Playgrounds and a Post from the Grid: Children, Play, and the Public Realm

Another post from The Grid…

“Amsterdam is one of those places I fell in love with before I ever visited. Architect Aldo van Eyck is the primary reason behind this. WWII left the city devastated with bomb-demolished buildings on many blocks, and the newly brandished professional’s first assignment was to begin designing neighborhood playgrounds…”

On another note: I went to the lake on a few Sundays ago (the beach on the lake). There is a magnificent playground there, of the likes you would probably never find in the US for fear of lawsuits (I could talk about this issue at length at another time).

Topology and Aging

In a brief lecture yesterday, I was reminded of the basics of demography: birth, migration, and death. The lecturer actually posed the question to us: “where do you want to die?” A new question for me. I had never thought about this before.

What immediately came to my mind was the opening passage of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood. I had to scrounge around the internet for the exact words. This is what I found (at least part of the opening passage):

“When everything else has gone from my brain — the President’s name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and what it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family — when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.”

I always had wondered if Dillard (not trained in physical sciences) had meant to use the word topology or if topography was really the word she wanted; but re-considering it now, I think topology is more significant…it relates to the interconnectedness of space. As a planner, I can appreciate it more than the surface-deep description that topography provides.

Back to death: I’ve realized that I feel deeply connected to certain landscapes (and not as much others), but I think I would want to die in a landscape I loved. In an increasingly aging society, providing opportunities to connect with nature, not hospital rooms, is essential. In the Netherlands, there are a number of researchers focused on Healthy Ageing– an effort to extend and enhance the quality of life for those eldest in our society. Access to nature is certainly part of it.

The dangers of procrastination as an urban planning student

I think most graduate students have fine tuned their procrastination skills over the years. I certainly have; however, I think that I can justify my procrastination much more easily than others. I blame Jane Jacobs: the pancho-yielding, glasses-wearing, mother of incremental planning and the sidewalk ballet; a defender of density and mix-use; a woman that stood up to Robert Moses and his freeways.

She championed walking and observation, and as an urban planner, our field site is often right at our toes…on the sidewalks we step out onto every day (especially in a city like Groningen). So I hope my supervisor understands when I don’t have my proposal complete this week. You see, I’ve been doing field work.

Anyway, the 1st Sunday of the month is an active one…here are some photos of me procrastinating researching. Here is the market with what I thought was a temporary public library, but was really just one creative book vender.

Groningen, The Netherlands, non-public library

Groningen non-public library street vendor

Groningen, The netherlands public market

Behind the stacks…I thought someone should have set up a temporary coffee shop here.

Public Market Vismarket Groningen

Bibliotheek (Centraal)

The first day I arrived to the Netherlands, I was told to go to the Amsterdam library (bibliotheek).

I wish I had gone then.

It took me about a week, but I finally made it. It is beautiful. It is white. It is extremely modern.

You can feel your skin in this place. Riding down the escalator is almost an out-of-body experience; yet, you can tuck yourself away in a corner with a window overlooking the city while you type away or read.

Bonus: The seventh floor has a nice cafeteria and the ground floor a coffee shop. One really could spend all opening hours in this place.

I haven’t figured out how to take photos in this space yet, so I’ll direct you to someone who has:

A trip along the Amstel

The Amstel is the principle river that runs on the east side of Amsterdam and south through a small part of The Netherlands. You will see huge barges moving goods, requiring each and every draw bridge to be drawn. But on a summery afternoon in August, a parade of boats, filled with what I call “Dutch Sunburned” bodies (imagine lobster-colored people), tote their loungers up and down the river. All shades of red and all types of boats present. I even saw a sail boat, yet I wondered about its functionality in such a location.

For those determined to stay on land, it is lovely for biking, and you can easily reach Ouder Amstel where the Ouder Kerk is located. What surprises me each trip is how pastoral it is while remaining just 30 minutes biking from the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sunburned in Amsterdam: the cost of freedom

Introducing: my new bike.

As much as Amsterdam is a bike-friendly place, it is not so much a place for pedestrians…at least not for one that is living a bit outside of the city (think high-density suburbs). After a week or so of walking and fairly expensive transit I made it my mission to get a bike.

The recommended place uses as many recycled parts as possible, and the piece was still around 100 Euros. Considering bike theft here is as commonplace as it is in Tempe, I got two locks.

Amsterdam is not quite what you would call a grid. Phoenix and the Heights have spoiled me. Nearly two hours after I left the shop I arrived home (hence the sunburn in Amsterdam). But the freedom that comes with having a bike is priceless. It is substantially easier to get around the city (once you get your bearings) and essentially, bikes can get you there as fast or faster than a car, tram, or subway. A post later on how great the bike infrastructure is here…and how absolutely no one wears helmets.

Bike with pink chain around the seat post. Dani’s is in back.