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Amsterdam And Other Miracles – Part 1

I’m an agony aunt and I like it.

Ask Mr Mainstreet I’m going to call it or perhaps The Retail Detective or better: Ask The Lord.

So please do write in with your mainstreet mysteries and I might just be able to unpick and solve them.

Mr Geoff Cohn has written in with the below photo and comments.

Thanks Geoff.

Nick – I have always been fascinated by this photo attached – quite a famous one of Amsterdam which is well known enough to now be mass produced by Ikea.”

“Anyway they have taken a beautiful photo with the bike being featured in the foreground alongside an overflowing bin with paper bags and empty whiskey bottles etc – Ok so its a realistic depiction not cleaned up just for the photo I guess – but why is the bin there where all the overflow just falls and blows into the canal instead of at either end.”

“Do you want to take this one on!!”

“Cheers Geoff”

*           *           *

The reply:

Hi Geoff,

First, a story about the photo:

This scene was taken at the intersection of Brouwersgracht and Binnen Weringer Straat Amsterdam in 1999 by Fernando Bengoechea (deceased) who is missing and presumed dead.

The beach he was lying on in 2004 was incoveniently reclaimed by the ocean in one large gulp, by what we now call the Indian Ocean Tsunami. 

His photo marinates me with a sense of place pulleyed-up from the undergrounds of my memory and in this case it’s where buildings are skinny, roads are made with a million little stones set out in patterns, streets are smaller like leprechauns live there, people wander about and say ‘Hoi!’ to eachother, and food and love and sex and childbirth and old age and dying and parties and laughter all happens around a track of walkways neatly binding all of your future and past experiences so they’re nearby for visiting just like an old friend.

It’s a neighbourhood.

The type of place Jane Jacobs talks about in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, where incidental contact is the Royal Jelly to motivate the hive as well as being the ultimatum for constantly re-building it.

Which brings us to the Athen’s Charter.

The Athens Charter is a rather olivey tasting name given to a new discipline of city planning fomented after 1933 and really hitting its grapes by 1945, and nowdays being unwound because of generally unpalatable outcomes of unpopular – even devastating – places with separation between shops and houses measurable in miles, not feet, and other domestic crimes, although it did give us the jolly interesting word ‘suburban’ meaning ‘less good than urban’.

In Fernando’s photo there is a promise of cross-dimensional travel just an aeroplane ride away, made more poignant for us in Perth and perhaps for others around the globe for whom such a bucolic visit is a once-in-a-lifetime expense.

And because of this melancholy, this photo is beautiful.

The problem we’re stuck with right now is negotiating that word because there’s never confidence, is there, that ‘beautiful’ has sufficient starting weight to stand its ground in a bout over cities and their priorities.


☞ Go forward and get part 2

Below: Jane Jacobs, titan of place management and author of The Economies of Cities, Cities and The Wealth of Nations, The Nature of Economies, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and others.

Below: More from IKEA’s Vishult series.

Hi, I’m Jan Gehl, I taught Nick everything he knows about The Athens Charter.

I’m a bloody Master. I’m also a fond advocate for the use of super-hyper bokeh☟

Gehl photo selfishly ripped off (by me) from the Planning Institute of Australia website and obviously depriving the photographer of many hundreds of dollars and starving their Guinea pigs, and making their daughters cry. Please send angry emails to:

Below: Do not try this at home.

This is what you get with the Athen’s Charter: Sprawl.

Sprawl is unnecessary consumption of what-they-call ‘Greenfield sites’ (land which was most recently virgin bush, forest or prairie).

Sprawl also gives us ‘Dormitory Suburbs’: places for sleeping and that’s about it.

No shops, no jobs, no incidental contact, just washing Bintang in the driveway.

If you are 4 and live here there is no corner shop to go and practice out that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ malarkey you’ve been taught, only a columbine basement where you will be borrowed for fifteen years at no rent until your parents find you with a helicopter.

☞ Go forward and get part 2



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