark the minutes. You get whiffs of  hearty compost and manure of gardens and farms. You hear the clattering of dishes in nearby restaurants and cafes. You smell coffee, burnt tires, marijuana. You see tall buildings in the distance, squat residential blocks nearby, smoke stacks in the horizon. You see it all, the multiple uses of land, from one vantage point.

And just one more:

◈ Along Leidsestraat and Utrechtsestraat, bi-directional tram lines run. The streets, however, are only wide enough at certain points for one set of tram-tracks. To resolve this, the Trams wait for each other to pass at the stops which are located on the canal bridges — wide enough to support both directions of the tram. The multiple-land use kicks in beautifully on Leidsestraat, a pedestrian-only street, where people freely walk along the tram tracks until one needs to pass by. The street is both a tram track and a pedestrian walk way. It works beautifully.

TramA tram patiently wait for another to pass, in typically Amsterdam flexible use of space.
The diagram of this above, is an arrangement that can be found on Leidsestraat and Utrechtsetraat.

You can also see this along Rembrandtplein. It is a pedestrian only street, save for the trams that periodically pass. When the trams pass, they create a wake through the crowd, and their path leaves a temporarily empty corridor in the middle of the walkway. Slowly the corridor fades as pedestrians feel safe again to use the whole space, but soon another tram comes and the corridor reappears. A beautiful ebb and flow of multiple land use.

cloud map

It is common practice for people in the Netherlands to consult a cloud map – a map that shows the prediction for cloud coverage over the entire country for a 3 hour period.

Consulting the cloud map involves scrutinizing a simplified map of the Netherlands, as animated clouds swirl and cascade over the land and sea – typically in the northeasterly direction

This constant reference to the map of Netherlands contributes to the high degree of spatial literacy that exists in this country. People are aware of space here: how much space there is, the distance between things, and their relationships.

Spatial literacy translates to good urban planning practice, and probably stems from the relative lack of available land in the Netherlands. While in Canada Halifax continues to struggle establishing a green belt, in the Netherlands, the Ranstad has consciously conserved its “green heart” since the 1800s.

Spatial literacy manifests in the Netherlands in many other ways.

I feel it when I take the ferry to Amsterdam Noord, to my internship at the Pop Up City – from the waters of the IJ, I see the diverse elements that make up the urban environment, and their placement as stand alone objects, well places and related within a 3D plane.

I feel the spatial literacy when I can engage in a conversation about Amsterdam’s urban morphology with someone who has no relation to the field of urban planning or architecture.

I also feel it in the name of this country, and the language spoken here: ‘Nederland’ – a constant reference to geography, a rooted orientation in this world.

And I especially feel it when I look at the copious amount of maps and spatial analyses available from the municipal government.

And I feel it when people casually consult their cloud map, and absorb the entirety of the country in a single glance. A black dot with concentric rings marks where you are when you consult the map, and this simple graphic ties you, and space and everything together.

Spatial mind

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On a slightly related note, If I were to design elements of a domestic train system, I would include a digital map in every train carriage that shows the progress of the route, and, when entering a destination station, would show a zoomed in map of the train entering the city.

This way, the rider could experience their journey outside of their direct experience of what is outside the window. Riders would feel greater connections to the places they are traveling through, and would feel more oriented and comfortable at their destination station.