Amsterdam – A Livable City, Part 1. Intro & Canals

Posted in Cities by mjr on September 2, 2010

My wife recently surprised me with a trip to Amsterdam for three days. I had been before when I was in school, but I was very excited to get back because it had been a long time.

And we took the Dutch Flyer, which was the ferry from Harwich to Hoek den Holland. It was really easy and fun.

Anyway, after some time in The Hague, which is beautiful in its own right, we arrived in the afternoon to Amsterdam. For those that do not know, I commute to work in London on a bicycle and am very interested in this culture. Obviously, Amsterdam was like heaven for me in this context. Bicycles everywhere! Also obviously, because I am obsessed with streetcars, Amsterdam was like double-heaven.

A city for humans; walking and bicycling

Amsterdam is one of the most livable cities I have spent time in. The architecture is unique, quirky and very easy on the eyes. The extensive canal system adds such texture and character to the street experience. The culture of walking and bicycling enables comfortable access throughout the city centre without the noise, smell and stress that car traffic brings. The layering of the streetcar system brings people in and out of the centre with ease. Walking, cycling and streetcars make cars seem irrelevant.

I find the canal system fascinating. Fifty percent of the Netherlands is within one metre of sea level. Throughout history they have cleverly reclaimed land through systems like the canals in Amsterdam. The canals are there because of necessity. They were probably very expensive to build. According to a Dutch man who randomly took us on a late night cruise along the canals with his friends, the city built a new development ring and canal organically as the population grew. The infrastructure investment matched the corresponding new market. And this investment was going to last a very long time. AND this investment instantly added beauty to the city as well.

The canals add texture to the experience.

This is in stark contrast to today’s infrastructure investments. Transportation is an infrastructure investment, and transportation drives development patterns.  In the United States, mechanisms for transportation funding are heavily weighted toward roads.  These roads are designed based on an engineer’s traffic projections only. The investment is probably going to last only thirty years. There is no long-lasting added benefit. No thought is given to the consequences of these decisions. When a big strip of concrete extends out into the countryside promising easy car access, guess what follows?

Not this:

Some like the sun. Some like the shade.

Tomorrow: Beauty

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