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Archive for March, 2011

According to Blackadder, it is alright to blow one’s own trumpet, provided the trumpet you blow really is yours… So, here is a post that is about me. With spring coming near, I thought it is time for a change of portfolio and to focus my research and work on a series of relatively new projects. The first project is the one that NWO is paying for. Last year I was awarded an NWO Veni research grant for excellent researchers. It allows four years of continuous research on a subject of choice. My research will answer the question whether decisions made under pressure and stress will lead to outcomes that are deemed favorable to the original decision maker.

Erasmus principal prof.dr. Henk Schmidt* congratulates me (and others with similar research grants) and the EUR Trustfonds kindly donated 750 euros for academic travels. In addition, each NWO laureate was given a small statue as a token of appreciation.

There are three other important projects besides the one mentioned above. Research and knowledge program Next Generation Infrastructures decided to fund two major research projects. The first, entitled ‘Evaluating MIRT Practices’ evaluates the results of applying the MIRT project approach to infrastructure and urban development. The second, ‘Institutional Flexibility in the Port’, investigates to what extent the Port of Rotterdam is capable of dealing with sudden changes in the market and environment, what is necessary to increase the institutional flexibility of the port authorities and companies. This project is co-financed by the Rotterdam Port Authorities.

View on the ECT Terminal in the Port of Rotterdam. Picture by me.

The fourth project is done for free out of sheer curiosity. ‘Anatomy of Rotterdam’ is a joint effort of our research group and monitors the way Rotterdam is being developed for a period of five years. We do this in cooperation with the municipal planning department. Regular updates from this project will appear on this weblog, as done before.

A new NWO-project on area development is in the making, more about that when it is finalized.

Also, I plan to catch some sleep somewhere this year…

*) Prof. Schmidt is not to be confused with the legendary Prof. Smith, whose antics are covered here

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Overheard recently:

“Nee, nee, probeer het nog eens: ‘s-Gravenhage en Scheveningen.” (Asian man to Asian woman in a Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam. Those with a sense of Dutch history will notice the beauty of this.)

Senior woman 1: “En dan die ambtenaren die daar zo met de Noord-Zuidlijn bezig zijn. Echt schandalig dat er zo veel geld wordt weggegooid. Maar ja, wat wil je ook met die ambtenaren.” Senior woman 2: “Mijn vader was trouwens ook ambtenaar, z’n hele leven hard gewerkt.” Senior woman 1: “Oh ja, dat is echt heel zwaar, zo’n baan.” (Two senior women explore the differences between externalized events and direct experiences in urban planning, while waiting at a counter.)

“Zo… en dan kunnen ze dat gewoon zo zien. Echt vet!” (two female teens in typical teen clothing chewing bubblegum discuss how researchers at the Vincent van Gogh museum dissect a painting using x-rays to see when and how a painting was made.)

Female student 1: “Ik heb de hele tijd het gevoel dat dit al een keer gebeurd is, dat we hier al een keer geweest zijn.” Female student 2: “Nou, dan stappen we toch gewoon een halte eerder uit.” (Female student 2 offers an extremely practical solution to her clearly confused friend in the bus in Utrecht.)

“En dan belt ze plotseling om 2 uur ‘s nachts op en zegt ze: ik wil dood! En dan denk ik van ‘doe dan toch ook eens wat mens’.” (Female at Leiden station vents her frustration to someone she phones with, accidentally saying something she probably didn’t mean.)

 

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As indicated by e.g. Vicar, Graham and Healy, there are many stories that can be told about the city. There are tales of grandeur, told by the architects and planners. There are tales of historical roots and development, told by history buffs. There are tales of progress, told by politicians. And, let’s not forget, there are the stories of the many, many people who spend their daily life in the urban. Telling stories keeps communities together but the tighter the community, the more closed it is to the outside world. It is hardly surprising that the diversity of the city also means fragmentation.

While preparing for a lecture for the Master City Developer, I came across an entirely different range of story-tellers: that of the young and (sometimes) angry, to whom the city is much more than just a backdrop for music and lifestyle. Now, I’m very well aware that much contemporary art is categorized as ‘urban’ (to the extent that it includes contradictory scenes such as skating and R&B) but I had not expected that to be very literal in the sense that the urban defined the music. I often assumed that the urban was used as a header for art that was generated by people living in the city. While is true, it is also true that a specific locality acts as the main source of inspiration. Evidence of this can be traced back to e.g. the early hip hop from the 1980s but I was surprised to see it popping up in my own town and being more than just copying Bronx-like postures and statements.

