‘Government blind to advantages of car’
The government focusses too much on the disadvantages of the car, argues urban geographer Joram Grünfeld. Increasingly, Amsterdammers turn to neighbouring municipalities for work and recreation. This requires a good transportation infrastructure.
Next Thursday, Grünfeld hopes to obtain his doctorate with a thesis on ‘polycentric’ urban residents. By this term, he refers to people who frequently stay in at least three different cities for work, recreation and housing. In Amsterdam, the share of polycentric residents has doubled over the past 25 years, from 13% to 25%.
The group consists mainly of young, high-educated men. They have a regional orientation, partly because of the additional opportunities neighbouring municipalities offer, but also because they like to choose for themselves where to go shopping or visit a theatre.
Such behaviour is facilitated by the Internet. “In the past, placards in Amsterdam would inform you about what’s on at the Stadsschouwburg, but you’d have to make an effort to find out what’s on at the Zaantheater [in Zaanstad]. Today, that’s much easier.”
In addition to the polycentric urban resident, there is a dwindling group of people with a local activity pattern. A part of this group seems to feel more and more alienated in their own neighbourhood.
Grünfeld thinks the government should not want to have everything at the same location. Instead, it should appreciate the value of local specialisation. So, if there is unemployment in Amsterdam West, the answer is not to stimulate the neighbourhood economy at all cost, but rather to help people get a job at Schiphol Airport.
This does require a stronger focus on mobility on the part of the government. “Each year, we have the mobility week. And then at the end there’s a carfree day. That’s inconsistent”, Grünfeld argues. On this matter, he seems to be getting his way: in the new coalition agreement, the carfree day has been cancelled.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not playing down the disadvantages of the car. Cars cause pollution, they take up a lot of room and they are expensive. I’m just saying: don’t overlook the positive aspect.” He points to developments with regard to electrical cars, but also to today’s opportunities to combine train or metro with inexpensive rental bicycles (OV-fietsen).
Grünfeld’s recommendations are somewhat reminiscent of the ‘cityvorming’ (suburbanization) plans of the 1960s. Aldermen including Joop den Uyl (who would later become a legendary leader of the Social-Democrat party) wanted to reserve the inner city for economic activities and to move housing to other locations, such as the new Bijlmermeer. Metro connections and broad motorways were to provide accessibility.
Grünfeld: “The cityvorming plans were very radical. Quite soon, they were abandoned in favour of small-scale urban development. That approach has been successful, as evidenced by the appeal of the neighbourhoods that were renovated at the time.”
“Today, there’s a sort of cityvorming going on, only now at the Zuidas and near the Amstel River. Thanks to today’s connections, this can be done away from the inner city. Therefore, it no longer requires tearing down the area within the Singelgracht.”