Week 227

Monday I went off exploring a fort for an upcoming Hack de Overheid event. The industrial scenery and weather at the sea locks of IJmuiden was positively apocalyptic that day.


The week was spent a bit catching up from a cold and ticking off stuff before a week of Berlin (staying at Your Neighbours) and a week of off the grid R&R in the Alps. So a frantic pace here and there.

Tuesday we went for a technical house call in the Hague:
Lattice work

Kilian wrote up his work on Statlas. Expect more on that after the Summer lull.

My presentation on CHI Sparks 2011 was put online (thanks Yohan Creemers) and quite pleased with how that turned out:

Chi Sparks 2011: Code 4 – A large scale game for organizational change from Chi Nederland on Vimeo.

There seems to be a VOLUME magazine out in which are incorporated our contributions about how architecture and the ‘internet of things’ should mesh. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m curious as to the results.

James Burke and I made plans about the Chokepoint Project and an upcoming visit to the CCC Camp in Finowfurt.

A review I wrote for nrc.next about the documentary game: The Cat and the Coup (about the British/American coup d’état in Iran) saw print in a strongly reduced form. Expect a more elaborate version of that to hit Bashers in the next month.

I wrote a brief thing about how my ideas about Amsterdam urban development are supported by Jane Jacobs seminal work: “Jane Jacobs and the city of Amsterdam” and also wrote a small something over at Monster Swell to commemorate the 10e6 Foursquare users milestone and Amsterdam’s small role in that.

With all of that done, it was into the night train to Berlin for a Friday very early morning arrival.

Berlin am Morgen

Jane Jacobs and the city of Amsterdam

I’m right now reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the seminal volume on city planning by Jane Jacobs, for the first time.

The experience is a warm bath unlike any other. Reading the first part on ‘The Peculiar Nature of Cities’ I could not help notice the urban fabric everywhere around me realized by the people that make up the streets here in Westerpark, Amsterdam.

Then reading the second part ‘The Conditions for City Diversity’ brought home how and where those conditions are lacking currently in Amsterdam.

Reading this book was long overdue for me. So many of my own ideas about city planning and urbanism are mirrored, most probably from the osmosis and inspiration I have gotten from friends over the years. It is quite uncanny. But there is still a lot to learn from Jacobs’s book and it should be compulsory reading for all council members of Amsterdam and other cities.

@Edial speaks truth: Amsterdam has some great views.

Two issues that are particularly striking right now:


In chapter 13, ‘The Self-destruction of Diversity’, Jacobs talks about how when an area becomes diverse enough that it starts to attract people, the attraction and the increasing prices that generates may price out the very factors that made it attractive in the first place.

This is taking place right now in the central areas of Amsterdam. Most apartments are affordable only for the high double incomes or they are split up into rooms and let out to students and young professionals at a high markup. Along with the pressure that tourism puts on the city center and the lack of attractive areas outside of the A10 perimeter, this makes for high pressure on real estate prices. Where house prices are on the decline pretty much everywhere in the Netherlands, they are sharply on the increase in Amsterdam.

Echt veel lelijker had het Rembrandtplein niet kunnen worden.

The issue as it is identified by Jacobs is that there is a high influx of people looking to live in Amsterdam but there are not enough attractive quarters for those people to choose from. This puts all the pressure on the city center, whereas vast spaces outside of the A10 perimeter are (rightly) considered unattractive. This is a blatant failing of city government to create a supply of attractive living quarters to service demand.


Jacobs talks about ‘the need for primary mixed uses’ and ‘the need for aged buildings’ to create diversity. Those two needs make it abundantly clear why a city development such as IJburg cannot be a worthwhile place to settle for the next thirty years.

het Steigereiland

First IJburg contains no necessity for people to go there except to leave the island for work in the morning and to go back home in the evening. Footfall is near zero. I myself have only been there three times maybe in the last two years (and that still is three times more often than most people in Amsterdam). That makes it dead and unattractive for stores and other facilities to open. Those that try, cannot make ends meet and usually close down again quickly making for a rapid succession of tenants and lots of empty storefronts.

Secondly, because it is all new development, rents are too high for many essential neighborhood facilities to take root. IJburg will not have a Turkish grocer or a coffee house because those kind of stores need older, more run down (and therefore cheaper) buildings to settle in. Moving there means giving up access to those tiny neighborhood stores and in fact on lively neighborhood life altogether.

One has to wonder, what were the architects, the council and the developers thinking (if at all)?


Update: Read more playful reflections on the pertinence of Jane Jacobs to the Dutch urban fabric over at Hubbub: New ideas must use old buildings

Week 226

Last week a bunch of visual progress was made on culiacán. Expect an August release on that.

Also a longer version of my review of Inside a Star-filled Sky was posted to Bashers. Seemingly any post that does not contain meta-criticism has a hard time attracting comments over there (maybe everywhere). More stuff was published also about Jason Rohrer, especially of note the Wired piece about Chain World.

Mid-week marked the first deployed iteration of guadalupe. If development on that goes the way we want it, expect private alpha invites to become available also in August.