The fact that I was surprised is because politicians of a certain disposition, and policy makers with them, tend to portray the young as the source of everything threatening the city: being lazy, noisy, uneducated and even perhaps criminal. Such images appear to be powerful and convincing to a lot of people, especially when applied to young migrants or children with a non-Dutch ethnic background. Many assert that those people ‘don’t care about society and the place they live’.

Rubbish. They care as much about the place as anyone else but in different terms and from different experiences. They tell different tales. It may not resonate with the older (and white) population but that is part of the diversity of a city. Their tales are as legitimate as others. In fact, in some cases they are surprisingly similar in their messages as are older people (e.g. in dissing Amsterdam in the continuous 010 vs. 020 fight) even though the medium is completely different. So, without much further theorizing, I present you a collection of YouTube clips made by young people about their life in the urban. I invite you to watch some, even if you don’t like the music or don’t agree with the things being portrayed. Watch the picture, listen to the lyrics. And note the real power behind their stories.

 

Sin

 

U-Niq

 

Mo$heb

 

Taras van de Voorde

 

A quick search on YouTube will reveal more, much more than I can post here.

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Change of seasons

Students and colleagues at the Erasmus University Rotterdam will undoubtedly have noticed that the major overhaul of the campus is on its way. Making room for the new projects meant cutting down scores of trees, which made for a pitiful sight.  The trees were among the few things that brought a hint of life and human scale to the campus. The ones I will miss most dearly were the small Prunus trees at the east side that would blossom every spring, indicating a definite sign of the end of the winter. This year, however, we will not be seeing this anymore.

Luckily, my mate Andres was picked up a few branches, freshly cut. They are now decorating his room, quite possibly being the last of their kind to greet spring.

Picture by Andres Dijkshoorn

Green carnage, a necessary evil. Picture by me.

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A few days ago I saw the Zuidelijk Toneel perform Brecht’s and Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel and The Song of Rotterdam by Rümke and De Ket in the Rotterdamse Schouwburg. Here is my review:

It was so brilliant that I cried.

 

 

Yes, that is a useless review but then again: it is also the most honest thing I can say about it. A while ago I wrote extensively about the way Brecht and Weill captured urban life and civic culture in the unstable but exciting 1920s in Berlin. Not only do I admire their take on the urban (long before ‘urban’ became a label in its own right) but I also share their opinion about the human condition in the city. Some may call it cynical, others may call it realistic. I prefer the latter but understand first. This particular night, the music of Weill was as magical as ever, performed in a powerful and convincing fashion by the Willem Breuker quartet and very well-sung by a group of six professional singers. Weill’s music, full of dissonant tunes is hard to perform and sing but they managed perfectly, capturing us in the tales of decline.

The second part of the evening featured a contemporary play directed by Matthijs Rümke with contributions by Tom de Ket. The Song of [insert name of host city here] is a 201o critical review of the current human condition in the city. It is, in short, what Brecht could have written should he live today. Newspaper NRC Handelsblad called it ‘more Brecht than Brecht‘.  There is no use in repeating the storyline here. It left us as an audience gasping for breath and reconsidering the way we deal with each other in an ever-accelerating society. Interesting for me (as a scholar studying public decision making) was the director’s take on the way we as a society try to outsource our duties in an attempt to relieve our burden but effectively creating a much bigger burden in return. That is pretty much what Brecht told us almost 100 years ago: there is no utopia because we can never separate ourselves from our sins and paradoxes. Well, thank you so much. A reality call that hits straight in our faces, but a very welcome one.

The Rotterdam show was the last one so there is no opportunity to see them.  However, I suggest a re-run, and making it mandatory for administrators and politicians to watch it. Just as a little reminder of what they are appointed for. as for, I feel thankful for a very wonderful evening, the effects of which continuing to echo in my daily work.

An ordinary Tuesday night in the Rotterdamse Schouwburg. Audience stays in the lobby to talk about what they have just experienced.

 

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Suppose you worked hard to dig a really big hole. You return to your work the other day, only to find out that rain during night has turned your big hole into alternative swimming pool. What would you do? Of course, you just restart your machines and take the water out in the same way you did with the soil. Never mind the streets, other peoples’ cars and congesting the sewage system…

At least he is having fun playing with water. Cell phone picture by me.

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