Zef Hemel
Deputy director
Spatial Planning Department
City of Amsterdam

by Christa van Vlodrop

1. Background

Planner with a PhD in architectural history. Curator of the 'Free State of Amsterdam'. Was awarded with the Eurocities Award in Zaragoza last year.

2. Why are you fascinated with
architecture / urban development?

I grew up in Emmen, the slain post-war new town in Drenthe, the Valhalla of the residential area. It was there that I came to know the urban pioneers Niek de Boer* and André de Jong** and that I was introduced to the optimistic message of modernist town planners: the human dimension, air, light and space and living in the woods. It is no longer a message that I am attached to these days.

*Niek de Boer was the urban planner of the municipality of Emmen. During the late sixties he was involved in the development of residential neighbourhoods in Emmen and he introduced the concept of the residential area.
**André de Jong was architect and urban planner. He worked with Niek de Boer.

3. Best city

Currently: Istanbul. A vibrant metropolis of fifteen million inhabitants. Every year the city obtains a million extra inhabitants. In 2030 the city will probably have grown to twenty-five million people. In Istanbul the rich and the poor live next to each other and the city is the gateway to Europe. Economically Istanbul is very strong, a true 24-hour economy. Three hours flying time from Amsterdam. Enviable.

4. Most beautiful building

The TV tower in Guangzhou. Designed by my brother Mark and his wife Barbara Kuit. With its 610 meters height one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. Packed with casinos. From the Skydeck you have a magnificent view on the Chinese metropolis. The opening at the Asian Games a few weeks ago, was comparable to the opening of the Eiffel Tower during the Paris World Exhibition of 1889.

5. Most beautiful park or square

Central Park. Is there a more urban park?

6. Best public facility / urban infill

The canals of Amsterdam. Every day when I cycle from Frederiksplein to the Utrechtsestraat, it strikes me again: the sublime size and scale of the canals, the unique concept, the streets, the bridges and canals. And all along the waterfront there are beautiful elms. They bloom in May. But can't it just become a pedestrian zone?

7. Best 20th and 21st century innovations

The invention of the metro in the twentieth century was undoubtedly innovative. That underground train has made it possible for the centers of large cities to have unprecedented crowds congregate without significant disruption. I don't like cars, but crowds intrigue me. In the twenty-first century? The apps of augmented reality. Augmented reality makes it possible to visualise historical objects or ensembles that are not yet built. With the apps we can see them on our mobile phones. Augmented reality adds something fundamentally new to our experience of urban space.

8. Next groundbreaking innovation

The electric bike in a more developed shape. This new means of transport will cause the disappearance of the car and the scooter in the streets. Distances up to thirty kilometers come easily within reach of city dwellers. The inner-city public transport will be severely affected and, except for the subway, perhaps even disappear as well.

9. About the future of cities

In the future there will be much larger cities, and some will be extremely expanded. If the Dutch cities remain as they are, they will be like dwarf cities. From a global point of view then they are more like villages than cities, with all its consequences. The real cities of the future are in Africa, where the metropolis phenomenon is yet to begin. Africa will therefore be an economic superpower.

10. Personal contribution to urban development

Well, my contribution is modest. I am not a designer, just a storyteller. I hope that the Dutch look around and embrace the metropolis phenomenon at some point. Dutch are intrinsically anti-urban. Only Amsterdam stands out.

11. Guerrilla in the city?

Guerrilla is a typical form of urban warfare. Guerrilla has a future. I especially enjoy guerrilla gardening. Last month I saw paper gnomes everywhere in city gardens. Neighbors planted them during the night to urge other people in the neighborhood to create more beautiful gardens. I think it a very good incentive.