What Makes Amsterdam Tick?

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Social & Economic Dynamics

I’ve often pondered what really drives the issues that are debated on and fought over in Amsterdam. Some thoughts…

Republican vs Democrat – It’s been said that party differences don’t come into play that often in local politics, but on the national level, there is a “big game” being played.  Local party leaders from both sides are expected to help deliver funding and votes (or any other type of advantage) for the bigger players.  There are also plenty of rewards that come down the pipe;  funding, favors, promotions, etc.  I am sure this dynamic factors into the positions that local leaders take on various issues.

Old vs. New –  As a person encounters various challenges in life, the person gains understanding and wisdom that they are able to apply to each subsequent challenge.  This can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the older a person gets, he or she may be better equipped to make good judgements and decisions because of their past experiences. On the other hand, past experiences can also make a person fearful to do things differently. If a person has been successful, that success can lead them to think that they have it “figured out”. Or if they have suffered failure, they may be inclined to say “we tried that already, it didn’t work”. In either case, they run the risk of not taking into account changing factors in culture, society and economics that may make their conclusions inaccurate. Younger people may be prone to pursuing uninformed or idealistic directions,  but are also more likely to see new solutions to old problems.

I think that the successes and failures that Amsterdam has experienced through history, have directly affected many people’s viewpoints on the causes of – and solutions to – the problems in our city.

Urban vs. Suburban –  Expanding on my previous comments on the excellent article “New Urbanism…”, by Jody Forehand, I believe that there are two competing visions for our city – an urban one and a suburban one.  An urban vision would value a diverse and creative culture, a dynamic commercial environment, pedestrian friendly infrastructure, public spaces, etc. An suburban vision would value safe,  quiet, stable, well maintained residential areas with convenient traffic routes to shopping, and as much surrounding land for each house as possible.  Neither of them are “wrong”, but both ideas require vastly different strategies to achieve. 

I think our city got “stuck” in the middle. Amsterdam started out as being very urban in nature, but must have been profoundly affected by the migration of middle class families to the suburbs beginning in the 1950’s. I can almost imagine city planners thinking “if people like the suburbs, let’s make Amsterdam more like the suburbs and maybe they’ll stay/come back” – leading to the “The Mall” and roadway system we have now. The problem is, Amsterdam is far too densely populated to ever be able to offer the same level of luxury space that suburbs offer. And now since our downtown sections are bypassed, commercial and cultural revitalization also seem impossible.

To pursue either vision on a serious level would require a great deal of change, funding, and committment. As long as we have competing visions for Amsterdam, I highly doubt anything will ever get done. Fortunately, as the aforementioned article suggests, it is possible to combine these visions (ie “New Urbanism”) – by planning a city that offers both. Perhaps if people of both persuasions saw and understood a plan for Amsterdam that embraced their ideals, we might approach the level of unity that would be required to actually start taking some big steps toward revitalizing Amsterdam.

  1. robert purtell says:

    I think that the answer to “what makes Amsterdam tick” is no different from any city in the rust belt. It is easier to be a monday morning quarterback than it is a Saturday night coach. We can look what happened yesterday and see what has happened and add our two cents. It is harder on the other hand to look at the past history, learn from our experience and plan for the future. The past might have been scary, but the future is anybody’s guess.
    So with that said, if we are not part of the answer, then we must be part of the problem. If I by the way am not involved in the answer, it is not right for me to complain about what someone else did or did not do.
    Amsterdam has been waiting for something to happen ever since the carpet mills starting leaving in 1950, then the last straw was when Mohasco finally picked up the rest of there toys and moved south. We have to rely on ourselves to rise from the ashes and make something happen, Not wait for the State of New York or the federal Governmaent.

  2. Tim Becker says:

    You are quite right, the problems we face are similar to what many cities are going through. I think remembering that can help keep our problems in perspective.

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