Friday, May 30, 2008

Hydrological hypothesis in Netherlands' planning culture

It has been a busy month and I didn't get time to blog. Coming here today I just realized that in the passing month i just wrote on the first day of the May, and then today is the last day of the May. Almost one year after coming to this orange country, I have recently thought several times that I am slowly appreciating more and more about this tiny country, a place that I call home now. Especially when you travel to some where outside, you will deeply feel what has been missing and what is going wrong in different places.

Once we took the train to the Northern end of the Netherlands, we saw the wide open Eems canal, which is bordering with Germany, it reminds us that we have been missing open water for a while. Back in the US, our most favorable place in Rhode Island was the Colt State park, which is surrounded by the water body close to the sea. Another time I traveled to the middle-northern part of the UK, I suddenly realized that I have been missing moutains in my life in the Netherlands. It is such a flat country that you can only expect some hundred meter above sea level altitude close to the German border.

There is the saying: The God made the world, and Dutch made the Netherlands. 41.5 square kilometer, which is only one fourth of the size of the New York state, and total population fewer than the Beijing Municipality. Much of this country is below sea level and thus dependent on engineer
ing works. Two days ago, on 28 of May, it was the 75 years anniversary of the Afsluitdijk. It was on 28th May 1932 that in the presence of Queen Wilhelmina the final gap was closed between the Zuiderzee (Southern sea) and the Wadden Sea / North Sea. The south side of the Afsluitdijk was named IJsselmeer . Finally the province North-Holland was connected to the province Friesland. Many of the often weak dykes around the lake were less of a risk during storms, like the great storm of 1916.

In terms of the planning culture in this country, people always like to put forward a 'hydrological hypothesis': since the dutch have had to wrestle their country from the sea and protect it against flooding ever since, they have learned to put common good above their own individual interests. In this way, Dutch respect experts. Dutch planners thus are able to shield from direct political interference. Dutch planners have made good use of being the professionals, and come up with convincing fomulations of developmental challenges and how to deal with them.

The biggest achievement of this planning effort is the maintainence of the polycentric ring of towns and cities called the Randstad, (see the picture) around a 'green heart' of relatively open land. Three major cities around the Randstad are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht. This planning concept has held the suburban sprawl at bay, by chanelling growth to existing uban areas and only in the last resort developing a limited number of well defined green field sites.

Biking trails are the great place to enjoy your time. Only in cities it is parallel with slow moving vehicles. In most places these trails are part of the green. Trails sometimes parrallel to the highway for a while, but always with full partitions. If you can imagine biking along a eight lane express way with cars driving at more than 50 miles per hour, you would appreciate how much Dutch have appreciate in their city planning.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

April 30th Queen's Day celebration

Queen's Day celebrates the birthday of the former Queen Juliana and is one of the largest, most vibrant celebrations in the Dutch calendar. Flags fly, music pumps and millions take to the streets for a national holiday. It was our first time seeing so many more people packing in the narrow Delft streets.

The current Queen Beatrix decided to maintain the holiday her mother set, and the festivities have become an integral part of the national culture. Every city and town in the country transforms itself into a fairground: bright orange pendants wave in the wind; town choirs welcome the day; all shops are shut and all trade is unregulated - the streets become an open-air market as attics are emptied for hidden treasures to sell.

That is the greatest idea: any person can set up your own stalls to sell things. As a tradition, most family will excite their kids to participate, and give the income to kids. So you will see lots of business were owned and managed by little ones. They are really not great stuffs at all. We all felt that in US you can collect much better stuff from around the trash cans :-) but on the other hand, it does show different attitude of people towards things. Americans like to renew their stuff much more often, or maybe they have to move more often. In a world when environmental concern is spreading around, Dutch people have a much smaller footprint in the world than Americans from the beginning.

Check it out:

On a slightly different note. I watched a program recently called Human Footprint. It says a two years old born in the western world have a bigger footprint on earth than a person's whole life footprint who live in Somalia - just because of the diapers consumed in those two years!