Amsterdam And Other Miracles - Part 3 - Conclusion

☞ Go back and get part 1 first

Or part 2, if you're into that sort of thing.

In regards to this bin, Geoff, this is a 1999 problem with a 1922 solution.

Perhaps functional when all we disposed of was an occasional apple core, lolly wrapper, or maybe a used dead goat.

But now with a constant supply of commercial waste, starting life as packaging in retail outlets and handily donated by citizens throughout the city's watercourses, a more elegant solution must arrive sooner, please.

So the question, "Why did they put the bin there?" should be modified to "Why didn't they change it sooner?".

And the answer is poor place management.

Most place managers get themselves into a pickle when aligning commonalities of visible and invisible place management.

We know the bin is wrong.

But to provide a supporting argument during an engineers' budget meeting - a hostile meeting anyway because no department likes being told what to do by an outsider - especially one from within their organisation, from a different department, no less - and add to this the narcotic effect boredom from such meetings inspires, it all means this bin becomes just another headache in a long list of headaches.

Where it's fated to be ignored.

There is sits for 45 years with multiple other annoyances, incrementally picking at the fabric of the city, bringing the community to their knees.

And preventing any real community competitiveness and development.

*           *           *

I'm not making this up.

In 2012, wanting children to perhaps make it to the bustop without being slaughtered and if so to have a seat, perhaps, nearby, like which wasn't wet in winter or perhaps afforded them a bit of privacy or a place to put a bag - or, hey, even some dignity, I emailed my good colleagues with a photo to see if we couldn't place-manage a little.

As an amazing coincidence, they had discussed this very problem the day before - but not left their offices, of course.*

(*I can't prove that. Maybe they were just mean.)

My email: March 9

"Hi guys, I'm not sure who to email this to but ... it's critical that better and more seating options are placed here. The area has scores of people sitting on the footpath waiting for their bus without any seating options. Who can we talk to about this to try and get an immediate improvement? Please see photo attached."

Above: Bustop ouside Target, Adelaide Street Fremantle, Australia

(I couldn't find the original so took a photo of a print-out)

Their reply:

"Hello Nicholas. We discussed this at our divisional meeting yesterday and we all agreed that there is ample seating in this location and that if people choose to sit on paths that is their choice."

Of course.

It's their choice. What was I thinking? They should just sit on top of each other, like frogs.

And so it has gone with our Amsterdam bin and that view and that canal and that community.

The government has had 45 years since plastics began making their happy journey from injection molding factories through our shops and all the way to the inside of a tern's stomach - gloriously fanned out for us here as a rainbow almanac of it's menu at the Great Pacific Whirlpool.

Cool, hey? (Photos pinched from Mr Chris Parker.)

It was Bill Bryson who said of Amsterdamers in his fairly brilliant book, Neither Here Nor There - in 1991 - that:

"Because they have been congratulating themselves on their intelligent tolerance for all these centuries, it's now impossible for them not to be nobly accommodating to graffiti and burned-out hippies and dog-shit and litter. Of course, I may be completely misreading the situation. They may like dog shit and litter. I sure hope so, because they've certainly got a lot of it."

Place Managers must:

  • accelerate strategies, care, attention and education to have
  • locally unique solutions to
  • preparing a community of lovers and vigorously productive people by
  • removing the offensive or repugnant to
  • foster development - the best type of development - a sense of place. 

What is known nowhere as the 'Must-Have-To-By-To' rule.

But instead of internal change management to affect better rates of personal communication, streetside improvement and local resiliency many place managers just book marketing ads and run a street festival - a domain not occupied by other city departments and hence where they have open paddocks.

Poor place management results in all of us suspending our personal development experiences for another place that returns our investment with like value.

But going somewhere else is not possible for the innocents such as the children or old people married to a place.

And that's criminal.

As well as a risky strategy, like having untrained soldiers.

The upshot of this story is the Amsterdam bin was removed in 2004.

You can see a sort-of-current Google Earth Street View of it here:

People still argue that rubbish is a symbol of bustling city life, and that a healthful conference of litter in every building recess is necessary bacterium to keep the surfaces of our civilisation healthy - using a handy but disproved cover version of Mr Gouty's Medical Practises For The Victorian Household as guidance - and that we're cleaning away the character of the street by being officious about litter or other squiggly legacies autographed upon our streets and walls, because those are the things that are leading our application toward the great ambiguous trophy known as 'urban grit'.

But they're just stupid and you should urinate on them.

- END -

☞ Go and start at part 1 again

Or part 2, if you're into that sort of thing.

Amsterdam And Other Miracles - Part 2

☞ Go back and get part 1 first

Back here in Amsterdam here we see a promise of a so-called simpler world where:

  • boys walk along with a fish under their armpit
  • shopfronts are swept with wicker brooms
  • women in headscarfs roll past on bicycles with little 'ch-chings', hailing a stripey shirted boy -
  • himself with a truncheon of bread under one arm and a felt hat
  • tobacco-stained and smiling moustaches with an accordion laugh loudly
  • arguments in front of cafes turn out to be only play
  • children get into mischief in ever-faster circles around their parents legs, and
  • a hollow orange light in upper floors at nighttime denote a warm family dinner, a subtle but beguiling view, and perhaps an evening stroll at sunset to pass by a friend's.

Place management is what engineers this, anything good and anything bad, and what we get or what we imagine we get is a Sense of Place (as listed) - a term that's been instantly reserved by the political side that would like nothing more for Xmas than a communal set of tie dyed ugg-boots - but this is a term that's ever as serious as streetlamps and bins.

And IKEA's place marketing is what falls out the other end because the sense of place, real or imagined, makes us pay for reminders that our self-development is out there.

And maybe one day, too, we can have a big sticking-out piece of bread and be 'ch-chinged' by a beautiful maiden on her bike.

So let's wind it all up then, shall we?

The question is "Why is the bin there?"

The sub-question, of course, is who's this invisible 'they' I blame so much for affecting your sense of place?

Largely, 'they' means local governments, who are markable for the reactions you get within a public place.

You have an interest in this Mr Government, you do, because your city's competitiveness, the resilience of the economy and the health and interestingness of your community is dependent on it.

There's a perpetual cycle of participation charged or not-charged by visible and invisible forces within our places, be it a bin in the way of our walking frame, filth in the river or the inability to find a good espresso and a stranger to to share it with.

In regards to this bin, this a 1922 solution for a 1999 problem.


I will be publishing Part 3 of this riveting story tomorrow at 5pm, GMT + 8.

Sign up (top right) to get the final answer to Mr Geoff Cohn's thunderous question.


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