End of the week we spent a bunch of time doing a submission to SxSWi to talk about the Heist Model. It’s an edgy philosophy and a fun way of working, which we look forward to expound in Austin accompanied by friends, margaritas and BBQ.

Friday there was Ball Invasion (with friends):
Ball Invasion with Alex and Peter

After which I managed to get stuck with a car and drive it up North to the Appsterdam HQ for the iOS Devcamp that was in progress.

iOS devcamp

The weekend was marked by rainy misery and a short piece of writing about open data becoming a normal practice of Amsterdam City-Center.

Week 225

Last Monday I paid an information architecture house call at a friend at one of the beleaguered (a somewhat redundant word when discussing print publications here) Dutch weeklies. Looking forward to advice taken to heart and maybe some online Dutch media that I can consume with pleasure.

Tuesday I coworked at Hack de Overheid’s offices in the Open Coop in the newly fangled hip(ster)ness of Amsterdam North. Williamsburg it ain’t, but it is a place where one can breathe and build pyramids:

And then it was off to our friends over at Booreiland also in North to finalize work on a fun project we’re doing. See a pattern here?

In the glass box

Wednesday we kicked off an exciting new project that we’re running over the Summer break with Hack de Overheid. Look for some beach side entertainment announced soon.

Thursday it was off to the Open Data Experiences Conference in Rotterdam to serve as a milestone for open data development in the city of Rotterdam. I presented there on a track to supplement the heroic presences of both Toby Barnes and Tom Steinberg over from the UK to witness the great progress that is being made here.

Open Data Experiences Conference

I strayed a bit from the brief to give a hard technical talk and talked more about the open problems that we technologists should be solving. The technologists (developers/designers) I think are our only hope to break open things with functional interventions. I have had my fill of seeing people talk and do nothing much more than talk. There are more than enough thorny interesting problems for us to solve still, so we should be doing that.

On the highest level I identified three moral issues which I think is something of a nice niche on events such as these. I very much hope people took something away from these:

  1. The rationale for opening up data is usually stated in terms of efficiency and effectivity. This may be necessary to sell open data to bean counters, but it is too inhuman a formulation of why we are doing this. We are doing this to see if we can improve the lives of normal humans a bit, to make sure that the uses that open data is being put to create experiences that are interesting, useful and beautiful.
  2. We should make sure that the data that is being opened up and its uses are inclusive in a broad sense. If we manage to open up all of the data we want to and the smartest/fastest/evilest people take off with it and manage to build stuff for their own ends to the (partial) exclusion of others, we will have managed to switch out one power structure (an archaic but institutional one) for a new power structure of cowboys and parvenus. We will seem to have won, but we will have failed.
  3. Finally, the main point that Michal Migurski made at a panel at EYEO about the book Seeing Like a State. That the reductionism inherent in recording data (and the subsequent opening it up) manages to lose the essence of things and creates the high-modernist idea that that view of things is the right view (see also: “All Watched Over: on Foo, Cybernetics and Big Data”). Michal says:

    My response to all this is something to the effect that people should help other people to see and represent their world usefully and accurately.

    Which I paraphrased to say that we should make tools to help every person see as a state of their own and be able to decide better for themselves and others how to organize their lives, to in effect become better states themselves.

The next day (Friday) we did a big stint in Utrecht to plan things for project SABA and another secret project that is more on our own brief to unite games and television in an interesting way. Look forward to the first playable prototypes for that hitting this week.

As always proceedings in Utrecht are supported by superb coffee (four shots to start the day!) from the fine lads at the Village. Here we’re taking care of their pies:
Pie on the stoop

And as usual Sunday nights are closed off at the kitchen table catching up with the week to come and doing some iOS development:
Working place at night

Week 224

Monday I spent all day planning the Statlas release and encountered some showstoppers still. That night I went to Utrecht for This Happened.

Intermission at This Happened

Tuesday was another day spent in Utrecht and in between things I pushed out the releases for Statlas with posts in Dutch and English.


Talking to people from MENA

Also I managed to bait (thread) Dutch member of parliament Jeanine Hennis on the topic of her party’s (the VVD) entanglement with large corporate interest when it comes to copyright law (or any internet related law). There is a lot more to be said about this topic and I don’t know how effective this is as a strategy, but somebody should do this.

Drinks in front of the building

Thursday there was a meeting about game journalism at the Waag (and a flurry of coverage of the topic this week), by Niels and David:
David over game-journalistiek

That and other engagements however did mean that I had to miss the Cognitive Cities Salon (though I heard it was most ace).

Friday was spent doing iPhone tutorials all day and night to get up to speed on this medium and to create some interesting interface experiments in the near future.

Cooking up the future of deliberative democracy in the Netherlands

The entire weekend was spent working unfortunately. Saturday we talked about the potential merger of Hack de Overheid and het Nieuwe Stemmen to formalize an already ongoing collaboration and create a more robust organization.


Sunday I acted as the jury member in a pilot for an interaction design television programme. It’s not clear yet whether it will be produced, but it would be a good step forward popularizing the more functional design disciplines.